From the ancient Jaliyei to the new gey fäqär. Relationships between traditional sung poetry and commercial

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Author : Ilaria Sartori

Year : 2009

The city-state of Harar, a micro-cultural island in Eastern Ethiopia, was for centuries a holy city of Islam and
an international commercial crossroad. Local musical traditions (gey fäqär), unique and diverse at once, concurrently
express the specific character of Harari identity as well as its openness to cultural exchange. The most ancient style
of Harari traditional secular sung poetry is called ğāliyei (“my beloved”) and is performed polyphonically by two
expert singers, the “thrower” and the “catcher” of a verse. Through the last decennia, young generations became
acquainted with western melodic instruments and developed new musical forms: Harari modern songs, once
practiced by local youth associations (mugād), today reached a certain commercial distribution. Despite formal and
sociological differences, Harari “pop” is strictly interlocked with traditional gey fäqär: verses often correspond;
themes openly describe, represent and celebrate Harari cultural identity; musical system is heptatonic and represents
an exception to the widespread African pentatonism. Within Harari society, old and new cultural habits interact,
balancing conservation and innovation. The analysis of Harari intangible heritage, from the ancient ğāliyei to the
new commercial “pop” songs, discloses the main historical developments of this multifaceted musical culture.