Wednesday, May 30, 2012

A conversation with Tsegai Medin

(Left) TSEGAI Medin in Buia, Nov. 2010

Issayas: Would you tell us about yourself?

Tsegai: My Name is Tsegai Medin, I am a doctorate student in Quaternary and Prehistory (Paleontology) at the University of Rovira I Virgili, Tarragona (Spain). My studies involve Early to Late Pleistocene paleontological researches (macro-fauna) with special focus at the Danakil Depression of Eritrea (Buia, Mulhuli-Amo…etc) and the Orce sites (Venta Micena, Fuente Nueva-3, and Barranco León) in Southern Spain. More to the point, I am interested in Early Pleistocene sites of Africa, the Levantine Corridor, the Caucasus, and southern Europe, chronologically spanning from ca. 1.8 to 1.0 Million years. I was working as Director of Heritage Management at the National Museum of Eritrea (still I am closely working with the Museum) and I'm still involved on various national and international research projects and conferences. I have international membership in the “East African Association of Paleoanthropology  Paleontology within Eastern Africa”

Issayas: What is Archeology?

Tsegai: Archeology is the scientific study of the past and the way people lived, and interact with their environment based on the things they left behind. The shared ways of life learned by a group of people, including their language, religion, technology, and values are closely studied by Archaeologists by examining artifacts objects made, used, or changed by humans. 

Issayas: What does archeology tell us about Eritrea?

Tsegai:  It is too early to narrate about Eritrean archaeology since the coverage of research on various layers of history is still pending.  However, based on the potentially documented information, from the National Museum of Eritrea, I could summarize the answer of your question as follows; Eritrea is a country of tremendous prehistoric, historic, medieval and recent events, in which the oldest of its evidence is as old as humanity. A number of these archaeological sites have evidences of ancient traces of Human settlements, ancient historic civilizations (which predates the civilizations in our region) and evidences of first introduction of Christian and Islam (in our region) having international significance.  The discovery of such significant archaeological sites in the country can tell then its importance in nation building process as an engine to economic, social and political development in the nation.

Issayas: I have heard some people say what does fragmented pottery found here and there got to do with modern Eritrean history. I guess the comment suggests what does having bread on the table got to do with some pottery from the remote past. What is your response to this kind of comment?

Tsegai: I already mentioned on the second question, that, archaeology is a scientific study of people in the past based on the artifacts they left behind. These artifacts include bones, ceramics, stone tools, iron, shells, charcoal …etc. Like all of these artifacts the importance of fragmented pottery in understanding the life ways of societies in the past is ineffable. Archaeologists spend a lot of time looking to recover the small remnants of material culture left behind by prehistoric societies. Pottery is particularly useful for reconstructing how past groups lived. It is used to determine a person’s social ranking, gender, or even possibly their relationship to others in the group. Archaeologists use pottery and the designs placed upon it to decipher how various areas within the archaeological site were used. For example, one would expect to find pottery in a food preparation or cooking area, but would not expect to find it in a sleeping area. For example, the introduction of pottery was a breakthrough in complex agro-pastoral societies in the highlands of Eritrea. Before the introduction of modern technologies, archaeologists were highly depending on ceramics for typological study and further to relatively date the site under investigation in comparison to other relatively well studied sites. Italian Archaeologist Rodolfo Fattovich was conducting ceramic typological analysis to understand the development of urban-ism of societies in our region (lowlands and highlands of Eritrea).

Issayas: What are the significant archeological findings to date in Eritrea?

Tsegai: The most significant archaeological sites known to archaeologists in the country are dated from 27 Million years to the present (the recent history of war for liberation). To mention chronologically;

1.The  discovery of new elephant species from Kudo-Felassi which was dated to about 27 Million years; the well recognized Late Early Pleistocene sites of Buia and Mulhuli-Amo (evidences of large mammals among these, the 1 Million year Human evidence having decisive place in filling a gap in the phylogeny of Human evolution);

2.Evidence of first Human exploitation of marine resources (Abdur Gelàlo and Asfet);

3.Inventory and documentation of rock art and engraving sites (Hishmele, Adi-Alewti, Quarura, Beati-Mariam…etc);

                                  Fig. 1. Rock art from Der’a, in the southern part of Eritrea

4. Evidences of complex agro-pastoral societies on the highlands and lowlands of Eritrea- E.g. Sites of Greater Asmara Area (Dated to 800-400BC).

