Pop Tradition

Popular culture throughout the world has become Americanized, such that in most countries today traditional culture is an artifact appreciated only by the old and the retrograde. Remarkably, in Ethiopia the traditional has remained highly popular, even among the young and hip sophisticates of Addis Ababa.

Live performance restaurants, akin to supper clubs, thrive in the capital. Enthusiastic song and dance is served alongside the rich, fiery local stews. Impressively, the repertoire highlights a mix of Ethiopia’s countless cultures, from the headspinning of the Afar to the shoulder shake of the Tigrinya and the hip thrusts of the Oromo. The performers are exhaustively energetic, the ladies coy and enticing and the men flashy and acrobatic. The performances are interactive, rousing the audience to sing and dance along to classic Ethiopian hits as known and loved as the Elvis Presley catalogue surely is in Tennessee. Men and women laugh and dance together like a trendy clique of college kids listening to a favorite cover band in Nashville.

The expectation is that such venues would be little more than tourist traps, but on the contrary they are more popular among local middle class professionals and couples, the current generation in a country of people who have proudly guarded their traditional culture as successfully as they have guarded their political independence. A rarity in this Westernized world of ours, visiting Ethiopia truly feels like journeying someplace new.

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