Tariku Berhanu has been a ‘stage man’ for the last five years, a stage constructor who puts together concert stages. He works on a contractual basis at many events and with many concert organizers.
In spite of the hype at the beginning of the Ethiopian New Year, the past six months did not help with extra income to support his family. He is married and has one daughter.
Fortune met him along with his two colleagues inside Lafto Mall, a notable spot among music concert-goers. As Fortune approached him in the afternoon of January 3, 2016 he was busy connecting metal tubes that will be used for setting up stages.
On normal occasions, he earns around 1,000 Br to 1,500 Br, if he is stationed in Addis. But if the shows are held in regional cities, his earnings go up to 2, 000 Br.
Concerts are big business in Addis Abeba. Usually, to ring in the New Year and to celebrate various holidays, event coordination companies organise concerts with rising and established music stars to entertain the public.
This increase in gigs is happening after a six-month dormancy. “This past season was really difficult,” Tariku said. The Ethiopian music business saw some extraordinary deterioration following the political unrest in some parts of the country. In October 2016, Human Rights Watch reported that close to 500 people had died in the conflict.
At the time, only weeks before the Ethiopian New Year, musicians and event organizers were preparing to hold their shows as they usually do. However, their enthusiasm and their audience enthusiasm was cut short.
Performers based in Addis Abeba were under attack on social media, pressuring them to cancel their shows. However, at the time, and now, no performer who is based in Ethiopia openly attributes the cancellations to the unrest. Close to seven concerts in and outside the capital were canceled – not to mention those in Europe, the U.S. and the Middle East.
Notable artists including Abiy Lakew, Fasil Demoz, Ephrem Tameru, Haile Roots and Johnny Raga were among those who canceled their concerts.
Some performers who are based abroad were pressured to cancel their concerts, even though they didn’t want to themselves. Some of them explained that they made the decision to cancel to protest the political and social disruption that were taking place in the country. However, some were not convinced by that argument.
“Not everyone who canceled their concert did it in response to the unrest,” said a music industry insider.
He spoke to Fortune in the aftermath of the wave of concert cancellations back in September 2016.
The industry insider, who has been active in the business for over 10 years, said that his band, which was to host a major concert in the capital, lost close to 100,000 Br in revenue.
For Tariku, the Ethiopian New Year holiday would have been much more enjoyable if there had not been such cancellations. Six concerts in six regions that Tariku was hired to work on were canceled.
“At each event, I could have earned up to 2,000 Br, without counting the per diem and food expenses,” said Tariku.
The disruption didn’t last only for the time of the New Year’s celebrations. It’s effects spread into October 2016, when the country declared a state of emergency, under which public gatherings, like concerts are restricted.
The state of emergency directive restricts public gatherings, and demonstrations, without a green light from the Command Post.
“It was a really difficult season,” said the stage man.
The concert he is working for now, will be one of the biggest concerts some of them. Eight local musicians who canceled their shows during the height of the unrest will take part in the concert.
“We came back aggressively and in a big way because no one else would dare to be the first,” said a representative of Jorka Events Plc, the company behind the concert.
The company has been in the business for the past three years, and has been behind a number of big events. Last year, it organized close to eight events across the country.
Now that a few months have passed, concerts and live events are starting to come back on the city scene.
However, this concert will be the first for Jorka since the Ethiopian New Year. The concert is expected to attract 5,000 to 6,000 fans.
The company claims that it lost close to 800,000 Br over the past five months because of the lack of big events. Part of this money also goes to the pocket of each performer.
For instance, during the September 15th concert which was planned to be held at Ghion Hotel, singers were to be paid between 150,000 Br and 200,000 Br. The concert, organised by Eyoha Promotion, was planned to feature Beruktawit Getahun, aka Betty G, and Abdu Kiar. The promotion company behind the concert promoted the concert through a number of outlets, including billboards.
For the current concert, Jorka will be working with Habesha Breweries S.C as a sponsor. Jorka estimates the cost of the show will reach up to 3.2 million Br. For this, the concert performers will be paid from 20,000 Br to 500,000 Br.
However, as the state of emergency is still active, Jorka’s event was mandated to get a green light from the Command Post to hold the event.
Though Jorka claims it is the first to risk holding a concert after the state of emergency declaration, it will not be the last.
Event organizers like EmL are also planning and working towards holding concerts in the coming weeks.
“The effect of the cancelations was huge,” said Eyouel Luelseged, managing director of EML Events.
The company was behind a big concert in the city including one that co-featured Madingo Afework and Aster Awoke, as well as reggae artist Chronix.
“We had planned to hold concerts that will host up to 13,000 fans, but it failed,” said Eyouel. “Not to mention the concerts that we were forced to cancel just a week beforehand.”
“In this single concert we lost 200,000 Br,” he added.
For the coming weeks, the company plans to hold events including film weeks, concerts and techno shows.
“Because of the cooling of the number of concerts and live events, people aren’t willing to release their new albums,” said Eyouel.
“I hope the coming season will see us with more business,” said Tariku, the stage man.
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