5.The sites of Aqurdet, Bisha and Harenay in the lowlands and Qohaito, Adulis, Metera, Keskese, Toqondaè in the highlands (potential sites that could possibly had a close  mention as part of the mysterious Land of Punt).

                                             Fig.2. The pillars of Qohaito, known as temple-8

6.The 30 years war for liberation (E.g. Naqfa - the triumph of Eritrean perseverance over adversity and oppression and as such is symbolic of a culture of independence, self-reliance, and resistance to oppression that is central to the cultural fabric of Eritrea today).

                                            Fig. 3. One of the many trenches  of Naqfa

Issayas: Where is Buia located and what is the significance of the site?

Tsegai: The fossiliferous area of Buia (100 Km south of Massawa, northern Danakil Depression, Eritrea) was discovered in 1995 during a preliminary geological survey under the aegis of a collaborative research program between the Department of Mines (Eritrean Ministry for Energy and Water Resources, Asmara) and the Department of Earth Sciences of the University of Florence. Further studies were carried out in the area during several field seasons in 1995-1997 and 2003-2004, also involving research teams from the National Museum of Eritrea as well as other Italian and European institutions. These activities led to the discovery of a new important paleoanthropological site at Buia where an abundant fossil vertebrate collection was recovered, among these was the most complete Human cranium.

                                                                      Fig. 4. Buia Homo Cranium

A large number of archaeological localities with extraordinarily abundant and well preserved Mode 1 (Oldowan) and Mode 2 (Acheulean) tool industries were also identified in this area. The chronology of the site has been established at around 1.0 Ma. The research works on 2011 and 2012 led to the discovery of an important site within the Basin, named after the local name, Mulhuli-Amo. In this locality, evidence of Human parietal bones probably belong to more than three individuals was found. The research will continue at the end of this year and the finding of further evidence is promising. One of the most important findings from Buia is the 1Million years old Human cranium which is found in association with very rich vertebrate faunal species and highly concentrated Acheulian Hand axes. Therefore, the date of the Human evidence from this site, chronologically fills the big gap between Homo erectus (1.4 Myrs) to Homo heidelbergensis (0.65myrs). The finding of this complete cranium is among the most important discoveries in Human evolution research.

Issayas: What was Adulis and its significance? What are the latest findings in Adulis?

Tsegai: Adulis is well known by classical sources, as the Periplus of the Erythrean Sea (1st c. A.D.) and the Christian Topography (6th c. A.D.) as an important port of trade in the Red sea in Antiquity. The site has been identified for the first time by Henry Salt at the beginning of the 19th century in the Zula Bay. The first field-survey was conducted in 1840 by Vignaud and Petit, as part of the Theophile Lefebvre mission. After 28 years the first excavation has been conducted in 1868 by British soldiers under the direction of Captain William West Goodfellow, under the auspices of the British Museum. At the end of the 19th century the British explorer Theodore Bent produced a graphic documentation of the site. In 1906 Richard Sundström, a team member of the Enno Littmann, excavated a large building in the North Eastern sector of the site. After one year, in 1907 the Italian archaeologist Roberto Paribeni conducted a substantial excavation in different areas of the site. As a result, two Byzantine “Churches” and the early levels of occupation of the site were identified at the South West limit. At the end of the 1960s Francis Anfray, French archaeologist, also conducted an excavation in the central sector of the site focusing on the documentation of a residential area. All these investigations were colonial by nature and failed to follow scientific standard of study, as a result, they produce a biased and distorted publications which totally underestimates the culture and history of this country; precious artefacts were found discarded on the surface; and other important materials recovered from the excavations were transported to their respective museums (Italy, England, France and Ethiopia) awaiting official reclamation process.

