Sunday, April 8, 2012

A conversation with Abba Berhanemeskel Matewos

Part Two

Issayas: You mentioned, "there is a lack to indicate a single note in Ge’ez milikit and lack of musical instrument to replay the ziema and some of consequences that requires to set a system". You also mentioned that you wished that this is a favored time to restore our ziema-geez treasure of art and to preserve the ziema-chant through a viable ziema notation system. Is there a difference between ziema ge’ez , Ge’ez milikit and ziema-chant?

Abba Berhanemeskel: The word Ziema and Ziema-ge’ez, and Ziema-chant are all the same word for song, carol. Therefore, the word Ge’ez has quite large meaning: it defines a people, it is a language, a chant, an alphabet, a form of song dedicated to the God Father. However, the word Ge’ez Milikit is a name of “music note”, the symbol of sound that belongs to the Geez chant or Geez people.

Issayas: Even though Ziema has been in existence for a long time, are you saying that there has never been an instrument that was created to play ziema ge’ez.

Abba Berhanemeskel: From what we know, there was no time the Ziema was purposely played with an instrument. Strictly speaking ziema is sang in the Church, there is no history of having tried to play it with musical instruments. It doesn’t mean it was not played, but it was not a formal way of performing in the ziema custom of our ancestors.

Issayas: Did you find in your research any indication why it was not possible?

Abba Berhanemeskel: There are rationales on this matter. Geez people believe that God, who gave to a person a beautiful voice, is to be praised or should be praised with the great gift of the person’s voice. You got the gift of voice, then you should praise him yourself and you should not make the instrument pray or praise God on behalf of you. There was this tradition and may be this is one of the reasons of such belief. In other words, our ancestors intended to praise God personally and with their own skill of voice art. May be it is on this line of thought that ostracized the art of “wata” which is considered a secular instrument and an unworthy music instrument to play in the Church. From this reaction, maybe all other instruments had be taken as an unusual or unfit instruments to interact with God. Such rationales and considerations are also explored in the book “ምልክትን መምርሕን ጽዋ-ቃና (ሙዚቃ)” “Milikitin Memrehen Ziwa-Qana (musiqa)” under the heading of “ሕጊ ሙዚቃ ምስ ዜማ-ግዕዝ ዘሎ ፍልልይ” on chapter 26.

Issayas: If we were ever to create this instrument, who should build it? A musician? An entrepreneur etc.?

Abba Berhanemeskel: The Europeans did some good work for their people in the music arts. The musicians heard the style of people’s melody, they analyzed the structure, and lastly they set rules that represents or duplicates the melody with an instrument. There have been also some alterations to the accidentals frequency size to synchronize the standard type of music. I don’t want to discuss on this matter for it needs peculiar attentions of music arts’ history. It is important information for us to do our home work in music field, as the Europeans did in order to achieve a best result with the synchronization system that, at that time, the musicians opted to act in order to derive the actual standard 7-note. Likewise for the Ziema-Geez, there should be musicians who will decipher or interpret the correct base sound. The technical part which
means to implement what the musicians founded will be the task for them. Therefore, the musicians prepare the collections of notes and their hertz values with appropriate rules, and engineers will build the instrument. They will be 2 two different actions, defining the theorem, and there after implementing them.

Issayas: In reading your book, I understand that timing is one of the many differences that exist between western music and Eritrean ziema. Does "timing" need mathematical solution?

Abba Berhanemeskel: The timing I mentioned on this topic does not need mathematical experts. In music language timing is called the “measure”. Defining this measure doesn’t need who are afraid of making errors. It is one of the structures that musicians will assign smoothly. Therefore, the answer seems very easy. It will depend on the musicians move whether to create a new script or to adapt the European style. A better option could be to adapt the European style, therefore, once the experts of Geez music agree to develop a script, the solution will yield from this motion.

Issayas: Milikit in Tigrigna means sign. Therefore, is Ge’ez milikit ziema’s notation system ? If not, how does one create a viable ziema notation system?

Abba Berhanemeskel: From my experience, the word Milikit does mean sign or symbol. Milikit in Ziema is a sound or most of time it is group of sound that is taking as a standard example from short melody. Therefore in Ziema-geez writing a sound or a melody of sounds is called Milikit. Of course these Milikit are taken from songs. However, when we call Milikit this is one part of a melody, and this portion or short song will be empowered as “one standard melody, a prototype sound/s” and this will be used to guide future or different lyrics/poetry/poems/documents/prayers. The way to find a solution to the Ziema-ge’ez is by applying a notation system that fit the Ziema. The “notation system” I mentioned will be a way to express the sound Geez into a script, whether it is a European style or other preferred style, a style to edit the sound separately. The word viable means a script that will fit to the Ziema sound. Until now is not found, it is the object of my main research.

