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Exile Guayla: Episode 01 – Music

Norient presents Exile Guayla, a crowd-shaped web documentary about the Eritrean music culture in Switzerland by the two art students Sidney Sutter and Valentin Mettler (Zurich University of the Arts). Their project gives an insight into an unknown music scene in Switzerland. We invite you to discover and co-define the project between March 10th and May 30th. With the help of the Swiss Eritrean community and the online users Exile Guayla sets the spotlight on the music's background, its lifestyle, language and the network.

Exile Guyala – a web documentary by Sidney Sutter and Valentin Mettler (2017)

The first Episode is centred around Eritrean musicians and bands in Switzerland. It peeks inside practice rooms, introduces the viewers to concert venues and to what the subculture looks like. It features singers Seare Debesay (Royal Band [1]) and Eri Power (OneLove Band [2]) and saxophonist Mulugeta Sbhatu.

«Crowd-shaped» Approach

Right away, it was clear to us that getting into the Swiss Eritrean scene and understanding its structure and rules would mean a long and difficult way. So why not turn the whole research process into a part of our documentary? After our first meetings with the musicians we defined our four main topics to be covered in the episodes. Even though we were still at an early stage, we published a video and started our social media channels to get the attention of the Eritrean community and invite it to participate. With this approach, we tried to get as much information as possible. With this thought in mind, we plan on publishing our interviews with the aim to encourage our project’s community to translate them. Through this method we hope to achieve multiple, diverse translations and avoid one sole subjective point of view.

In addition to the four main episodes we want to gather background information on the music and share it with our community. One example is the «Guayla breakdown». Mulugeta Sbhatu explains where Guayla comes from and what its key features are. He reveals the three different types of speed and gives examples in how to recognise the difference.

Following the Royal Band

When we started the research for Episode 01 we didn’t know a single Eritrean musician. By browsing through Facebook and sending numerous messages to potential protagonists we got in touch with Seare Debesay. He lives in Fribourg and came to Switzerland three and a half years ago. During our first meeting, he told us about the Royal Band, which he and five friends formed the in Fribourg. It features two male, one female singer as well as three musicians. We followed the Royal Band over the course of the next three weeks and joined them for a jam in the park, in their band room and at a concert at an event for Eritrean culture.

After a while and a lot of talking to the band members we discovered that there aren’t many Eritrean bands in Switzerland. They have different approaches: normally, the main focus is on the singer and their band members change from concert to concert. This is mostly due to the long distances between venues and travel expenses. This is also noticeable when looking at Eritrean songs on YouTube, which can only be found under the name of the singer. Bands or musicians are hardly even mentioned. As an example, here is Seare Debesay’s most famous song:

While spending time with the Royal Band we discovered that there seems to be something like a parallel universe in Switzerland. There are Eritrean parties and concerts taking place almost every weekend but hardly anyone notices them. With the knowledge Seare gave us we found a well-connected Facebook community of Eritrean musicians. Through this network we came across Mulugeta Sbhatu, a former professional saxophonist who played big concerts in Eritrea. During an interview, he told us that the majority of singers and musicians playing in Switzerland are amateurs. In his opinion, all of the good musicians are still in Eritrea and people here are just playing music cope with the struggle of adapting a new culture while not forgetting their own.

About the Music

There are nine recognized ethnic groups in Eritrea of which each has its own style of music. Most of the musicians we featured, as well as the majority of the 35,000 Eritreans living in Switzerland, are of the Tigrinya tribe. The most common style of music they play is Guayla, which is most recognisable through its unique drum beat.

But Guayla seems to be more than just a music genre. As Seare describes it, it is also the dancing, the party itself, a wedding or any other celebration and everything linked to it. The style hasn’t changed at all in Switzerland, as Eri Power, the singer oft he OneLove Band tells us. This is mainly due to the fact that the musicians cover the old songs their idols played in Eritrea. The lyrics are mostly about love, fighting for independence, about their family and, especially, their mother.

Exile Guayla – Get in Touch!

The first three weeks of our project were fairly intense but amazing and an incredibly promising start to our journey. We are thrilled to discover even more of the scene over the course of the next three episodes, all to be published on Norient. Beside our background clips we want to give the viewer an insight into the songs that have inspired our protagonists the most. On the Exile Guayla YouTube Channel [3] we collect music videos and external content to discover even more of the culture.

Exile Guayla aims to be influenced by as many people as possible. If you have any inputs, comments, contacts or questions don’t hesitate to contact us through one of our many channels: Facebook [4]YouTube [3]Instagram [5] – Snapchat: exileguayla – Whatsapp [6].