Boasting an astonishing 80 different cultures there is no doubt that Ethiopia is a country of diversity, and in his directional debut Quino Piñero sets out to tell its story through its songs. Roaring Abyss is a journey around “the land where even the coffee beans sing” to seek out the last examples of traditional Ethiopian music.
The cut and paste style used for each area becomes rather repetitive and begins to feel like a series of short films strung together, so perhaps some ruthless editing was in order. That said, there is a great feel for the country. We travel from region to region, each with its own fierce tradition, style and interpretation of their craft. However, in every village, city or town we visit, there is always a strong sense of community. They are big bands with big audiences, and it seems in the rural areas that the entire village will come together to sing. Their songs are part of everyday life, Ethiopia is a country brimming with music in all its forms and Roaring Abyss gives us a great feeling of this.
Some of these traditions however are dying away, the rather worried instrument maker warns against the introduction of western instruments and perhaps one of the most memorable groups is a rather sad military band. Suspended in time, the aging musicians play to an empty theatre in dusty uniforms, and with no one from the next generation to take over this tradition will die with its members.
It would have been nice to hear some more from the musicians. In particular, one wide-eyed singer with the stage presence of Jagger in an ill-fitting suit deserved more than his 3 minutes of screen time. This is a whistle-stop tour of Ethiopia where the music does the talking. But perhaps that’s the point, this is not an in depth study of people’s lives but a love letter to Ethiopia’s vibrant musical culture, which even with the threat of synthesisers and electric guitars still has plenty of heart and soul.
Roaring Abyss has its UK premiere on 1st November at The Wee Red Bar at 7pm. Entry to the screening is free.
Image: Africa in Motion; Roaring Abyss