Eritrea is a country in the Horn of Africa. Perhaps the most famous Eritrean musicians in history are Engineer Asgedom Woldemichael, Bereket Mengisteab, Yemane Baria, Osman Abderrehim, Alamin Abdeletif and Atowe Birhan Segid, some of whose music was banned by the Ethiopian government in the 1970s. Also of note is Bereket Mengistab, who has had a lengthy career, and 1960s legends Haile Ghebru and Tewolde Redda. The latter was one of the first electric guitar players in the Horn region, a singer, and reportedly a writer of the famous Eritrean independence song “Shigey habuni”, with an allegedly coded political love theme.
Eritrean music is distinguished by its unique rhythm. Modern popular stars include Bereket Mengistab, Teklé Tesfa-Ezighe Tekele Kifle Mariam (Wedi Tukul), Tesfai Mehari (Fihira), Osman Abderrehim, Abrar Osman, Abraham Afwerki, Yemane Ghebremichael, Idris Mohamed Ali, Alamin Abdeletif, Tsehaytu Beraki, Atewebrhan Segid and Berekhet Mengisteab.
Traditional Eritrean Tigrinya dancing involves two main styles of dance. In the first which is called ‘quda’, the dancers form a circle and slowly circumambulator or move around in an endless circular motion to the rhythm of the music. Then, they cease the circular musical flow/motion and dance in pairs or 3’s facing each other for a short while before resuming the circular motion in a file again. During this time, they shuffle their feet to the beat of the music and bob their shoulders in a rhythmic fashion. Female dancers usually move their shoulders more than the male dancers. Towards the end, the musical tempo increases and the drum beat quickens to signal this musical crescendo. The dancers round off their dancing by facing each other in twos and threes and moving their shoulders faster. This can also involve jumping and bending one’s knees, as well as going down to the floor to sit in a squatting position while bobbing those shoulders and moving the head sideways to the strong drum beats.
In the second style of dance, two groups (often a group of men and a group of women) line up and face each other. The dance features a skipping step to the music. Periodically, the two groups will change places, dancing across the floor and passing each other in the process.
Traditional dances practiced by Eritrea’s other Afro-Asiatic communities include those by the Saho, which involve jumping on each leg in rhythm with the beat. The related Afar, Tigre, Bilen and Hidareb have similar moves. Additionally, the Rashaida also have their own unique dances.
Dancing by the Nilo-Saharan Kunama involves raising bead-strung legs in sync with the rhythm of the music. The related Nara have similar traditions.