During the final years of the Italian occupation in the Horn of Africa, Italian music labels produced and commercialized records of traditional music from various Ethiopian regions. Some of the records remained in Ethiopia. In other cases, the sonic material spread in different directions, in the form of 78 rpm discs, following the return of Italians to their homeland, as well as the routes of the Ethiopian diaspora around the world. Of some of these discs, we ignore whether there are surviving copies.
This contribution addresses the following questions: is there a sonic memory of these recordings in Addis Ababa and in Ethiopia? And how should we listen to such sonic memories of a colonial project when we come across them in European archives? Through historical research and fieldwork, I will track down the presence of the records both in Ethiopia and Italy. Then I will consider their history while analyzing the role of the commodification of music as part of the attempt to build a fascist empire. In the last part of the contribution, I will discuss the Italian records of Ethiopian music as part of the field of ethnomusicology, paying particular attention to the ongoing debate around the history of the discipline and issues of decolonization.
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Ethiopian music; shellac records; Italian colonialism; colonial memory; Guglielmo Barblan