R E U P L O A D
About three hundred years ago, a group of Jews left the Gonder area of Ethiopia to seek their fortunes in Ethiopia's North Shewa area and later in Addis Ababa, where they settled in the Kechene neighborhood. Like their Gonder cousins who have since migrated in large numbers to Israel, this group consisted mostly of craftsmen, known especially for their beautiful hand-built pottery and woven cloth. But as the years passed, times became difficult and beginning in the 18th century, they experienced periods of extreme repression.
Eventually the community's leaders felt that the only way to survive was to go underground - literally. Much like the Anusim of medieval Spain and Portugal, they practiced Christianity on the outside while secretly following Judaism in hidden synagogues, often in caves that are located hours away by foot from the nearest town.
Fifteen of these secret synagogues still exist today, concentrated in the North Shewa area about 80 miles north of Addis Ababa. In the largest, called Mugar, about 300 men and women live permanently, their numbers swelling further at least twice a year when other community members join to commemorate their martyrs and celebrate their festivals. As with other Ethiopian Jews, their tradition consists only of pre-Talmudic practices.
The elders believe that the caves will take you to Yerushalayim (Jerusalem). Sintayehu said that he and Demeke once walked for 15 minutes inside the Mugar synagogue-cave and there was no end. Their torch, a candle, eventually burned out.
The traditional songs you hear in this album come from these secret synagogues, passed down from generation to generation.
Within the last few years a group of young men emerged from this community and, thanks to Ethiopia's new constitution that guarantees freedom of worship, they decided to openly practice their religion once more. Much had been forgotten with regard to Jewish practice, but they opened a small synagogue in the Kechene neighborhood of Addis Ababa and learned anew. Although not yet recognized by the state of Israel as eligible for immigration under the Law of Return, in their songs they yearn for Jerusalem and for Israel - the land of their ancestors. Demeke and Sintayehu explain that this music, which the members sing after their regular Friday evening worship service, carries you spiritually to a different time and place. They are certainly right about that.
All the singers on this album remember their grandmothers and grandfathers singing these traditional songs in the secret synagogues. Demeke ben Engda, who moonlights as a professional singer and regularly leads the Friday evening Sabbath worship service in Kechene, has composed several modern songs in the traditional style. (Another synagogue member, Daniel Desalegn Firku, is a part-time collaborator.) Yet all members realize that, with increased exposure to the outside world, the danger lurks that all these songs may become irrevocably lost or changed. Hence the decision to make this CD -- the first of its kind. We are grateful to everyone who contributed.
01 - Beta Avraham 'Kechene' Community - Miseker (Witness) (6:56)
02 - Beta Avraham 'Kechene' Community - B'yerusalem (In Jerusalem) (5:05)
03 - Beta Avraham 'Kechene' Community - Min Alu Dawit (What David Said) (4:04)
04 - Beta Avraham 'Kechene' Community - Kiber New (It Is an Honor) (5:44)
05 - Beta Avraham 'Kechene' Community - Senbet L'yuna (Sabbath Is Unique) (4:49)
06 - Beta Avraham 'Kechene' Community - Temesgen (Thanks to God) (4:08)
07 - Beta Avraham 'Kechene' Community - Zimare (Song) (4:18)
08 - Beta Avraham 'Kechene' Community - Tesfaye (My Hope) (8:28)
09 - Beta Avraham 'Kechene' Community - B'bete Mekdes (Inside the Sanctuary) (4:59)
10 - Beta Avraham 'Kechene' Community - Tizazu Yemayishar (His Holy Commandments) (5:09)