Muslim World Music Day

April 12, 2011

Muslim World Music Day is a live online effort to identify and catalog all the recordings of Muslim music in the world, in one day. It will be a step towards making this culturally significant body of work readily available to people around the globe for study and enjoyment.

Main Theme of this Web

Muslim Ethiopian Musics

Silt'é landscape near Haro Shaytan lake, Southern Ethiopia. IS 2010.

With this website, Dr. Ilaria Sartori participates to Muslim World Music Day by sharing texts, thoughts, links and audiovisuals related to Muslim Ethiopian Musics. Particular attention is given to Harari repertoires and to women and children's traditional practices.

Harari CD covers from Ethiopia and the diaspora

Please use the navigation bar to access articles, recordings, pictures and other materials.

If you are wishing to contribute to this website or searching further information, please do not hesitate to Contact Us.

Muslim World Music Day

Ethiopian Muslim musicians, poets, experts, researchers,

scholars, friends, communities ...

For everything was shared until now


Please keep me up if you are taking part to Muslim World Music Day, this is a good time to get (back) in touch!

Muslim Ethiopian community members and other website visitors, please do not hesitate to send your valuable feedback! Thank you!


Fäqär zelele elwā

Fäqär zelelā asāsin elā

Every society has traditional songs

Those who have no songs, have no foundation

Kabīr Abdulmuheimen Abdulnassir, Harari Gey Fäqär


A vibrant mosaic of musics

The musics of Ethiopian peoples reflect the complexity of a composite and colorful cultural heritage. More than 80 different ethnic groups coexist in Ethiopia, sharing the territory and representing an extraordinary variety of languages, cultures and musics.
Religions are also diversified, including Islam, Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant Christianism, Judaism, Baha’i faith, Rastafarianism, animist beliefs and syncretic cults.
Islam is the second most widely practiced religion: it reached Ethiopia as early as its beginning and continued to spread among ethnically diverse and geographically distant groups.
Some Ethiopian societies, like the Silt’e, the Somali and the Harari, almost entirely adhere to Islam, while the most populous group, the Oromo, counts about 50% of Muslims.
In general, the Islamic influence is clearly perceivable in the musics of the Horn of Africa. In Ethiopian musical cultures, melismatic vocal styles and syncopated rhythms often echo the sounds of the Arabian Peninsula and the Middle East.
Heterogeneity is however the main trait of Ethiopian musics, which present quite a different character not only in relation with the specificity of each repertoire, the circumstances of execution, the function of each piece and the performers’ age, social status and ability: the ethno-cultural background primarily determines the formal aspects of the music, as well as the language in which  verses are sung.
Musics of Ethiopian Muslims concurrently reveal the unicity of each culture as well as a range of influences which may rely to a common African background, reveal Asian inspirations, foster worldwide creative connections.

Poetry and music in the "City of Saints"

The ancient city-state of Harar, a micro-cultural island in Eastern Ethiopia, has been for centuries a crucial commercial crossroad and the major East African Islamic centre.
Harar’s inhabitants call their town simply Gey, “the City”, or Jugol, the wall that encloses and symbolizes it, but Harar is also named Madinat al-Awliya “City of Saints”, as it is starred with hundreds of mosques, shrines and tombs of holy men. For Harari people, an urban, literate and highly educated population, ada (culture) and din (religion) are strictly interlocked.
Harari songs, called gey fäqär, “the Songs of the City”, are among the most signifcant expressions of local intangible cultural heritage. The Songs of the City, unique and diverse at once, openly represent Harari identity and concurrently reveal local intercultural adjustments and reactions to historical processes.
Today, Harari songs are mainly performed at weddings and tell about the new life of the newly-wedded couple. However, texts of
gey fäqär also constantly refer to Islamic religion, as well as to historical memory, patriotism and cultural identity.
Before DERG cultural repression songs were played, in a variety of styles, by most social strata: as historical recordings testify, mugād youth associations were particularly fertile in modern forms, while the voice of Shamitu, the most famous woman singer, became a symbol of Harari culture through the continents.
Presently, traditional forms of gey fäqär (implying a voice-percussion confguration) are mostly performed by mature women, often accompanied by membranophones (käräbu and däf) and idiophones (käbäl), while young generations perform sung verses generally following the stylistical influences of the freshest international pop standards.
Harari verses, fxed, recurrent or improvised, are rich in metaphors, present signifcant semantic stratifcation and may derive from oral, written or transcribed literary sources.
Texts and melodies of gey fäqär, considered as a whole, may depend on the performer and on the context; in general, their form and signifcance are strictly interconnected with the social and ritual events they accompany.
Performance of gey fäqär thus combines the expression of a shared literary, historical, anthropological and musical patrimony with the ability of poetical creation and melodic variation.
Despite differences in forms, instruments, personalities, functions, contexts and musical taste, gey fäqär verses, through the decennia, have become one of the favoured vehicles for preservation of cultural memory, notably contributing to spread moral advice, linguistic skills and behavioural codes through peculiar expression of religious, amorous and educational themes.
Practice and transmission of sung verses thus represent one of the most important means of expression for Harari identity, as well as an occasion for the performers and listeners to convey historical and cultural memory, to refect and to balance old and new cultural habits while entertaining and putting into communication, through poetry and music, the different generations and their way of expressing the living culture.
The history of Harari sung poetry refects the way this Islamic micro-society faced political changes, local-global dialectics, preservation of cultural memory and identity issues using verses as a mean of cultural preservation. Besides, gey fäqär verses, often endowed with subtle humour and delightful metaphors, represent extremely enjoyable artistic expressions of organized and shared psychological, emotional, moral and cultural tips.

Documentation, description of the structural and compositional characteristics of the songs and divulgation of verses,
collation of oral, written and transcribed sources with a view to create an anthology of ancient and modern poetry in gey sinan, imply an interdisciplinary approach, which includes linguistic, philological, literary, anthropological and musicological study and cannot prescind from a positive relationship with the community and cooperative interaction with local and international researchers and intellectuals.


 Handwritten list of Harari mugād. Courtesy of Kabir Abdulmuhaymin Abdunassir, 2005.

Harar. IS 2008

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