World Sacred Spirit Festival


Zewditou Yohannes
The Art of Azmari poetry and dance

An azmari is a singer, poet, bard, and dancer, all at once, comparable to the African griot or the Bhat people. An azmari may be male or female and is skilled at singing extemporised verses while playing either a masenqo (single-stringed fiddle) or krar (lyre).

  Azmaris are little minstrels in the real sense. From a young adolescent age, they stride across the cities

and narrate the life of yesterday and today. Essentially natives of the city of Gondar in Ethiopia, in today’s date they also live in the capital city of Addis-Ababa and roam the Christian lands of Begemdir, Wello, Gojam, Shewa or Shoa.

Intelligent as well as sarcastic, they are poets of a tradition that is as historical as it is contemporary. As poets of the past, they masterfully narrate the great biblical epics and the legendary souvenirs of the Queen of Sheba and King Solomon. As poets of the present day, they distil their oft-sarcastic lyrics with double-meaning language (sem-enna-werk, “wax-and-gold”) in the famous “tejbeits”, a kind of bistrots where the local mead is overindulged in.

Truly a caste apart in the Ethiopian society, as the African griots might be or the Gypsy musicians of East Europe might be, the Azmaris often initially form a duo: the voice is accompanied by masenqo (single-stringed viol) or krar (lyre with 6 strings). The young women sing and dance with an extraordinary jerking movement of the shoulders and neck.