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Rophnan Nuri is among the brightest of a handful of musical sparks that have been driving a significant shift in the Ethiopian music industry, with a new compressed album format fueling innovation.

Also known by his stage name, DJ Rophy, the artist made history in recent weeks with a rare simultaneous release of two albums.

An iconic figure in the Ethiopian Electronic Dance Music (EDM) sphere, Rophnan is notable for pushing musical boundaries and bringing fresh energy to audiences in Ethiopia and beyond. EDM is a broad range of percussive electronic music genres originally made for nightclubs, raves, and festivals, generally produced for playback by DJs who create seamless selections of tracks, called a DJ mix, by segueing from one recording to another.

EDM producers also perform their music live in a concert or festival setting in what is sometimes called a live PA. Since its inception, EDM has expanded to include a wide range of subgenres.

With roots in both composition and live performance, Rophnan has entranced global audiences with his innovative sound and thought-provoking lyrics.

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Born into a deeply religious family in Ethiopia, Rophnan was immersed from a young age in the country’s rich cultural traditions as the ninth of ten siblings. This upbringing inspired a musical journey that would later earn him worldwide acclaim.

The long and storied musical career began during Rophnan’s early childhood. He began experimenting with his mother’s cassettes and tape recordings at the age of 10, and this early curiosity laid the foundations for a pioneering career marked by fearless experimentation.

During his teenage years, Rophnan began teaching himself music production techniques through diligent self-study and the tools he had at his disposal. The latter included desks and tables that he would use as makeshift drums to create rhythms and beats.

By high school, computer applications fueled his ambitions as he explored new production methods and sounds. Emerging as an accomplished DJ, he began spinning mixes that blended traditional Ethiopian music with contemporary electronics.

Legendary Ethiopian artist Mahmoud Ahmed recognized Rophnan’s potential, inviting the then-16-year old to collaborate on a mixtape. This pivotal partnership launched Rophnan’s star, establishing him as a leader in Ethiopia’s electronic music movement.

At 22, he opened a studio and began composing, laying the groundwork for success and quickly making a name in Addis nightlife.

For Rophnan, electronic music is more than a genre but “the music of my era.” His attachment to the EDM style is rooted in its dynamism and ability to capture social contexts and transcend borders.

The growing popularity of the “half album” or EP has given both rising and established musicians a new and engaging way to share their art and deepen bonds with fans.

The last couple of months have been especially lively as a flood of exciting releases breathe new life into the shifting music landscape, with emerging artists adding their own flair to the scene and more established musicians further cementing their place in the new Ethiopian music revolution.

A trailblazer in his field, Rophnan made history on February 11, 2024, when he released two albums in a single day. Continuing to push the boundaries of artistic expression, his groundbreaking project – titled ‘Nine’ – showcased his exceptional talent and boundless creativity across two distinct albums: ‘Harambe’ and ‘Nor.’

‘Harambe,’ which means “together’ in Swahili, serves as a powerful testament to Rophnan’s dedication to social commentary and cultural empowerment. With tracks exploring themes of self-discovery and identity, the album resonates deeply with audiences seeking authentic representation of marginalized groups. Through his music, Rophnan amplifies voices that emphasize embracing one’s heritage and individuality.

Meanwhile, “Nor” – inspired by an Ethiopian greeting that conveys respect for elders – invites listeners on a journey of introspection and renewal. Fueled by a desire for change and innovation, Rophnan explores new ideas and philosophies while challenging conventions and motivating listeners to embrace the unknown. Featuring experimental soundscapes, ‘Nor’ offers a glimpse into Rophnan’s boundless creativity and relentless pursuit of artistic excellence.

In addition to his solo work, Rophnan has collaborated with a diverse range of musicians from Ethiopia and around the world. As he continues pushing boundaries between genres, his influence resonates far beyond the recording studio.

Throughout his career of innovation and collaboration, Rophnan has reinvented the landscape of contemporary Ethiopian music, with his commitment on full display in his latest groundbreaking project.

‘Nor’ pays homage to Rophnan’s deep reverence for Ethiopia’s cultural roots. He co-wrote the title track with renowned artists Haile Root and Sol Romeo, imbuing the work with a spirit of communal celebration and introspection.

The artist also brought his boundary-pushing spirit to ‘Harambe’ by partnering with international reggae star Chronixx. Their fusion of reggae rhythms and Ethiopian melodies – transcending musical borders – is a testament to the power of collaborative creativity across cultures.

Clocking in at 10 and 11 tracks respectively, ‘Harambe’ and ‘Nor’ illuminate Ethiopia’s rich linguistic and cultural diversity. The songs feature the Oromo and Tigrinya languages ​​alongside rhythms from the Benishangul region – each a celebration of the country’s vibrant heritage.

For Rophnan, ‘Nine’ represents more than an album; it is the culmination of a journey of self-discovery and artistic growth. While marking the closing of one chapter, he emphasizes that this two-album project signals a new beginning and a platform to express future creativity.

“The Nine album is the closing chapter for the albums ‘Three’ and ‘Six’. This album focuses on identity,” Rophnan said.

In addition to recording studio work, Rophnan engages with audiences through live performances and multimedia projects.

His latest single, ‘Dorze Delics,’ is a collaborative video with Balchut Creatives Tor Video Production and Director Kirubel Tibebu that exemplifies Rophnan’s creativity and innovative spirit, cementing his reputation as a visionary artist.

“Electronic music allows freedom; it’s limitless. But balancing creation in the genre without distorting my Ethiopian-African identity is a challenge,” he said.

While some label his music as “Ethiopian Electronic,” Rophnan remains cautious about such classifications.

“I’m Ethiopian. I make electronic music. But I don’t think it’s accurate to call it ‘Ethiopian,’” he argues. “We need a trend, a movement, with more musicians involved for it to truly become a genre. A handful of artists does not make a genre.”

As Rophnan navigates the intricacies of the music industry, he acknowledges the role of his partnership with Universal Music Group in shaping his artistic journey. He signed with the Group in 2022, following in the footsteps of icons like Gigi and Aster Aweke, and providing him with a global platform.

“Universal has been in the market for years. But in our country, it’s difficult to view music as an independent industry,” Rophnan reflected. “Since I’m signed with Universal, when my music is sold, they take a cut, and the institution in this country has to pay them in US dollars.”

Despite challenges facing Ethiopia’s music industry, Rophnan remains steadfast in his craft and community support. He acknowledges limited music purchasing but believes true success lies in deeper audience connections.

“Universal wants to collaborate with various artists, and they bring suggestions my way,” Rophnan explains. “They also propose artists they believe I should work with.”

Rophnan remains grateful.

“I’m most thankful for releasing ‘Six,’” he said. “Per our deal, I wasn’t supposed to, but we pushed because my generation needed it.”

“It’s not about money for us,” Rophnan said. “It’s about sharing music worldwide and expressing the feelings and experiences of our community. It’s become common practice in the community to download, buy, and watch music on YouTube in any way possible. And if Universal has specific requests for the songs, they’ll come to me asking for certain elements, whether it’s a certain country sound or studio sound.”

Rophnan’s collaboration with Universal has presented hurdles, but he appreciates their willingness to compromise and understand his perspective.

“They’ve been open to changes for me and understand I come from a place they’ve never known,” he shares. “It’s challenged them, as I understand, but they’ve treated me well. I feel I am in good hands, globally.”

Through journeys of self-discovery and cultural exploration bridging past and present, tradition and innovation, DJ Rophy continues to push boundaries – advocating cultural expression through music.

“Honestly, joining the world stage has been a dream,” said Rophnan. “I hope to deliver something meaningful.”

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