Music has always been an integral part of Ethiopian life, whether it is traditional music or more modern fare. In recent years, with the development of media sharing sites and social media, like Youtube, musicians have found a better and new way to connect with their audience. As a result, the music business is witnessing a dynamic change, which led to the production of some very creative music videos. EBR’s Menna Asrat looks at changing trends in the music business.
Music videos stretch back to the sixties in Ethiopia. The then Ethiopia Television broadcasts of black and white, and sepia music videos, is etched indelibly in the minds of many people, both young and old, in Ethiopia. At the time, music videos involved artists often walking in parks, and singing their songs in a natural setting. They often had no storylines, instead simply concentrating on showcasing the singer. Both traditional and pop singers had their video shot in that manner and many people look back on them fondly.
“I remember watching music videos on television when I was younger,” remembered 60 year old Tadesse Belay. “It was really nice for us to be able to see the artists we loved singing their songs, instead of just listening to it. And we would admire their clothes and their hairstyles. It was just a nice experience to be able to discuss music with your family at home, or with your friends.”
Since that time, cinematography, especially in the music business has come a long way. Better trained cinematographers, better equipment and more creativity has led to the production of some very popular music videos, including one for Teddy Afro’s Mar Eske Twaf¸ which was shot by Sewmehon Yismaw of Sabisa Film Production.
Sabisa has been in the cinematography business for around 10 years. Their business involves making movies and music videos, but it is in music videos that Sabisa’s manager Sewmehon has seen dynamic change in recent years.
“Ever since Youtube and other video sites came along, the music business has changed,” he explains. “Instead of recording and selling an entire album, artists are now just releasing singles, one at a time, and monetizing the music video online. It’s cheaper and easier for the artist.”
Tadesse Mashresha, of 16 Film productions, agrees. “People just aren’t buying full albums anymore,” he says. “Everyone has a smart phone now, so no one wants to buy CDs. The only way for both established and new artists to make money is releasing their music through Youtube.” 16 Film productions was established in 2015.
This trend has encouraged a crop of new musicians who may never have had a chance to join the industry if the status quo were as before.
On the other hand, when the industry starts to become more and more reliant on music videos, the question of cinema quality is raised. Even though an increasingly interconnected world means better knowledge of cinematography techniques, many people complain about a lack of originality.
“You see the same thing in each video,” complains Surafel Gabriel, a 20 year old university student. “.”If one video had a woman posing in some way, the next video will have it. If one video had people dancing in an old house, the next three video swill have it. Some of the videos start to look the same after a while.”
Industry insiders put this down to the way videos are produced, and to the money behind the industry.
“On many video shoots, the director, writer and editor, tends to be the same,” explains Tadesse who has spent five years in cinematography. “If the artists believe the way previous vidos produced is good, they want to deplete it. On top of that, the lack of money in the industry doesn’t give many artists the luxury of creativity.”
The average cost of a single music video, depending on the script and the artists’ demand ranges in between ETB40,000 and ETB120,000.
On the other hand, one of the biggest differences between the business a few years ago and now is that the pressure is on now for music videos to recoup the producers’ investments, pushing the industry towards a more commercialised line of business. However, as Sewmehon explains, it isn’t just an issue in music.
“Cinema, and visual arts itself has become a business,” he explained. “People aren’t going into it for the love of the art anymore. It becomes a way for people to make money. Even going back five years, more people used to get into the art to tell a story, and to transmit message. Now, people repeat the same thing and in the process, the art of cinema is getting lost.”
Yet, the music video industry in Ethiopia is showing no signs of slowing down. In fact, in an age where anyone with an internet connection can try an become a star on the internet, the demand for bite sized chunks of people’s favourite music is not going to reduce. “People really are responding well to improving standards,” says Sewmehon. “Now, we just have to find a way to encourage cinema to become an art once again.”
6th Year . June 16 – July 15 2018 . No.63