In early 2011, a five-year joint Eritreo-Italian project started to conduct the first  scientific excavation, survey, ethnographic assessment, maritime environment studies, geological surveys, and management works, at the ancient port city of Adulis. The result of the stratigraphic excavations revealed masonry structures of an ancient church having an area of 180 sq. meters. Various archaeological artefacts (pots, ceramics, charcoal samples, amphora, stone tools, wall structures, bones, iron materials, coins, beads…etc) were also collected from the stratigraphic excavations and survey. The architecture of the ancient church shows close similarity to the already identified churches in Metera and the Byzantine world. The design of the wall structure of the church enlightens to the locally dominated civilization in the area with trade-connected outside influence. This fact significantly confirms to the locally dominated establishment of the ancient port city of Adulis in particular and the civilizations of the hinterland of Eritrea in general.

                Fig.5. The exposed masonry structure of the ancient temple from Adulis

Even though results of scientific carbon and ceramic seriation dating are pending the results of ceramic typological analysis shows ancient occupational levels that belong to the Adulite civilizations. Based on the findings from the stratigraphic excavations, the lower occupational level predates the Axumite civilization. The discovery of the Adulite civilizations will surely concern the previously known civilizations in the region and this is an incredible result in the ancient history of East Africa. More importantly, the results of this seasons excavation, survey and laboratory analyses are very important in preparing an alternative history of Eritrea and  also in out-dating the biased history of  the country published during the colonial times.

The ancient port city of Adulis along the coastal fringes of the Red Sea is the site of global importance and holds a phenomenal amount of information about the trade systems (with the Romans, Arabs, Persians, Indians and Chinese) of this part of the ancient world between 500 B.C. and 700 A.D. It has also an important insight into the economy of the littoral and highlands of Eritrea.  Modern Adulis appears at first glance to be little more than a series of mounds, with hardly a stone standing. It must have been deliberately destroyed, never to rise again. Perhaps this happened in the well documented Arab raids of AD 640.

Issayas: Today's Adulis is 7 km. inland than the Adulis mentioned in the Periplus of the Erythrean Sea (a 1st century AD. sailors/trader manual) which was 3 km. inland. What happened? Even with the 3 km. mentioned in the above mentioned book, how was Adulis considered a maritime power when it was located inland?

Tsegai: The ancient port city of Adulis is located at the Red Sea coast alongside the western shoreline of the Gulf of Zula. It is situated on an area of coastal low-lying land that has been drained by major rivers. According to the mid 1st Century AD writing of Periplus of Erythreaean Sea, Adulis was a port city situated at 3.3km from the sea. It declined at the mid 7th Century (Peacock, et al., 2007). Since its fall, enormous environmental change took place at the site and nearby coastal area. At present, the distance to the sea has been widened to about 7km and a significant amount of alluvial sediments has been deposited at the site, which resulted to the retreat of the sea backwards. Geologically, the ruins and all adjacent coastal area are covered by substantial fluvial derived alluvium overburden. It comprises un-consolidated alluvial sediments transported from the central highland hills and Mount Ghedem.

Issayas: Are there any other places where there are major archeological findings in Eritrea beside the eastern side?

Tsegai:  Yes, there are many. The National Museum of Eritrea has an extensive plan to conduct a national inventory (to make a survey and ethnographic inquiry in order to understand the distribution of the archaeological sites within the country. However, throughout the country you find traces of archaeological site. 

Issayas:  Tsegai, thank you for taking out time from your busy schedule to talk to me. Good luck with your studies.

Tsegai:  You’re welcome.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

A conversation with Robel Afeworki

Part Two

Robel Afeworki (left) and Simret Haile (Bucchi)

Issayas: Why did you want to combine "geez music" and "trance music"?