Issayas: Again, does it need mathematical solution?

Abba Berhanemeskel: It may and it may not require experts in mathematics. I consider it will not be necessary to have the involvement of mathematicians. There is already a European style, the experts of music can decide just to adapt the European one or use a common sample one. From my experience, the Europeans style to denote the so called “measure” is compatible at all levels.

Issayas: What is the need of creating a musical instrument if the belief that "God needs to be praised with your voice..." has not changed?

Abba Berhanemeskel: The needs of a musical instrument are very urgent for a historical and musical culture to the whole world. For example 20 year ago, where ever city or village you go, at least, there were too many priests and deacons who were the vibrant witness of the Ziema-chant. This is a true fact, at least for the population predominantly Orthodox culture. Right now the reality is not the same for many reasons. So the necessity comes for the lack of Ziema literate people. At that time the Geez people were the ones who decided about this. Now the literate people are the ones who seek to provide an exact copy of the Ziema. Therefore, these new people seem to be not less literate in Ziema-geez, but they seek for a further reassurance of correct copy of Ziema-chant. Secondly, from the point of general people, the Ziema literate people are very few. After few years the knowledge of Ziema will be in a worse situation to transfer the music of Ziema. Therefore, the urgency of a well documented material comes as a consequence of the presence of literate people for there is a correct copy of the song, and of the shortage of expert people for there is a need to transfer the art of Ziema for the safety of the Ziema-art and the guaranteed original copy of the Ziema patrimony. Thirdly, the new generation, like those people in diaspora (emigrant) who never had any influence of this Ziema tradition, has a right to know their culture and after knowing it a right to convey the Ziema-geez in according the new way of media. If they ask as part of their legacy, the answer is to prepare the Ziema- chant in a professional of standard musical instrument and/or standard notation. Consequently, the literate in professional music notation of the new generation and of any researcher in the international art of music these category need to feel the Ziema-geez and be well influenced. They need it so they could listen to it and sing it in a creative way like our Debtera (professional singer) in the Ziema-art for this is a new era of African tradition that conveys new style of feeling and expressions of our ancestors. It is the corner stone of African way of expression and it explores deep feeling of human and spiritual art. Therefore, it is a must for Africans to know the art of Ziema, it should be shared with the international music community as we do share theirs. To integrate both culture of music art, there is a need to prepare it in a academic standard fashion. Lastly, people of that era made that statement: “God needs to be praise with the human voice”. This statement will remain true until the new generation sticks with this affirmation. The answer is therefore, in the hand of the public. On the other hand, it is also true that the Ziema tradition should be preserved. Our ancestors believed to restore the Ziema with the appropriate script of “Milikit” (note, neuma), but we now know that the appointed Milikit has lots of problems or gaps or unsteady fluctuation of voice, because it lacks of hard copy (an exclusive way to confront a single milikit) to represent its art with perfect and uniform resolution. The traditional way to convey the Ziema art is open to mistakes or misinterpretation or prolonged expansion of voices in such a way to be easily affected by personal misleading melodies. The resolution doesn’t mean to only reproduce the Ziema by musical instrument, but it is to set functional rules about the music issue. This is done by preparing the basic notes that recreates the sound of Ziema-art, imprints the Ziema-single notes into a musical standard device, and thereafter creates a suitable script that appropriately represents each individual Ziema-note.With such resolution, even the Ziema is not sung in the Church this African heritage will be available to represent the correct sound of Ziema-art and be ready to use in a exact form of its music literature for the future time and at the time they will decide to use musical instruments for their spiritual need. It seems that this need is current to our culture. The Ziema is used by very limited people, the emigrant of this era is asking how to be involved in it, the European seeks to know what are the pillar bases of Ziema, the professional people are, at this time, incapable to express it in a standard fashion, the high value of expressing the human feeling that is inside the Ziema-art is kept in prison for we couldn’t convey it to the European literate culture, these and other needs are some the backgrounds that push the Ziema-literate to prepare a sound or typical representation of our Ziema-geez art toward his people and to international culture.

An advertisement from a flier

Music is an art that expresses the human feelings using a sound. A single sound is called a“note”. In European style the music “note” has special rules and procedures. Does Tigrigna has the same or similar rules in the music field as the European style?

A Note:
• is a single sound
• has chords (selected notes of 3 or 4)
• composes major and minor scale (the 7-note)
• has chromatic scale (group of 7-ordered)
• expresses 3 minor scales: fundamental, harmonic and melodic

Issayas: Abba Berhanemeskel, thank you for your time and thought on this very important subject.

Abba Berhanemeskel: You're welcome.

Next: A conversation with Robel Afeworki on Eritronic (Ge'ez-trance music)