Tag Archives: Arba Lijoch

Royal fanfare: Ethiopia’s 40 Armenian orphan musicians

Talk: 5 March at 7pm
Organized by: Programme of Armenian Studies and the Centre of World Christianity at SOAS
At SOAS, Vernon Campus (not the main campus)

The Arba Lijoch, photographed by Haigaz Boyajian, royal photographer of Ethiopia. Source: The Armenite
The Arba Lijoch, photographed by Haigaz Boyajian, royal photographer of Ethiopia. Source: The Armenite

Several of our students of Amharic in London have interest in Ethiopian music, and this talk promises a fascinating spotlight on a key development.

In 1924, the Ras Tafari, Crown Prince of Ethiopia (later known as Emperor Haile Sellasie), went to Jerusalem where he met with a marching band of 40 Armenian orphan boys and was deeply moved by their musical talent. He talked to Patriarch Turyan who told him of the financial strain of raising the boys and the future Emperor offered to adopt them and bring the band to Ethiopia.

The boys arrived on 6 Sept 1924 which Father Hovhannes Simonian and were officially known as Arba Lijoch (“40 children”). They formed the royal imperial brass band and played the official music of the court, forming the Royal Fanfare and the Ethiopian Government Fanfare. Their musical director, Armenian musician Kevork Nalbandian, was asked by Ras Tafari to write the first Imperial Ethiopian national anthem “Teferi Marsh, Ethiopia Hoy” (“Ethiopia, be happy”) performed for the first time by the Arba Lijoch during the crowning of Emperor Haile on 2 November 1930.

The boys had survived the genocide which began in 1915 and saw the Turkish Ottomans kill 1.5 million, forming most of the present Armenian diaspora communities. They were described as “diligent, abstemious and honest”.

Tracing the history of Armenians in Ethiopia, historian Boris Adjemian casts new light on these legendary events in the lecture. Boris Adjemian is curator of the AGBU Nubar Library in Paris. In 2013, he published La fanfare du négus : Les Arméniens en Ethiopie (XIXe-XXe siècles), Paris: Éditions de l’EHESS.

The Programme of Armenian Studies and the Centre of World Christianity at SOAS are jointly hosting his lecture: “The Kings and the Forty Orphans: Looking for Armenians in Ethiopia”. It is chaired by Erica C. D. Hunter, Head of Department for the Study of Religions and co-chair of the Centre of World Christianity at SOAS, University of London.

It starts at 7.00pm on Thursday 5 March in Room V211, SOAS, Vernon Square, London WC1X 9EW – all welcome. Please note that the lecture does not take place at the Main Campus of SOAS, but at the VERNON SQUARE CAMPUS (which is about 10 minutes walk from Kings Cross).

Musical influence

Before their arrival, prominent musical instruments were mostly wood and string although there were some brass musicians. The Arba Lijoch and Kevork Nalbandian were hailed as helping modernization as they trained other bands and performed in public. Kevork Nalbandian, with Greek and Ethiopian musical colleagues, also helped found the Yared School of Music at Addis Ababa Univeristy in 1954 and led to “a stately brand of jazz-funk” or Ethio-jazz which developed in the 1950s and reached its height in the late 1960s and Kevork’s nephew Nerses Nalbandian helped drive the genre and influenced great musicians such as Mulatu Astatke, father of Ethio-jazz.

The Ge’ez alphabet, diligently studied by students of Amharic in London in their Amharic language lessons, apparently also influenced the creation of the Armenian alphabet due to historic links said to go back to the Trojan War and well established as the Orthodox Christian Church grew in both countries from the early centuries after Christ.

Source: Ani Aslanian writing in The Armenite blog and alert mailing from the Anglo Ethiopian Society.