A new documentary called Tezeta (The Ethiopian Armenians) discusses the Armenian-Ethiopian connection. Directed by Aramazt Kalayjian, the film is currently in production, accoding to okayafrica.com.
In 1924, the Prince of Ethiopia, Ras Tafari visited Jerusalem. While walking through the Armenian Quarter with his entourage, he came across a marching band of forty children.
Their talent made a profound impression on the young prince.
Upon inquiring about the young musicians, Tafari learned they were orphans of the Armenian genocide and with permission from the Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem, adopted them, bringing the Arba Lijoch (Forty Children in Amharic) as they came to be known, back with him to Addis Ababa. It was to be the beginning of a musical renaissance in Ethiopia that unfolded and developed throughout the next few decades.
Tafari provided the Arba Lijoch a musical education along with stipends and housing. They came to form the Royal Imperial Brass Band, beginning a tradition in modern Ethiopian music of heavily using brass instruments. The Arba Lijoch were trained by musical director Kevork Nalbandian, also an orphan of Armenian descent.
Impressed by their progress and skill, Selassie asked Nalbandian to compose a national anthem for Ethiopia and on the November 2, 1930, coronation day, the anthem, Marsh Teferi was unveiled with the Arba Lijoch performing and Prince Ras Tafari becoming the Emperor of Ethiopia, King of Kings, Haile Selassie I.
Nalbandian and his nephew, Nerses Nalbandian, would go on to lay the foundation of orchestral brass bands into Ethiopia’s musical fabric, a sharp turn from traditional stringed instruments like the pentatonic scaled krar. It was from this foundation that artists such as Mulatu Astatke built walls and installed a roof upon, incorporating traditional Ethiopian folk music, religious music, western jazz and funk to create the distinctly Ethiopian sound of Ethio Jazz.
After Haile Selassie was overthrown and the military junta called The Derg came into power, a curfew was enforced, effectively shuttering the bustling jazz scene in the many night clubs that dotted the capital. Even after The Derg was overthrown in 1991 and the curfew was dismantled, the culture of calling it a night early had stuck with many Ethiopians and has only began to change in recent years.
But music wasn’t the only area in which Armenians influenced Ethiopia.
The Ethiopian-Armenian connection runs deep. They have traded with one another for centuries. They also both were among the first countries to convert to the then new religion of Christianity and even practice the same branch of orthodoxy. Even their alphabets are similar.
Armenian Ethiopians, although small in number have made significant contributions to Ethiopian music, culture, art and politics