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Kmbob: A Refined Eritrean Art Form

This is a beautiful clip from Western Eritrea criticizing modern Eritrean songs and comparing today’s music, artists and the characters that accompany them with the dignified, refined music of  other giants of Eritrean artists [the singer admires Ogbagaber, Yemane Barya, Hamed Wed Sheik, Wed Amir, and Abrar Osman.] The sarcastic and intelligent music is delivered in a style known as Kmbob, where the spoken word in the form of poetry is accompanied by Rebaba, a six stringed instrument similar to a lyre. In this Kmbob, the artist is talking about Song as if he were a person. The following is Awate Team’s translation of the Kmbob from Tigrayet to English. Unfortunately, we do not know the name of the poet or the musician or the producer of the clip which we found posted on the facebook page of our friend Sheikh Mohammed Juma’a from the UK. We will try to to find the artists and producers who deserve all the credit. When we find them, we will ask for more of such great work to satiate our thirst for refined art form.


Is your talk better than the history of the worldly?
Everyone sings a Song, all expressing what is in their minds,
Song: deserves the earth, watching its seasons,
Song: deserves the brave, to prepare its death shroud,
Song: deserves our people, with their history and pride,
Song: deserves a martyr, who for his nation dies,
Song of love is just a fashion, with time, away it fades.

Song: is bloodied, shall we complain to the police or the judge?
If you listen to the radio, “let me kiss your lips!”
If you watch the TV, all legs and butts,
This is not Song, but bodies cheaply [displayed].

Song is destroyed, it fell and [and fell with a thud],
Song: let me borrow from you, and I will pay you later,
Song: brush away the debts, forget it altogether,
Song: is Yemane Barya, but the evil eye* dried it up,
Song: is Idris Son of Amir, that burned in its sleep,
But today’s Song: it neither traveled nor returned,
Oh Song! Sadly, today you are sick; bad luck befell you,
Wake up, get ready, we need to take you to the doctor.

Song: you are diminishing in this bad age,
You are wandering like fenced goats,
Today you have become bitter; you were sweet before,
You didn’t find Barya or Son of Amir,
Your market went dry, and you are thirsty,

You depend on water from the goatskin of the minister**,
Didn’t we know you with the lyre, drums and dancing of braided hair?
Alas, the demons landed on you, those with organs and brass.

Oh men! Bear witness as Song is being assailed,
You see an “artist” jumping and the organ crying, neeq, neeq,
We saw the stolen Song and its complaining owner,
Where would the debts of Song be paid from?

Song is Oqbagabir, if you wish for a meaning and history,
Song is Abrar son of Osman: listen to the lyrics and the melody,
And Song is Hamad son of Sheik, as he raises the dust.

Song: remained in the streets, it neither left nor returned,
Song: is sick, its ailments unknown
It is laying in a hospital, neither alive nor buried with the dead,
It lost the Son of Amir to death, and the rest aged.

Song: is sung by one, and listened by the ears of many,
Song: is sung by one, and watched by the eyes of many,
They tell me to bury Song, that it is dead,
I say, “Song is not an army that is led by commanders!”
And….[that is why] I lost sleep last night.

A new law has come, we don’t know a source for it!
Song needs a solution, it is dying, it is to depart!
It is not a border demarcation, advised by a committee.
Song is judged by the people: they reject or choose it.

(Translated into English from Tigrayet by the Awate Team, 2/16/2012)

*mn aayunu neshfa could mean ‘dried from its source’ as ZHaile says, but we think it means, ”when an evil eye befell it’ (as in Tahassidu, as in ‘aayenewu.’ )

** A reader hears zeer (clay pot for water.) Ours is more poetic; since Zeer (water container) is not common in the culture of the singer as is Harib, a goatskin. He says, mn may Harib wezir. Given the context, border demarcation, army, commanders, and committee, minister makes sense. Thanks Mahmood Abdalla! One more time, poetry yields to reality. 

