New Victory Blog

The New Victory Blog is a place to learn more about New York's theater for families and the shows we produce. Find out what we do and what we're passionate about—exploring the arts as a family.
December 10, 2018

The Music of Circus Abyssinia: Ethiopian Dreams

The music of Circus Abyssinia: Ethiopian Dreams, all sung in the Amharic language, celebrates Ethiopia’s artistic and cultural heritage as a sovereign African nation. These were the songs creators Bibi and Bichu took with them as young boys on their first journey from Ethiopia to work in circuses around the world. Mixing the traditional and the contemporary, the music invites you to join the cast in celebrating their country's rich heritage. Listen here as you read more about the exuberant and powerful songs associated with each act of Circus Abyssinia: Ethiopian Dreams.

Opening Dance and Hand-Vaulting—"Abebayehosh" by Teddy Afro
"Abebayehosh" by Teddy Afro is a modern take on a classical song. Traditionally, it is sung by young girls in the early morning of the New Year, caroling door-to-door in exchange for bread or fruit. Meaning "blessing," it bestows well-wishes on its listeners. 


Photo: Maike Schulz


Contortion—"Ambassal" by Haymanot Tesfa
This beloved song was inspired by one of the country's most ancient places—Ambassel, a mountain fortress once ruled by the Jantiraran aristocratic family. It is also the name of one of the Ethiopian musical scales, signifying how integral the relationship between land and music is to Ethiopia's national identity.

Photo: Andrey Petrov

Rolla Bolla—"Maringue Cha" by DJ Same
A song sung by a man to a woman who loves him, he's teasing her for feigning disinterest in him. The title "Maringe Cha" plays on the merengue, a dance exported to Ethiopia from the Dominican Republic. Despite the nod to another culture, the song itself is very much Ethiopian in style and is essentially about the dance of lovers as they tease and playfully rebuff each other.


Rolla Bolla
Photo: Maike Schulz

Cloth-Spinning—"Darign" by Jano Band
"Darign" translates to "permission" and denotes a ceremonial send-off for a bride. In this song, a woman sings about how she fell in love with a man for his eyes and now wants to marry him. In the show, four cloth-spinning women perform in response to the woman's story in a scene of playful, gossiping sisterhood. 

Photo: Andrey Petrov

Aerial Chain Act—"Dunya" by Anteneh Minalu
"Dunya" is a lament about time and destiny—a complaint that no matter how hard we work or what we do, time will catch up with us. "Dunya" means "earth" in Amharic, and also extends beyond its literal meaning to mean the universe and all of mankind. 


Aerial Chains
Photo: Maike Schulz


Icarian Games—"Hager Alegn" by Jano Band
Meaning "I have a country," this song celebrates Ethiopia as a land of origins—as the cradle of humanity, the source of the Blue Nile, the birthplace of coffee. It also calls for respect between cultures and for all of us around the world to embrace our unity, even as we acknowledge our differences. 


Icarian Games
Photo: Maike Schulz


Hula-Hoop—"Kal" by Jano Band
"Kal" is another song from Ethiopia's premier musical group—Jano Band, a leader in the creation of new Ethiopian music, and the first pioneer of Ethiopian rock. "Kal" means "vow" and the song describes a young woman's promise to herself to never be impressed with money or material things and to never forget that love is the most beautiful and precious gift of all. In the show, we also see this "vow" transform into an artist’s promise to herself to never lose touch with the sheer joy of performing.


Photo: Maike Schulz


Contortion Dance—"Misekir" by Fikreaddis Nekatibeb
"Misekir" in English means "witness," and this song tells the story of the triumph of love over money. "Misekir" accompanies the final contortion act, performed by four young women—a celebratory, life-affirming exploration of what is possible when individual limits are surpassed by people working and performing together.

Photo: Che Chorley


Rigging of the Chinese Poles—"Tikur Sew" by Teddy Afro
The lyrics asserts Ethiopia as an example for all African nations to follow, describing the country as the cradle of humanity to which the beginnings of history and culture can be traced, the only nation to be ruled by an African monarchy until 1975 and a country that has resisted all attempts to colonize it.

This scene harkens back to creators Bibi and Bichu's childhood. As young boys, Bibi and Bichu would wake at 3:00am and walk five miles to the Boye Dam. There, they would pluck large, heavy reeds to create safety mats to perform acrobatics after school. While they carried the reeds from the dam in the dark, they warded off their fears and exhaustion by singing their favorite chants and songs. When the troupe rigs the Chinese Poles for the show's final act, they act out the age-old work tradition of keeping spirits high by joining voices in song.

Chinese Pole and Finale—"Utopia" by Bang La Decks
This infectiously upbeat song is a modern electro dance-track that plays on a traditional Amharic saying, "Ethiopia hiwote," meaning "Ethiopia, my life," or, "My life is Ethiopia." The lyrics extend an invitation to dance in celebration of Ethiopia's "Utopia."


Chinese Pole
Photo: Che Chorley

Posted by Beth Henderson
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