Robel: If the ground failed to move for you, it may not be your fault. Music is evolving in new dimension with remarkable dynamics and pace of novelty. If it weren’t for entertainment, the global music industry would collapse, cultural literature would vanish and no-one would reap its social benefits. For as long as Homo Sapiens have trod the earth, the power of emotion has made human brain to experience excitement and relaxation in comparably more than the mundane survival habits of other primates. Nature selected us to experience the gratitude of music where pleasure incentives are entangled through evolutionary pavements of change, but, the question is that do we really want to be part of the change? Does it matter to follow the path of musical rhythm? Are they over- rated all too brief flashes of fabulous moments or do they signify an elevated level of cultural messages conveyed through out the course? It is true in practice the journey is more important than the destination. As Confucius once said “Study the past, if you would divine the future.” The fundamental conception of Eritronic is arisen from key theoretical framework which embraces the culture and originality of Eritrean context. We need change and variety in Eritrean music. Although, the cultural “Guya-la” is our cultural heritage, undeniable fact, still we are missing the flavor of creativity and similar pattern of musical styles have been evident in contemporary Eritrean music; repetition of alike beats confined with only musical instruments like saxophone, drum machine and “ Deg -dime” kibro beats everywhere. These are my personal empirical observations through out my experience which I have decided to experiment new stuff. Remember, I am not degrading the Eritrean contemporary artistic works but we need to catch the spirit of change for the betterment of our culture and society.

In music, you are either in or you are out. If you are in, you need an ear for every beat, rhythm and tunes through out the globe to create the wholesome panoramic musical concept of understanding. The pragmatic idea of combining "geez music" and "trance music" came to me on one Friday night when I was chilling with friend , Simret Haile (Bucchi), in a relaxed mood in a pub. There was a boring local song and, suddenly, David Guetta’s “sexy chick” was hitting the surround stereo. We shared the musical experience of progressive, trance music, and its global domination. After, Simret persuaded me that we needed to revolutionize Eritrean music. I started with trance beats and he followed with it with geez ziema. The next morning it took us away from energetic excitement of listening and ended up in professional music studio.We galvanized the whole team in Gerry studio and embarked with Eritronic project. The rest, as they say,  is history! It was meant to happen. I had my heart set on a career in radio host from an early age though I have never imagined it would include music producing in a real studio. These past years have metamorphosed from wild child ambitions to sophisticated leading person who is making great strides with my radio career, music and confidence. The experience I have acquired in this project is awesome. Eritronic is zero (non) profit, non-commercial product dedicated for young Eritrean people to serve as a slingshot for change and platform of improvements. It is a peanut advancement made in music industry just like an iceberg; where you have seen only 1/ 5 of our achievements. I promise you  lots are coming in subsequent years from our team and expect more from every Eritrean interested in music and culture.

Issayas:  Are there similar traditional music in Eritrea that resemble trance or geez music?

Robel: I think trance music is the first experience in Eritrea, we are far away from progressive music. Well , almost all Tigrigna songs of Eritrean music build on the bases of geez ziema excluding some  ethinic Eritrean cultural music which has their own traces of geneaology of music to classical Zema.The most important thing should be reminded here is geez ziema yet haven’t be expressed with notes, scales and chords of musical sciences.

To check for a sampler of Eritonic music:

Issayas: Robel, thank you for your time and insight.

Robel: Thank you.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

A Conversation with Robel Afeworki

Part One

Robel Afeworki                                    
Issayas: Briefly, tell us about yourself.

Robel: My name is Robel Afeworki. I was born in Asmara on November 17, 1982. Later, moved on to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia after a couple of months. My early childhood musical inclination was boosted from massive hits made in mid 80’s from influential artists like Michael Jackson and ABBA. The first person who got me inspired in radio show was the great Larry London, VOA radio host, Since then I started following his footsteps on his phenomenal radio shows; Border crossing and VOA music mix on the early of 90’s.  I learned from the best in him and developed quickly the essence of radio show in 1995 by listening VOA, BBC (Top of the Pops) and making tapes for friends. However, I was interested in communicating with the masses and I love music. Between that and spending most of my money on collection of records, the transition was tremendous because I knew that I needed it to promote my career to a more civilized daytime show.

