“Denaboo” – Original Oromo song by Belfaa

Today’s post features an original song by Belfaa Mosisa, one of the singers and composers at Nekemte’s Cultural and Tourism Bureau. Belfaa is originally from Adugna, a town in West Wellega.  He learned Oromo cultural music quite naturally as he grew up, since the people in his community constantly sang the songs and practiced these activities in his home town.

Belfaa kept cattle as a child and, to entertain himself, he would imitate some of his favorite Oromo singers. As he was in the countryside with his herd, far from home, he imagined what it would be like if he were to become a professional singer like them, performing on the stage and producing records.

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Animal husbandry is common across many parts of Ethiopia. The Oromo call this type of cow the sanga (source)

Thus, when he heard about a position opening up for a singer in Nekemte’s cultural troupe in 2007, he traveled to town and auditioned. He not only got the position but has proceeded to win medals in various competitions and travels to other regions of Ethiopia to perform. He even went to Gambela to perform for the Nation and Nationalities Day last December.

Belfaa has been composing for the last nine years. I asked him about the inspiration behind his songs, to which he responded, “My culture was hidden for a long time, and, still now, because of religion and others integrating into the region, this culture is about to disappear. So, I’m trying to keep this culture to not be hidden, to not disappear. And that is my motivation.”

We already talked in our previous post about the oppression of Oromo language and culture during previous government regimes. Belfaa also alluded to religion being a problem in preserving cultural music. In Ethiopia, Protestant Christians in particular make strict divisions between sacred and secular music, and listening to or performing secular music is forbidden. As Protestant Christianity grows, there is less and less space for cultural music to flourish. I recently discovered that even some Orthodox Christians (the Ethiopian Orthodox Church was founded in the fourth century A.D. in the regions northeast of Nekemte) in Oromia cease to practice Oromo cultural music in favor of focusing on mezmur, or devotional songs. (Although, if you talk to the Amhara people, they consider the Orthodox church to be the origin of cultural music…so, it depends on where you are and to whom you are talking). Many Muslims also prefer to sing their religious music rather than cultural songs (with the exception of those like Nuredin, of course.)

At any rate, Belfaa wrote this particular song that we’re featuring (“Denaboo”) about two years ago. He wrote it with a pan-Oromo sensibility in mind, invoking many cultural elements that are shared across different regions of Oromia. He derived his inspiration for this song from sitting and listening to his elders, and said, “For the coming generation, this must be sustained. When I feel to write this song, I feel I have to sustain this thing…which is not taking place now.” Belfaa has won several awards for this particular composition.

Translation:

Ayee

God of creation, creator God
God of Wolabu, God of all Raya
God of the five Leka elders
God of the seven Gudaru elders
God of the five Iluu elders
God of the four Gida elders
You kept us safe this long night, and keep us safe the whole day
Keep us from sin and keep us from wrongdoing
Make us healthy inside and out, our cattle, our farm
Give us wealth and health, protect the wealth that you give to the owner

Ayee [yes]

The eyes of God are merciful, the earth is also merciful
Our elder men are merciful, our elder women are merciful, our young ones are merciful
Our virgin girls are merciful, our gadaa is merciful
Leka is merciful, Oromia is merciful
Odaa is merciful, Wellega is merciful

Ayee

Now, let me bless you
Be the light on top of the mountain
Be above everything
Be the winning lion
Don’t be absent from the family sitting around the fire
Have good dreams in your sleep
Be successful when you go out
Have the fruit of your farm, may your farm be blessed
Be profitable merchants, be intelligent students
Be as numerous as the sand, and you will not die out even if you are separated
Your truth must be seen

Ayee, ayee…Our gadaa is a blessing. Be blessed.

