Music has always played a pivotal role in Eritrea. It mobilised people during the 30-year war of independence from Ethiopia, and after peace was finally won in 1991 it formed the soundtrack to a new nation emerging from decades of conflict.
Most of the country’s early songs reflected on the hardship Eritreans had suffered during the war, with many carrying overtly political messages to unite the citizens and recruit the young to fight.
Since independence was declared in 1993, the repertoire has expanded. Now, singers address anything from pride in Eritrea’s successes to songs of protest – as well as love and partying, just like musicians everywhere.
Eritrea has a long, rich history of folk and ritual music. One of the earliest compilations was recorded by ethnomusicologists at America’s Smithsonian Institute. A 1951 Folkways compilation on Ethiopia, but also taking in Sudan and Eritrea, is a great place to start, as is a later compilation dedicated to religious music of the region.