The fountain of music

Meklit Hadero

Some 1,500 years ago, a young man from a strong religious background, was born in the kingdom of Aksum, a major trading center and a powerful empire in the ancient world. His name was Yared. Coming from a long line of the religious elite, Yared took up religious education as early as when he was 6 years old. However, the seminal force in today’s Ethiopian music, Yared, has difficulty learning from his very young age. In fact, he continuously fared below average in his religious classes and was constantly mocked and even lashed by his teachers.

Just when he was about to give up something tragic befell Yared’s family; the passing away of his father. Following the loss of a father, Yared was given to an uncle, who was a well-known priest and theology scholar at the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, one of the oldest churches in the world. The opportunity to further his religious education presented itself to Yared once more. There, under the guardianship of his uncle, Yared delved deeper into his education but only to be frustrated by his serious problem to learn at the same pace as his classmates. Soon, frustrations started to get the better of Yared and he decided to bolt to his other uncle and live there.

On the way to his other uncle, Yared, who later became a Saint in the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, was stopped by a heavy rainstorm and decided to take shelter under a tree. There, while deep in thought about his learning disability, Yared noticed an insect trying to climb a tree by carrying a load of seeds. To his sheer amazement, the insect failed in his six trials before finally making it on the seventh one.

Needless to say, that was a moment of reckoning for St. Yared; and from then on he became an excellent child prodigy and took over the role of his uncle at the age of 14.

St. Yared was a celebrated poet, author, music composer and choreographer in his time. According to an Ethiopian legend, St. Yared’s three melodic scores were inspired by birds, three birds to be exact. He called them Ge’ez, Izil and Araray and he meticulously learned their specific melodies and singing to compose his famous church chants for the Ethiopia Orthodox Church, a tradition that is still alive after a century and half. Further more is he is also speculated to have created a form of a musical notation before anybody else in the world.

St. Yared used these scales to compose five volumes of chants and hymns for worship and celebration. And he used these scales to compose and to create an indigenous musical notation system. “The scales evolved into what is known as kiñit, the unique, pentatonic, five-note, modal system that is very much alive and thriving and still evolving in Ethiopia today,’’ said Meklit Hadero, in her 13-minute-long speech she delivered , titled as the unexpected beauty of everyday sound.

Meklit, known simply as “Meklit”, is an Ethiopian singer and songwriter based in San Francisco, California. She is known for her soulful performing style, and for combining jazz, folk, and East African influences in her music. Born in Ethiopia and raised in the U.S., Meklit has served as an artist-in-residence at New York University, the De Young Museum, and the Red Poppy Art House. Currently a fellow of the Wildflowers Institute, Meklit has also completed musical commissions for the San Francisco Foundation and for theatrical productions staged by Brava: “For Women in the Arts”.

Meklit went further back to her musical ancestry, in the speech she delivered at the TedTalks Stage a few months back. TED (Technology, Entertainment and Design) is a global set of conferences run by the private nonprofit organization: Sapling Foundation, under the slogan “Ideas are Worth Spreading”. The emphasis is on the educational aspect.

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