Salsa’s worldwide craze hasn’t skipped over Ethiopia. Young people and other footloose folks have welcomed the Latin dance and music form into the country’s diverse cultural repertoire. Plus, a new hybrid of Ethiopian and Latin music adds even more flavour: Ethio-salsa.
Six years ago, a new beat began to move Ethiopians. At least that’s when Nebiyu Berhanu, one of Addis Ababa’s most famous salsa teachers, tracks the beginning frenzy of locals taking lessons and hitting the nightclub salsa socials.
“Salsa’s popularity might be explained for the simple reason of the music’s distinct rhythms and the magnetic attraction the dance creates between the dancers when they do it right,” says Berhanu. “But it’s been around for over twenty years, after a lot of young Ethiopians were sent to Cuba for education and then came back with the music and the dance.”
Any theory on why the art form has been so well received at home? “The commonality between Ethiopian and salsa music might be somewhat explained by the African origins of Latin music and culture,” says Berhanu. “But it could also just be the fun and romance of it all.”
Eshee Havana has also helped salsa sizzle across the country. The Addis Ababa band, made up of both Ethiopians and expat musicians, are proud pioneers of Ethio-salsa. Their versions of renowned Ethiopian singer Mahmoud Ahmed’s songs ‘Derra‘ and ‘Belomi Benna‘ are two such examples.
“Our goals are firstly to combine the power and passion of salsa with the alluring, mystical sound of classic Ethiopian songs,” says bandleader and founder Tim Dodd. “Secondly, we want to introduce this innovative fusion to as large a cross-section of people as possible – both locally and internationally.”