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19 October 2016

Roaring Abyss Review: Dancing in the Streets


By Andrew Murray

It would be more useful to describe Roaring Abyss as an immersive musical experience than a conventional piece of cinema. There is no traditional narrative structure or performances by actors portraying specific characters. Instead Roaring Abyss is a compilation of a large variety of performers from many of Ethiopia’s diverse cultures with each performance containing its own unique sound representative of the cultural diversity within Africa’s second most populated country.

The variety of performances captured on film is miraculous. Roaring Abyss showcases every aspect of Ethiopian traditional music from traditional working songs in coffee fields, military marching bands, tribal dances, religious chants, and more contemporary arrangements of traditional songs. There is an extraordinary amounts of sounds present from a barrage of traditional percussion, wind, and string instruments which consequently creates a uniquely Ethiopian sound not often heard in the West alongside more recognisable instruments such as guitars, trumpets, saxophones, and keyboards illustrating just how diverse the music and cultures of Ethiopia are and how they have adapted over the years. Interviews with local musicians inform you about the history and structure of some of the music without getting too caught up in the terminology and theory meaning that you do not need a formal education in music to appreciate the intricacy, creativity, and passion that goes in to every performance.

Roaring Abyss is not only a journey through an Ethiopian soundscape; it is a journey through the country. Ethiopia is a massively diverse country comprised of ninety million people singing in eighty different languages. The film takes you through sweeping picturesque vistas of fields and rural villages then into cities with majestic concert halls and small coffee shops each with its own unique sound that transports you into the middle of every performance. Ethiopia is as much a star of Roaring Abyss as the music on display.

Roaring Abyss is a beautiful film that stimulates the senses by immersing you into a whole new world of sights and sounds not often seen in the West. Above all, Roaring Abyss is an experiential piece of cinema insofar as you would be forgiven for closing your eyes momentarily to fully appreciate the sounds on offer.

Rating 4/5

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