Anthropology, Music, Playlist

Listen to a Playlist of Ethiopia’s Sentinel Musicians

The music of the Ethiopian diaspora rings around the world, testifying to the experiences of those exiled from their homeland and serving as a keystone for communities of Ethiopian refugees. Kay Kaufman Shelemay’s newest book, Sing and Sing On, draws on the recollections of dozens of musicians, whose historical position as sentinels of Ethiopian culture has only grown in the Ethiopian diaspora. Sing and Sing On is a book whose soundtrack can be traced through every page, so with Shelemay’s collaboration, we’ve put together a playlist of music from the Ethiopian diaspora to enjoy alongside an excerpt from the book’s introduction.

Fundamentals: Toward a Concept of the Sentinel Musician

This book explores the lives of musicians from Ethiopia and adjacent regions of the Horn of Africa, beginning in the years preceding the 1974 Ethiopian revolution and extending through well over four unsettled decades that followed as a global Ethiopian diaspora emerged. The experiences of musicians in the throes of exile and resettlement chronicle music making in deeply unsettled times. But this story also offers lessons that extend beyond the boundaries of the experiences recounted here and that transcend the history of the region from which these individuals come, as well as the locales in which they have resettled. These musical lives under duress provide grist for a reappraisal of the roles of musicians in the rapidly changing societies of which they are a part. They testify to the power of musicians’ agency through and beyond music making to reshape the world around them.

As a cover term for the complex range of musicians’ actions and activism that I detail in this book, I introduce the concept of the “sentinel musician.” I coined the phrase after repeatedly witnessing the powerful roles that musicians of the Horn of Africa have played at home and in diaspora, environments in which they have both guarded and guided the communities of which they are a part.

Kay Kaufman Shelemay is the G. Gordon Watts Professor of Music and Professor of Music and African and African American Studies at Harvard University. She is the author or editor of many books, including Soundscapes: Exploring Music in a Changing World and Let Jasmine Rain Down: Song and Remembrance among Syrian Jews, also published by the Press.

Sing and Sing On is available now on our website or from your favorite bookseller.