Ethiopia: The Making of a Film Without a Score

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Teza by Haile Gerima tells the story of the trials and tribulations of one individual during military rule. This film, which has won many international awards, narrates the story of the revolution and re-visioning of a better Ethiopia by using elements of mythology.

It is not only the story that won awards but also the film score, which was done by Jorga Mesfin and Vijay Iyer. Taking the spectators on a unique journey, the music attentively captures and takes you into the story of what Haile Gerima called the hope of the new generation; the children of the dragon, the start of the new world order.

Blending the sounds of the washint, kirar, and begena gives the film a unique element of what Ethiopian music entails. At the premier of the film a couple of years ago, Haile Gerima mentioned his appreciation of the film score and said "Jorga has an ancient soul".

Haile Gerima, who is part of the concept known as "third cinema", is one Ethiopian filmmaker who has his own way of telling a story. Many of the Ethiopian films are criticized for story-telling technique, picture quality and sounds.

The Ethiopian film industry, started fifty years ago with a 35 mm film, Hirut Abatwa Manew? Later on films such as Guma, Aster and Behiwot Zuria have been appreciated for having good cinema technique, storytelling and beautiful shots. Coming to the contemporary, video films many are highly criticized for lacking basic film components. One of the film components which filmmakers mention is film's score (film music). Many of the films in Ethiopia do not have an original music score, they are filled with western popular songs without considering copyright infringement.

Studying film in America, Yonas Berhane Mewa only included original scores for the three films he has made, namely Hermela, Yemoriam Medir and Eton. For his other films, existing songs have been included, which he thinks are synchronized in the film.

According to Yonas, even though, compared to the number of released films, which is more than 100 a year, the film scores that are done are not a lot in number he believes there is a good beginning.

In many cases the way the film score is done is that the arrangers are told the genre of the film and they proceed to do the score without seeing the film or understanding the story, which, according to Yonas, leads to the music usually not going with the film.

Because the music is not done in synchronization with the film, Yonas says that the music should flow with that without any disruption.

"The music should not be inseparable from the film, rather it should give the sense, emotion, and value of the film," Yonas says.

With his film Eton, a musician name Enqu Girma did the film score in a way that was unique and, apart from western influences, he also added sistrum, drum which, according to Yonas, expresses the film's essence.

With his other films he did not do original film scores but existing jazz and blues music. He did not hide the fact that many films are giving focus to film scoring, which he thinks is only done for one scene, something that confuses the whole film.

Many filmmakers say film scoring is the decisive part of the film and, according to Sertse Feresebhat, a music critic and music instructor, in the film the score sets the mood, paints the feelings and also gives interpretations for audiences.

Sertse says that with the film score different sounds interpret the director's storytelling. Apart from setting the mood, Sertse says that film scores also helps to identify the characters better.

It is not only characters but also the orchestration that tells the different classes of the society and this has been depicted in different films. Sertse says that the score of the film determines the setting and taking people through different times.

Within that he says the popular tunes also decide the timing of the film, like, jazz music tells the story of the 1920s and 1930s, rock music the 1960s and 1970s. And even though there are different usages of film scoring, Serte puts it into two categories, one is underscoring, which is film score composition that represents (expresses) the film, history, characters, setting and also the feeling.

The other type is source music, which is using the music from the scene and is someting heard by the characters. For example, if the character plays a radio or if someone goes in a club and music is played on those occasions.

Coming into the Ethiopian experience, Sertse says that with regard to the first film, Hirut Abatwa Manew?, even though there is no original score there was music from azmaris, the scenes of the night club were featured by music, and also a collection of music that can give a picture of that time were collectively used as source music.

On the other hand, though films such as Aster and Guma, did not use original scoring fully for the film Getachew Gesi composed music.

With the coming of video films and digitalization, Sertse says that they employed instrumentally arranged music used in radio narration. For Sertse a film based on the legendary Haile Gebreselassie's life entitled 'Endurance' has a successful film score. The film scorer is Jean Paul, and Tizita was orchestrated into this score.

There are individual contributions and Sertse mentions Enku Girma's Yemoriam Medir, Paulos Regassa's Ashenge, Elias Melka's Comoros, Tadelle Feleke's Amran, Abirham Tesfaye's Lomi Sheta, Beruk Assefa's Rebuni. Within this he gives a special place for Jorga Mesfin's work in Teza and Daniel's score Albo for following the discipline and setting such a standard.

He says that film scoring like film making is in its infancy where there are no such musicians who have studied it as a discipline.

Within that he says the absence of an orchestra, lack of sophisticated studio and no sound engineer, the ones who are trying to make the score should be appreciated.

There are different ways of doing scores for films, sometimes the composer comes at the end of the session when it is edited; sometimes they are given scripts and storyboards and make the film score without seeing the film itself. Usually, film directors talk to the composers and discuss the message it is going to convey. There are also times where the director follows the music to direct their films.

One of the few film score arrangers in Ethiopia is Sultan Nuri, a.k.a Soffi. A musician who did film scores for more than 20 films such as Pendulum, Yemecherashawa Kemis, Belidete Ken, Abiro Abed, Semina Work, Yebirhan Firma, Bilatena, City Boy and Fekren Yayachihu, he talks about the misconception many have where they use soundtracks interchangeably with the music. A film score is part of the soundtrack as well as the dialogue and encompasses other elements.

Starting his film score making with the film entitled Abay vs Vegas, he says that there are promising initiatives where filmmakers come to music arrangers. He says that with the music style it is easy to grasp what kind of film it is. In the past he used to arrange the music after reading the script but nowadays he started to sit with the editor and go step by step.

He says that the most important thing is to understand the concept of the film and after that the music follows. The way he does the music score is first he sits with the director to get to know what kind of concept the director wants to convey and after understanding it he begins arranging.

Source: The Reporter 15 November 2014