The Hollow Art Diary




I have been listening to a lot of old-school Ethiopian music by the likes of Alemayehu Eshete, Muluken Melese and Asnakech Worku, whose works are readily available today.

Then, I stumbled onto a collection of more versatile Ethiopian music by the old but beloved Police Orchestra. The band’s music represents the peak of Ethiopia’s musical art. It feeds the soul.

Shortly after I discovered that these collection  of music came from “Ethiopiques.” It is a series of albums spanning almost two decades created by the French musicologist Francis Falceto. As a young man, Falceto was able to create relationships with renowned Ethiopian musicians and earn their trust and respect.

He admits on interviews that the process was complicated. He was a Frenchman who tried to document Ethiopian music during the dictatorship of the Dergue. His dreams came true in the late 1990s, when he began releasing the old recordings as compilations. The venture was so successful that the 30th volume of Ethiopiques was released last year.

Ethiopia’s commitment to artists of the past and the art they left behind is irresponsible. As much as we have to thank Falceto, it is unfortunate to think that had outsiders like him had not taken the initiatives, we would have lost a piece of our history.

The music being produced today does not compare with the genius of the older artists. We cannot learn from the past even in the progression of arts. We idolize the people of that era, yet we fail to preserve their work adequately, if at all. We are merely stuck in loops trying to imitate each other for the sake of commercial appeal.

There are still a few artists including Gigi, Eyob Mekonnen and Zeritu Kebede that have been able to create music that transcends time. They have also made exemplary contributions to the art world.

I recently learned that Zeritu was the first artist in Ethiopia to go on a nationwide tour. A friend of mine remembers attending her concert in his hometown of Hawassa.

“There were no posters or flashy promotions but the place was packed, and Zeritu was amazing in her performance,” he told me.

Zeritu admits that the endeavour was a financial loss to her, as she reportedly had no outside funding. She added that it was worth the trouble, though. Many pay tribute to Ethiopia with rhetoric, yet few walk the talk like Zeritu.

Such an initiative should not be taken at the expense of the artists themselves. It should be a collective responsibility of the public, that are invested in the arts by virtue of being part of history.

Fendika Cultural Centre, where I perform sometimes, as small as it is in comparison to the other giants in the entertainment business, does its part every other Friday of the week. Melaku Belay, the visionary behind the Centre, brings together artists from the old Police Orchestra, those great musicians of Ethiopia’s past that adorned our history with their musical instruments and voices. Today, most musical stages are closed to these historic icons.

Those benefiting from the arts industry ought to pay tribute to the artists and art spaces. While this might not be the way other countries are doing business, this should be how it is done here.

It seems enterprises with less are happy to offer more and share what they have. The few spaces for artistic expression that are run by Ethiopians are as accommodating as possible. They feature artists and causes that do not get much financing and offer spaces free for the development of local art and local artists.

Strides have been made, but how we will continue to preserve, grow and build will determine the legacy that is to be left behind. It is worth asking what each of us is doing on our own to support the art community. A nation without its own recognizable artistic identity is lifeless.

 



By Hanna Haile (hannahaile212@gmail.com)
Hanna Haile is an Ethiopian writer and social worker. She is one of the organizers of Poetic Saturdays at Fendika Cultural Centre in Addis Abeba and at Terara Bar & Kitchen in Hawassa, where a stage is open to those who celebrate art through performances on the first and second Saturday of each month.

Published on Jul 28,2018 [ Vol 19 ,No 952]


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