I have a regular show on Radio Zara (since 2005). I invented the show “Zara Music Mix” English entertainment program on FM radio station. Radio is my first love and I am honored to head such an influential, informational and entertaining Eritrean brand. But it’s not easy, with close 3.5 million listeners nationwide, maintaining the high standards of broadcasting services in the national radio station.

My radio show always runs every Wednesday from 9:00- 2:00 GMT. The motto behind my show “State of Music” is the reflection of multitude various styles of music spectrum (country, rock, trance, techno, hip-hop…) from 50’s all the way to the latest hits in 2012. Well, I consider the “State of Music” a little bit like my backyard. A lot of people don’t know that I don’t get professional payments for the show besides motivational incentives and it takes a lot of time to produce the show. I don’t have a producer or an engineer that helps me with selecting the show. I basically go to Zara FM studio. I sit down with my latest records; the show exists of the latest tracks in my case and the music database I have created in the system. There are no secrets about my show. It’s a cross section of records that are out of the music industry. I really enjoyed listening to a lot of radio shows when I was younger; even now I am fond of it, and I really want to give something back to the younger audience who don’t have enough money to buy CD’S but want to be updated on what’s good and what’s not. It is not usually the content, the talents, the contests or music that makes best show in the station. It’s the organic and strategic compilation that creates a memorable product in radio. I bake my bread with very careful mix of ingredients so it’s just right, and we package it very appropriately for the Eritrean audience.

In the studio of Radio Zara  Asmara, Eritrea

I always strive to understand the radio business and evolution of music better before any changes are made so that our working strategies aren’t bulldozed. In the entertainment industry one has to constantly reinvent oneself and reposition the station’s vision and mission to keep abreast of international renowned radio stations. I love the broadcasting environment, I fell in love with radio and music as a child. Today I am running a show in the country’s biggest FM station. I can say that I am living my dream. Furthermore, I am not only a radio DJ; after completing high school in 1999, I went on to study Biology and received my degree in 2004. Right now, however, I am teaching biomedical academic courses as a regular job; Medical Informatics, Biostatistics and Epidemiology in Orotta School’s of Medicine and Dental Medicine.

Issayas: You are working on Eritronic music. What is Eritronic music?

Robel: Eritronic is an enthusiastically adopted concept, a sonic version of new genre created from collision of Geez and  trance culture. It is more contemporary and is one of the projects I have completed under the auspices of committed artists, our team that seeks to unearth young talent with new dimension of music. It is only one facet of my many pronged career.The team mainly comprise of six people; I , Robel, made the  trance beats and mixing(DJ), Simret Haile (Bucchi); made ziema, melody and beats, Samuel Ghebradonai; made the lyrics, Alazar Misghina (Gerry);owner of Gerry studio who produced and made the entire mixing with whole studio crew, Henok Teklay (Nago) main vocal  and Abeba Aradom with inspirational hook vocal. Creativity and team work is the underlying motto of our project. As a team we all channel our energies into our project. The commitment of vocal artists, Nago and Abeba, was extremely outstanding, even personally persuaded them to accept the new role, since they have never done experimental work before. It is a new medium for the young artists; I wanted them to try something different because the recording would be a wonderful opportunity to revolutionize their understanding to evolving musical dimensions.

Eritronic Anthem 2012: "The new evolution of Eritrean music/ Ge'ez + trance"

The new single “Debabina” is mainly traditional embedded strong Eritrean element embellished with culturally tied lyrics. Moreover, it is vividly painted with trance beats where the inspiration comes from talented worldwide DJ’S Armin Van Buuren and David Guetta. “ Debabina” (Eritronic Music = Geez + Trance) has hypnotic groove, with dance floor anthem, taking on a journey of geez melody with new dimension of Eritrean music which have been beautifully decorated with a traditional Tigrigna lyrics capturing the essence of young, unbridled love.You can hear the growth from where they came from to where they are today. Eritronic has an authentic Eritrean stamp to it and can be proudly shown off to the rest of the world.

Issayas:  What is zeima and its significance?

