Thematic Analysis of Selected Amharic Song Lyrics: A Sociological Approach By: Neguss Yilma Woldesenbet March

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Addis Ababa University


This study examines the themes of Amharic song lyrics composed during the three consecutive regimes: Emperor Haile Selassie I, the Derge and the EPRDF. It offers a critical reading of the governing ideologies’ roles in shaping the themes of the song lyrics, and the social functions of song lyrics at different historical periods. To this end, sixty (60) Amharic song lyrics composed by different lyricists have been selected through multistage sampling methods and analyzed. The three sociological perspectives: functionalism, conflict and symbolic interactionism have been adopted to conduct a qualitative analysis on the selected Amharic song lyrics. In addition, due attentions have been given to the governing ideology of the stated each period while analyzing the themes of the selected Amharic song lyrics. From this study, the following findings have been drawn. The major themes of Amharic song lyrics composed during the reign of Emperor Haile Selassie I are patriotism, education, moral decadence (prostitution and corruption) and political discontents. The positive functions of education and patriotism to enhance the stability and continuity of the society are emphasized in the songs. Whereas, the song lyrics which deal with the themes of moral decadence and political discontents show how poverty and maladministration caused the people’s grievances and hopelessness. The inevitability of conflict between the oppressed mass and the ruling class due to the unfair distribution of wealth and political repressions is implied in these song lyrics. The Amharic song lyrics composed during the reign of the Derge are thematically categorized into revolutionary songs and non-revolutionary songs. Apart from echoing the motto of the order “Ethiopia First”, the themes of revolutionary songs hugely celebrate the achievements of the 1974 revolution. The revolutionists’ effort to fight the serious political repressions is much appreciated in these songs. On the other hand, these songs label the opposition parties (EPRP & MEISON), the secessionists (TPLF & EPLF) and the Somali aggressors as the enemy of the revolution. Though few in number, the non-revolutionary songs of the period uncover the political discontents of the time. Political discontents and migration are given much emphasis in Amharic song lyrics composed during the reign of EPRDF. These songs exposed EPRDF’s failure to facilitate the country’s transition towards democracy. In addition, the songs depict the social defeat that the nation faces due to migration. The Amharic love songs collected from the stated three periods are thematically categorized into romantic love and maternal love. The functional roles of beauty, forgiveness, longing and idealization to blossom the intimates’ strong attachments as well as the threatening effects of betrayal and gossip on the lovers’ lives are depicted through the romantic love songs of Amharic. The unspeakable sacrifices that mothers make for the wellbeing of their children are shown in the songs that discuss maternal love. In general, in this study, it is identified that the themes of Amharic songs are dominantly topical, and they have significant contemporary relevance. Therefore, further investigations need to be conducted on the songs from different perspectives to uncover the major messages that they (the songs’) convey. Particularly, conducting comparative analysis on the themes of Amharic song lyrics and the song lyrics of other indigenous languages is recommended to understand the comprehensive sociopolitical landscape of the nation.



Amharic Song Lyrics