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date: 23 October 2019


  • Cynthia Tse Kimberlin


Country in East Africa. With an area of 93,679 km² and a population of 6,086,495 million (2011 estimate), it borders the Red Sea to the north and east, Ethiopia to the south and Sudan to the West. There are nine major ethnic groups: Tigrinya-speaking Tigré, Tigré, Saho, Afar, Hadareb (Hedareb), Bilen, Kunama, Nara and Rashaida. The majority are Christian and Muslim and the official language is Tigrinya, but Arabic, Afar and Somali are also spoken. Approximately one million Eritrean refugees live in the Sudan, Ethiopia, Canada, the USA, Sweden, Italy, Saudi Arabia, the UK and Australia. Eritrea achieved independence from Ethiopia in 1993. Both countries retain close cultural ties, sharing similar musical traditions.

The Rashaida people are Muslims who live a nomadic life in the Sahel desert. Men and women celebrate life-cycle events separately and privately. However, some celebrations marking the end of Ramadan and Eritrea’s independence are performed in the public domain. These songs and dances, accompanied by a one-sided bowl-shaped drum, are performed in a group. Songs are responsorial and antiphonal, and dances are arranged in a large semicircle where women alternate two at a time dancing in the centre while men and other women clap and sing in parallel 4ths and 5ths, interspersed with women’s ululation. J. Jenkins recorded brief examples of Rashaida, Bedawi (Beni Amer), Nara (Baria), Tigré, Afar (Danakil), Asa’orta (Assaorta), Bilen and Kunama music (...

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Musical Quarterly