Robel: Ziema is like a hidden weapon of civilization. I just feel like a light passes through prism and reflects with spectrum various colored light. The message is diversified and always alive in our innerness but the degree differs upon the strength and dynamics of the individual masterpiece. Ziema, mezmur and geez are interconnected concepts of music in Eritrean context. I will try to discuss briefly their distinctive features, origin and pivotal roles in Habesha culture in the following paragraphs. Geez is a term basically originated from the word “gea’ze” which literally means that migrating from one place to another, attributed to the word freedom. Geez is symbolized with migrating to freedom and when it comes to ziema it represents the first sound of voice. It is mainly local ziema reserved only for God and church services. Geez in comparison with western music can be explained as 1st tera mezmur (fundamental), 1st type of ziema (1st scale = meselal) which has (grave sound= zemta, zemamie) accustomed to church for liturgical services; equivalent to the Gregorian mezmur of western music.

On the other hand mezmur is an art of expressing your inner feelings with a vocal sound. It is an instrument which coordinates sound into moments of happiness as well as to melancholic feelings. In general, mezmur is a term that marks the seven fundamental roots of sounds. Mez – mur is originated from geez alphabetical sequences that works on seven pattern of subsequent orders.

“ Me, Mu, Mi, Ma, Mie, Me’, Mo”
   መ     ሙ    ሚ   ማ    ሜ     ም    ሞ
 Similarly, we use “Do, Rae, Mi, Fa, So, La, Si” and “ C D E F G A B”  in Latin and English respectively.

Ge'ez culture: the origin of our culture and identity"

Music orchestrates mezmur with tunes (ziema) that gives amazing feelings, create feelings of belongings and happiness, interaction of dream and reality, feels the mind with contemplation and relaxed mood. Geez ziema is one of the oldest existing state of art with undiscovered mysteries of musical sciences, peculiarly explained with wisely quotes of our Eritrean ancestors from ancient and existing monasteries: “The essence of its flavor seduces the heart and quenches the thirst deep down to your bones.” Geez ziema is a representation of three figure explanation of trinity categorized into Geez, Azel and Araray. It is similar to the concept of scale which isn’t approved with modern music standard approaches; where Geez denotes 1st scale (grave sound), Azel to a 2nd scale (Intercession), and Araray to the 3rd scale (Inspirational). The significance of ziema in society is mainly associated with usage of geez ziema (Liturgical song) which is a type of mezmur (Sound) developed in our country based on geez language; encompasses mainly Tigrigna, Tigre and Amharic languages. It flourished with geez speaking people through centuries as part of geez culture; to date back its history, it was first,  Saint Yared (ቅዱስ ያሬድ) (April 25, 505 – May 20, 571) was a semi-legendary musician credited with inventing the sacred music tradition of the Orthodox Church and Geez system of musical notation, who lived in Aksum almost 1500 years ago. He is responsible for creating the Zema or the chant tradition of Eritrea, particularly the chants of the Eritrean Orthodox Tewahedo Church, which are still performed today. He is regarded as a saint of the Orthodox Church with a feast day of 11 Genbot (May 19). Yared gaining musical insight and talent through interaction with three birds, which inspired him to link the spiritual with the musical through the blending of musical terms which he defined as Ge’ez, Izil, and Ararary. Yared arranged and composed hymns connected to religious celebrations and holidays, introducing the concept of sacred music to the Orthodox services. Geez music reflects the ziema part or what we call in the western world melody of the song. Eritronic music is simply the reflection of music, ziema, culture in reference of time. In a world of countless little choices sometimes “more” is more hassle. Making music shouldn’t be like pondering paint swatches. It should be simply one, two, and three………. As an alternative evolution of music, we attempted to fuse trance with geez music which gave more melodic nature with more bouncy techno like sound. I called it Eritronic; peculiar brand trademark of Eritrean style. However, looking back provides not only an intense nostalgia but also a clear picture of how far we have come as society flourishing geez culture. The role of experimentation in this metamorphosis has its own story to tell about Eritronic. Eritronic is breathtaking phenomena where you can experience its exhilarating legacy. But, still, value judgments and preference are subjective and should be left on the eye of the beholder.

Next: part two of the conversation