  • Good to strat with our music in this site and it is nice to know where we came from. First came Tigre fm Gieaz then Tigringa and atlast Amiharinga. Amharinga try to kill to his mother, It is the end of the world and no life after this life:-)

  • Awate came now to their good sense and I thank them.We are so tired by politic and want sometimes some rest after work.Music and culture are the same or music are into culture to say in short and without both we not are.
    Rebaba is like Kirar and O’uad and playd in whole horn Africa Eritrea,Sudan,Ethioppia and Somalia are almost one people from every cornor and this is our best.
    Yemane G.Micheal are my hero and the first time I heard about him 1979 when I was a kid in Asmera with his Disco ” Wedebat Adey and Asmera” and then” Nay Mekaber Bitsotey” the nostalgi song and all Tegadelti love the lyric.But The “Makabir bitsotey” have a long history back home in 1974 in Asmera before all artist went to Jebha and Redie (Bashay) now in Canda helped also to Yemane.

  • Zhaile

    ” is Yemane Barya, but the evil eye dried it up,”

    I commend your effort but your translation misses quite few points. I know it is very difficult to translate Tigre poems. And I never attempt to do it myself. Therefore I shouldn’t criticise…But I will do the later anyway… it’s easier.

    In the above statement. The word is not “eye”. the word sounds the same but it means “source” of water. In this case “source” of poetry. It dried in it’s source. Evil might be implie but not expressed.

    • awatestaff


      We love criticism; we really do. Not the you-are-weyane-go-back-where-you-came-from type of criticism, but one that says, “you messed up; and this is how.” So go for it, Zhaile. How would you write that specific line about Yemane Barya–“we mn Ayunu neshfa”–into English?

      Better yet, here is the artist, with another “song”

      • Awatestaff,

        Song: brush away the debts, forget it altogether,
        Song: is Yemane Barya, that dried up the spring,
        Song: is Idris Son of Amir, that burned in its sleep,

        Assuming ayn=spring as in arabic

        I don’t know Tigre, thanks for the translation I can follow it the beautiful song/poetry.


        • “it dried from (in) its scruoe”.We know Barya is dead. That could be the scruoe.The question is though, what is the scruoe of Barya’s poetry? Is it Yemane? Is it the reality that made, produced or forced yemane to be a poet ? or is it the Almighty? Or if you want to be mundane, is it that our Yemane type of gene pull dried in its scruoe? The answer is up to your imagination. It could be something else. But the poet does not tell. He does not know himself. He is musing on what he is witnessing.And so follows with Idris wed Amir….

      • Zhaile

        I was looking for Geez fonts. The words are so close in written and sound that it’s hard to differentiate them when written in English alphabet. But even though I see them written correctly in Geez in my screen I do not see them when I copied the text in the Awate’s comment area. Anyway, for whatever its worth, here it is.

        —}=eye —}pq plural
        –ð}= spring (the beginning, the point where water comes out of the ground and it starts to flow)
        |ÃöÍ=dried (a river, a source of water, a spring). Very close to the arabic word Nashif
        šÍ= dried (a wet piece of cloth dried)
        ¥mk\=dried (a piece of wood)

        In the first paragrahp, the poet is telling to who, whom and what situation “Hilay” would apply.

        In the second paragraph “Hilay” is “bloodied”. Description of the pathetic state in which “HILAY” finds iteself.
        Third and part of second paragraphs are about the malaise that is destroying “HILAY”. And here comes the paragraph about Yemane Barya’s poetry. Which the poet says “it dried from (in) its source”.
        We know Barya is dead. That could be the source.The question is though, what is the source of Barya’s poetry? Is it Yemane? Is it the reality that made, produced or forced yemane to be a poet ? or is it the Almighty? Or if you want to be mundane, is it that our Yemane type of gene pull dried in its source? The answer is up to your imagination. It could be something else. But the poet does not tell. He does not know himself. He is musing on what he is witnessing.
        And so follows with Idris wed Amir….

  • Zhaile

    I love the frankness of Tigre poets. This guy is great in his own rights.
    This is a full blown analysis and critic of the present state of the eritrean poetry and songs landscape.
    But he does not stop there. The decay of these (songs and poetry, “Hilay”) mental expressions is in itself the loss of purpose, orientation of the society. “Song is not an army that is led by commanders!”.

    • awatestaff

      We heard wezeer (minister), Mahmooud heard zeer (clay pot for water.) Ours is more poetic; Mahmooud’s correction more literal. Perhaps our hearing was impaired because the organ was crying “neeq, neeq! Thanks Mahmood Abdalla. Once again, poetry yields to reality:-)

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