Songs from the Oromo

The Oromo are the largest ethnic group in Ethiopia (around 34% according to Ethiopia's 2007 national census), and Oromia region covers a significant portion of Ethiopia's land mass. With such a large population covering such a large geographic area, there are quite a few variations in styles of music and dance, repertoires, cultural practices, and even language.

In the latter part of the twentieth century through the present, a pan-Oromo consciousness has developed. Banning of the Oromo language and oppression of their cultural practices after Emperor Haile Selassie returned to power after World War II has certainly contributed to this. After Selassie fell in 1974, the communist regime that followed at first encouraged cultural performances by the Oromo but soon began to fear the possibility of growing pan-Oromo ethno-nationalist sentiment as a threat to their power. Oromo performances were later forbidden, and some musicians imprisoned. Though present-day government lifted such bans, Oromo musicians involved in political protests have still faced censorship and imprisonment, even as recently as 2015-2016.

At any rate, at present, there is still more freedom in Oromo musical performances in the past, and this difficult history makes the performance of Oromo cultural music and its transmission to future generations that much more significant.

As mentioned, there is significant musical variation in different regions of Oromia. The songs presented here are from Nekemte, in western Oromia, where I visited in summer 2016.

Songs (in Alphabetical Order)

"Iyasee" - traditional song, sung by Nuredin Abas

Credits and Bibliography

Research Associates

Emanuel Ayalew


“Ethiopia: Three Singers Arrested, Abducted and Tortured.” January 6, 2016. Freemuse.

Fortin, Jacey. 2016. “Ethiopia Halts Regional Plan After Protests.” The New York Times, January 13, 2016.

Mollenhauer, Shawn Michael. 2011. “Millions on the Margins: Music, Ethnicity, and Censorship among the Oromo of Ethiopia.” Ph.D. dissertation, University of California Riverside.

Qashu, Leila. 2011. “Staged Public Music Performances of the Oromo of Ethiopia.” In Territoires Musicaux Mis En Scène, edited by Monique Desroches, 75–92. Montréal: Presses de l’Université de Montréal.