Updated: Jul 30, 2020
I came across ARMAGHEDION’S fantastic Techno mixes, by chance, on the page of an old friend. Why was I on this long estranged friend’s profile? It was an unusual situation, and the youtube link offered the title of Unusual DJ’s, so I figured I’d give it a blast.
I caught a vibe instantly and was even more excited when I noticed he had performed at Nyege Nyege the September before. His bio speaks to his mission in decolonising dance music and weaving the Afrohouse sound into the fabric of Addis Ababa’s nightlife.
ARMAGHEDION aka Ghedion Behonegne kindly joined us for a zoom call to speak with B.A.S.S. about the scene and his process. He also shines a light on how Afrohouse has been a tool for him to encourage Ethiopian crowds to jump onto the electronic wave.
Tell us a bit about the scene in Addis and your favourite DJ at the moment
Ethopian club staples include top 40, Afrobeat and local music. There is a formula that many DJ’s have taken on. I can leave one bar playing a track from ‘Watch the Throne’ knowing that a Drake song will come on next then go to another bar and hear the same songs played in that exact order! It feels like an extension of a money making machine- choosing songs based on how much it will encourage customers to sit at a table and buy bottles all night.
This clearly is not for everyone and has spurred many of us to search for alternative sounds and party experiences. The lack of originality has encouraged some of us to collaborate and create the scene we want to see. I'd put Unusual DJ’s, founded by Rami Ahmed, as one of those parties that felt like a breath of fresh air.
I adore the scene in Addis and performed at least once every weekend; at popup events, my own shows or the residency I have at Zoya. Zoya is hosted by Linkup, an online publication who have been really important in giving us a platform to reach more people. With no budget or sponsorship, TV and Radio advertising are out of the question.
This factor has also guided our approach to the spaces we have parties at. We collaborate with local restaurants and bar owners who work in parts of town that are easy to get to but are looking for more footfall at their space.
DJ Mitmitta has been wonderful for the scene and central in sourcing the speakers that brought people into enjoying the electronic sound. Furthermore, it means more up-and-coming DJ’s with small scale events have access to this luxury good whilst still keeping it DIY. Interestingly enough, he has the largest vinyl record collection (in the world) of sounds from Ethiopia and South Sudan.
Did you go straight for Afrohouse, or was it something you did when you got more comfortable?
I was doing a little bit of everything initially and was trying to please too many people with one set. But I grew up listening to hip hop, so I was eager to serve up some great tracks that people love but wouldn’t usually hear on a night out, like conscious rap for example.
A turning point in identifying my sound was definitely playing at Korenti Music Festival in 2017. I played a full Afrohouse set and, to my knowledge, it was the first time someone in Ethiopia had done that. The response I got was incredible so it gave me a sense of confidence in my direction and good taste in sound.
From then on, I have played primarily African music. Don't get me wrong, I’m a music lover first and foremost so I collect music from all the genres. Though for the sake of consistency, I stick to Afrohouse and as a result, I would say I have quite an identifiable sound.
What about vice versa, how does your identity feedback into your creative process?
To a large extent, we are a product of our environment. I was incredibly fortunate in having been able to live across Africa meaning that my ear tends to pick up on familiar sounds of my past. I’m drawn to the sounds of the places I’ve lived, much like the percussion of Botswana or Zimbabwe's rhythm. I also play Amharic samples and some basic loops, to engage with audiences here more.
Afrohouse is for me, easily the most interesting subgenre growing out of the electronic dance music scene and we are African, so why would we not be listening to our own music?
What is your process for picking your song selection, say on a night out or when you are making a recorded mix?
I want to start off by pointing out that there is a massive difference, in my experience, between performing on a night out and recording a mix. To record does feel more challenging because of my awareness that it will be immortalised online. I find the pressure of needing to get the ‘perfect mix’ makes it harder for me to enjoy it as much as the night’s out.
In terms of my process, I do think good DJs tell stories and I think you get this from playing out often. I was super active on Addis Ababa’s nightlife scene (before COVID) playing at least once every weekend. Many of our crowds aren't so familiar with hearing this sound on a night out so I am cognizant of my role as a mediator - from what they know, into new sounds that I think that they can vibe to. From this, I learned how to read the room and select the sounds that can help them move.
I was a raver first before I was a DJ, so dancing is very much at the core of my process and guides my selection. There are two things that I look for in a track. Does it make me dance and does it make me feel something? I then use that logic to select the sounds I use towards building a set.
You put me onto Ladon by Aero Manyelo, and really makes my heart soar everytime I hear those vocals! There was another great track, from the mix you did with madorasinthehouse, which sounded like Somali Disco.
How did you come to discover these musical treasures?
It’s hard to describe my process, I have such a diverse background musically and I think this really allows me to listen to things without much of a bias. I’ve also always enjoyed something unexpected so I try to incorporate a surprise or two in my sets. As far as discovery I just look to get lost in the search, and usually something will come out- its magical to find something that you know other people haven’t heard but will respond to.
I found Ladon on the Mixmag youtube release back in November and absolutely fell in love! Aero Manyelo is legendary and I could probably play a whole set of his cuts alone. That set is one of my favorites from last year. He is such an underrated producer as well as the other producer on the track, Dafro. He is an upcoming kid that you should definitely keep an eye out for.
The other song was made by Dur Dur Band and their sound is popularly known as Mogadisco (Which is a brilliant name). The song you heard on the mix is called Dooyo. There were a series of cassette tapes that were buried at the start of the war because they didn't want to get them destroyed (watch video here). I am just as interested in the history, the narrative behind these sounds, as much as I am drawn to the quality of the sound. It’s part of the process of discovering the music that I find just as rewarding as showing people something new that they love.
Where should we look if we want to listen to more Afrohouse and Ethiopian Music?
In terms of Ethiopian music, it’s no secret but the whole Ethiopique series is epic. They have such a diverse sound from what people consider to be the Golden Age of music in Ethiopia.
If you are just getting introduced to the Afrohouse sound then a label to look out for are Soul Candi from South Africa. One can also look to Kenya, which is producing fantastic music with Gondwana KE and a new Nairobi based label called Ewaso Records. There is also Madorasinthehouse (Greece) who use their platform to share Afro sounds as well as MoBlack (Italy) and Rise (Germany).
And of course, if you want more of the sound then just be sure to keep up with my mixes ;)