Denaboo yaa gadaa lubba Abbaboo [Our gadaa system is blossoming]
Denaboo darab Abba Makoo*
Denaboo, gadaa of Oromo
Denaboo, gadaa is ours
Denaboo, gadaa is for everyone
Denaboo, it is good that you reached this day
Denaboo yaa gadaa lubba Abbaboo 4x
Denaboo our gadaa is like a buffalo
Denaboo it [the gadaa] grows together
Denaboo the father of heroes
Denaboo who fights for us with guns
Denaboo the father of lazy son
Denaboo when will you speak the truth? [if your sons are lazy, you will lie, because you can’t rely on your sons to fight for you]
Denaboo go to the caafe
Denaboo address the gadaa of your father
Denaboo yaa gadaa lubba Abbaboo

Wolahin, wolahin, wolahin
Gabarin, gabarin, gabarin**

Denaboo yaa gadaa lubba Abbaboo 4x
Denaboo, the leader of Gibe
Denaboo, you brought the season of plentiful harvest
Denaboo the leader whose name I call
Denaboo you brought a time of no famine
Denaboo a leader of Kilole
Denaboo dance your cultural dance
Denaboo the season is good for you
Denaboo yaa gadaa lubba Abbaboo 2x

Wolahin, wolahin, wolahin
Gabarin, gabarin, gabarin

The leader of Qarsa
It is your responsibility to keep the cattle safe for eight seasons
Take the cattle to the pastures
The leader of Qarsa
You’re the one who keeps our farm green
The leader of Qarsa
The leader of Irreecha
The leader of Qarsa
The leader of Shashi, reward us***
The leader of Qarsa
You should not escape from such a leader
The leader of Qarsa
It is your responsibility to keep the cattle safe for eight seasons 2x

Wolahin, wolahin, wolahin
Gabarin, gabarin, gabarin

Our gadaa is blossoming, blossoming
The season of gadaa, be merciful to us, be merciful, be merciful

* Abba Makoo was a gadaa leader from a long time ago
** “Gabarin” and “Wolahin” are groups in the gadaa hierarchy
*** The shashi is a scarf used to cover a woman’s hair—there was a leader who was known for putting this scarf around his head that would be called to give blessings, so he was known as “Shashi”

Many of the names in this song refer to places around Oromia (Wolabu, Leka, Iluu, Gidu, Qarsa…you get the idea). Belfaa also frequently refers to the gadaa (may also be spelled gada) in the lyrics, which is an indigenous Oromo system of democratic governance based on age-sets. Gadaa is not as widely practiced as it once was, but many scholarly studies have been devoted to it, and many Oromo people evoke to it as a hallmark of cultural pride (Belfaa is not the first to include it in his song lyrics, either; famous singer Ali Birra also includes gadaa in his lyrics). The gadaa is a sophisticated system of checks and balances that prevents the accumulation of power by any one individual. There are eleven age sets, separated by eight years, and each age set has a certain set of responsibilities and social roles to fulfill. As one grows out of his age-set, he passes into the next age-set and assumes the next set of responsibilities.

Belfaa also mentions “Odaa,” a tree which has held spiritual and ritual significance for Oromo in the past and has now become an especially important symbol of pan-Oromo identity.

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Odaa Tree (source)

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You can also see the Odaa tree represented on these flags as Oromo in London protested against the Addis Ababa Master Plan

The lyrics also reference Irreecha (may also be spelled Erecha), which is an annual festival that takes place at the end of the rainy season. Oromo gather near well-known bodies of water to celebrate the holiday, such as Debrezeit (in Shewa) or Sori (around Metu). Originally, Irreecha is linked with indigenous religions, but Emanuel tells me that people of all faiths celebrate it. Likely, it has lost some of its religious significance for Oromo following the Christian or Muslim faiths but has acquired cultural significance. This festival was banned until the latest government regime came to power in the 1990s.

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Oromo gathered for Irreecha celebration (source)

Like any holiday, of course, it is accompanied by song:

 

Belfaa is currently working to gather some video clips of his performances and make a VCD to preserve and disseminate this cultural music. He said, “[My] message is for everybody to not forget this culture, this identity, which comes through generations, which comes through many [sacrifices].”

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Belfaa Mosisa, composer and singer for Nekemte’s cultural troupe

 

*** Again, many thanks to Emanuel for his hard work in translating interviews, song texts, and providing additional information on the culture and history of the Oromo people!

Bibliography:

Hinew, Dereje. 2012. “History of Oromo Social Organization: Gadaa Grades Based Roles and Responsibilities.” Star Journal 1 (3): 88-96.

Jalata, Asafa. 2012. “Gadaa (Oromo Democracy): An Example of Classical African Civilization.” Sociology Publications and Other Works 5 (1): 126-152.

Mollenhauer, Shawn Michael. 2011. “Millions on the Margins: Music, Ethnicity, and Censorship among the Oromo of Ethiopia.” Ph.D. dissertation, University of California Riverside.

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