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 1979, a year after her father’s death, Ghermandi moved permanently to Italy.
In 1999, her short story “Il telefono del quartiere” (“District Phone”) won first prize in the Eks&Tra literary competition for migrant writers. In 2001 she won the third prize in the same literary competition with her short story “Quel certo temperamento focoso” (That Certain Fiery Temperament).
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 has been a speaker at events such as the American Association for Italian Studies (AAIS) conference (2007). 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.
The Atse Tewodros Project is named after one of the most beloved emperors in Ethiopian history, the first emperor not of Ethiopian royal descent. He rose to power due to his perseverance and charisma, qualities that charmed the Ethiopian people to the point that they broke with centuries-old tradition and supported his accession to the throne. Atse Tewodros was the emperor who modernized Ethiopia while respecting its traditions. He was also the emperor who fought against Queen Victoria’s army and defended Ethiopian independence in the century of African colonization.
In December 2013, the Atse Tewodros Project recordet their first CD. It includes nine songs by Gabriella Ghermandi, Aklilu Zewdie, Inish Hailu, and Berhanu Gizaw. These are musical pieces in which the modes and pentatonic scales of traditional Ethiopian music, with traditional Ethiopian instruments, are combined with European instruments played in ajazz style.
The Atse Tewodros Project also includes songs from the Ethiopian Resistance that fought against the Italian Fascist regime. This is its way of reclaiming the past, both for the general public and for each individual, a way to describe the course of human and migrant lives and to talk about plural identities.
Her musical work had had excellent reviews in the international press and on various radio programs (see “Press” at www.atsetewodros.org), and has been widely heard and enjoyed in Ethiopia, with presentations on radio, television, and social media. The interview presenting it on Diretube has more than 61,500 views
The Atse Tewodros Project won the World Music Network Battle of the Bands in March 2015, and after an interview in “A world in London”, catch the interest of Arc Music Record label that decided to realize the album. From May 2016 Arc Music label realized the album under the title “Ethiopia: celebrating Emperot Tewodros II”, and distribute it in 65 countries. Always in 2016 two songs of her album have been choosen for two different rough guide , the first one, the leading track “Atse Tewodros” have been choosen for “The Rough Guide on the best world music you have ever heard”, the second, the song “Be Kibir” have been choosen for “The Rough Guide on Ethiopian Jazz”.
Her musical project is also the winner of the International Expo competition “Energy, Art & Sustainability for Africa”, launched by Expo Milano 2015 selected out of the 41 received, and is now running for the Grammy Awards.
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”.