Gabriella Ghermandi is a singer, performer, novelist and short-story writer. She was born in Addis Ababa in 1965 to an Italian father and Ethiopian mother, and raised in Ethiopia. In 2003, she was among the founding members of the online magazine El Ghibli, the first Italian periodical with an editorial board made up of foreign authors who write in Italian.
Parallel to her writing, Gabriella Ghermandi has been building a considerable reputation as a performer of narratives adapted from Ethiopia’s oral and musical tradition. Her readings are usually accompanied by Ethiopian music and songs and revolve around a series of historical events. These performances have toured around the world. She was also on the jury of the 23rd Neustadt International Prize for Literature (20013), which was won by her nominee Mia Couto.
In April 2007 her first novel, Regina di fiori e di perle, was published by Donzelli Editore, and the English translation, Queen of Flowers and Pearls, came out with Indiana University Press in 2015.
In 2010, in an effort to bring together Italian and Ethiopian musicians as a way of fostering mutual dialogue and artistic creation, she created the Atse Tewodros Project. This project got its start in Addis Ababa, growing out of the collaboration between Ethiopian composer Aklilu Zewdy and Professor Berhanu Gezaw.
Gabriella Ghermandi says of herself:
“I grew up in a world filled with different sounds: Ethiopian, Italian, Congolese, Indian. My mother managed a clothing store in Addis Ababa, in the main street of the Piassa neighborhood. Next to her store was another one run by a Greek woman: Maria Teresa Kiskas. It was a music store, she sold instruments, record players, 33 and 45 rpm records.
In her store I listened to the Beatles, Zorba and Rebetika Greek music. On my way home I would listen to a different kind of music, that of our singers, the Azmari. When I finally reached home the radio was always on when my father, who could not stand Ethiopian music, was not there. He used to describe it as a continuous lament. But we loved it, and along with my neighborhood girlfriends I danced to it. I also listened to Italian singers: Domenico Modugno whom my father loved and then more modern bands like the Banco del Mutuo Soccorso and the Premiata Forneria Marconi or singers like Lucio Battisti. This was the music my Italian classmates loved. And in addition I listened to our friend Geraldine’s favorite Congolese music and the Indian music of my Kashmiri neighbors, of course Bob Marley, and also Genesis and and and. Finally there were the war songs. I did not like them in those days. I used to go with my cousins to see the parades celebrating the anniversary of our victory at Adwa and the liberation from the Fascist occupation, just to laugh at the gestures of the warriors singing those war songs.
When they opened their eyes wide, brandishing their swords and shields, they shouted threats to their enemies. I used to find them ridiculous. In those days I would have considered anyone crazy who told me that one day I would recall them by imitating their gestures on the stages of theaters in Italy and around the world to remember our elders that fought for freedom.
I believe music it has to be engaged. There is no music just made to be performed. Music is a way of taking place and give volume to unexpressed voices. Music doesn’t mean politic but goes into politics, into building society, into ones life. Music is a way of giving the vision of a possible or impossible future”.
Gabriella Ghermandi’s tracks