I've never been to Ethiopia and I don't play an instrument but I came across a video on YouTube of a guy playing this crazy stringed instrument and singing in a language I couldn't understand. I almost clicked back and missed the video; I'm glad I didn't. The guy was Alèmu Aga and the instrument was the begena and after listening to a few minutes I was mesmerized. The twanging buzz of the strings and mellow rhythm of the chant seemed to calm and soothe me. Even though the video was around ten minutes long I found myself playing it over and over without getting bored.
After doing some online research(and believe me there's not a lot of information) I discovered that the begena is somewhat popular in Ethiopia but there are very few people outside of that country that play it at all. Even in Ethiopia at one point due to political nonsense playing the begena was outlawed and knowledge of this ancient instrument was in danger of being lost. Thankfully those times are past now and there's a new generation of musicians learning the art of plucking the historic bass harp. I bought this domain and made this small website in the hopes that I could do a small part in spreading the music and joy I have experienced and help encourage musicains to learn to play this exotic instrument. So please check out the videos below and if you are so inclined spread the noise and help save this wondrous instrument for future generations.
What is a begena?
The begena is an Ethiopian chordophone that resembles a very large lyre. Traditionally it is 1 to 1.5 meters long with 10 string usually made of nylon(instead of the traditional cow or ox gut). It has a boxed sound box ordinarily made of eucalyptus or juniper wood which is covered with stretched hide and produces a haunting, almost hypnotic bass tone with a unique twang or buzzing sound. The begena is used extensively by members of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church for songs that resemble prayer chants, sometimes lasting as long as an hour. Since the instrument is not used in actual church services and prayer meditation is frequently performed alone, even in Ethiopia the begena is not commonly heard.
History of the Begena
Legend holds that Menelik I (the son of King Solomon and Makeda, Queen of Sheba) bought the begena to Ethiopia around 950 BC which would explain why the begena is also known as the "Harp of King David". These claims have been questioned, but the Ethiopian Church truly believes that the begena is the instrument King David played as he danced in front of the Ark of the Covenant and performed for King Saul to cure his insomnia.
Enjoy the Begena Videos Below