Loyola University Chicago

Language Learning Resource Center

Songs of the Past: Remembering Racist Violence - A Conversation with Gabriella Ghermandi

Moderator: Cristina Lombardi-Diop

Thursday, February 25th, 2021, 3:00 pm CST

Many people who have suffered the trauma of colonial occupation, slavery, internal displacement, extermination, racism, and apartheid, deal with the legacy of the past for generations. Today, when migration has brought millions of people from the ex-imperial centers to Europe and the United States, the memories of colonial and imperial violence are still present as a shared legacy and are found in various forms of cultural expression.

In retracing the long history of racial prejudice against Black Africans and the lingering legacy of its memory, this conversation with Italian-Ethiopian writer Gabriella Ghermandi invites the audience to comprehend the experience of colonialism and racist violence in its multifaceted history and geography, addressing questions central to today’s fight against systemic racism and the debates on its legacy in the present.

The writer is Gabriella Ghermandi, a singer, performer, novelist, and short-story writer 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.

She is the author of the novel Queen of Flowers and Pearls (Indiana University Press, 2015), a narrative of intergenerational transmission of memory that is intensely personal. The novel tells the story of the Italian occupation of Ethiopia, bringing back to memory the lives of those who have suffered under colonialism or have been forcibly exiled from their homelands, including the protagonist, who undertakes a quest in search of the stories and songs of the past during her migration to Italy.

Ghermandi is also a performer of oral narratives, which she frequently incorporates in her live performances, together with music. Lately, she has composed, written, and produced an album with the Atse Tewodros Project, a musical and cultural collaboration she has single-handedly created between Ethiopian composer Aklilu Zewdie, members of the Ethio Color Band (a group of young musicians from Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia) and the Italian-based Reunion Platz jazz trio, led by pianist Michele Giuliani.

Suggestions for further reading:

Bahru Zewde, A History of Modern Ethiopia, 1855-1991. University of California Press, 2002.

Maaza Mengiste, Italy's racism is embedded.The Guardian, September 10, 2013.

Ennio Flaiano, A Time to Kill. Quartet Encounters, 1992.