Sunday, September 13, 2015

Street-kid turnout Cultural Ambassador- an Ethiopian Success Story

Melaku, the Street-kid!

Born around 1980 in Addis Ababa, the capital city of Ethiopia, Melaku (which means the Angel in Amharic) Belay- the household name of Ethiopian traditional music group of our time, has never imagined he would be a cultural ambassador for a country which for some a synonym with famine. The road to his success was not rosy.
Before all this fame and stardom, before Melaku Belay has become the man he is today, he was indeed a a street-kid. During the political conflicts of the 70s and 80 Ethiopia, all of his family fled to the Sudan.
Melaku was alone: "Life was difficult. Imagine Sleeping on the street, going to school alone, living without family, without money, with nothing." But he underscores that he has never regretted having lived that life : It helped him to acquire the strength and willingness to work more to earn a life and become the person he wanted to be today. Melaku has a passion for dance since the age of 4 years. He started dancing at this age in ceremonies in Addis Ababa, as the feast of Timket (Epiphany). The dance, which began as a leisure, has turned into a professional career when an old woman, he considered as his mother, told him

"Melaku, you're becoming a man, I shall neither be there to see you and nor to help you, but I
always be with you
”. It was at that time that Melaku realized that Dance is not only a hobby for him, but something more important: A revelation that changed his life.

A Man Who Changed the status of Azmaris
Melkau begun his dancing career at Azamri bet (traditional music night-clubs), depending on 75 cents Euro tips/rewards from people he entertain.
Melaku somehow tried to give new meaning to Azmaris, a pioneer in paying the Azmaris after renting the Fendika nightclub where he used to work as a dancer for free for 12 years. By working at Fendika"as a Dancer he was able to develop his talent and also his character. According to Melaku, the three characters which shaped him to become the man he is today are: trust in himself; express himself
even in the dance; being himself and not someone else
Melaku wanted to see clubs, which are distinctive to areas like Konso, Kunama and founded EthioColor band with Missale Legesse and Endris, which can represent all the diversity like Konso, Kunama and Somali. 
Melaku had the chance to work in different continents. He had concerts throughout North America,
Europe, Australia and in Africa. His first concert was held in Djibouti with the late Ethiopian female traditional singer, Manalebeshe Dibo. He has worked with several artists known as Red Hot Chillie Peper. 
Melaku didn't forget his past, he is not only an internationally renown artist but also a philanthropist. Melaku has a big heart who helps an orphanage that houses more than a hundred and fifty orphans.What a great enterprise!

As iREFUGEE promised last week, it has the honor to present the interview which it had with Melaku while he came to perform at Stockholm's cultural festival last August 2015. Here's what he said about his life and career as well as the situation of Ethiopian music at the moment.
iREFUGEE: When and how did you begun the dancing career?
MELAKU: [Laughter] I begun dancing when I started walking as a toddler. I had such a passion for dancing which I couldn't resist. I followed my heart and here I'm. 
iREFUGEE: Some say your dance group got in stardom and fame in a very short period of time, is that true? 
MELAKU: No, that is not true. I served as a dancer at a Azmari bet for free for 12 years depending on rewards from customers. Azmaris and dancer were working for free at that that time. I was the first person who begun paying salaries to Azmaris after renting Fendika, the club where I used to work.  
iREFUGEE: What is the reason behind your band's success? 

MELAKU: First of all, Ethiopian music and culture is getting famous around the world at this time. One of the reasons to our success is that, we were able to include and showcase true colors of folk-dances of various ethnic groups of Ethiopia. Members of group are dedicated and enjoy their job which become contagious to our audience. The response from  the audience wherever we have tour, is amazing. The other reason is that we care about young and senior Ethiopian artists. We used to host forgotten veteran Ethiopian artists to the young generation every fortnight at Fendika night-club. EthioColor's another goal is creating a conducive working atmosphere at home to prevent performers from absconding while on international tour and so far none of our group members stayed behind in a foreign country. EthioColor succeed in changing such practices. Image building and identity are some of the few objectives of EthioColor. So far, I've finished six passports issued to me due to extensive travels that I had all over the world; this happened not because I speak Chinese, French or any other language, rather because of my Ethiopian identity I represent.    
iREFUGEE: The name EthioColor, doesn't sound Ethiopian. Why did you choose this name?
MELAKU: Because it attracts our foreign audience when we are on a tour abroad. The name also meant to showcase/represent the true colors of traditional musics of various ethnic groups of Ethiopia. 
iREFUGEE: Certain groups are claiming that, Ethiopian traditional music is loosing its originality due to western influence. What is your take on that?  
MELAKU: It has a little truth. But, let's not forget that culture is not static and nobody can stop its change. Copying is bad. Well, if I am trying to copy Michael Jackson, that's not good. But, if I'm true to myself and perform traditional folk-dance which I inherited from previous generation, I am just expressing my generation and passing it on to the coming one.
iREFUGEE: How much do you give to present Ethiopian music on 1-10 scale (1 the lowest and 10 the highest). 
MELAKU: 10! There are many talented young Ethiopian artists who are determined to change the music landscape. 6-7years ago, everybody was using keyboard to produce music. Now-a-days, artists start to have a full band and there are many good lyrics in the songs that are being released. We have that rage inside us to be better and produce good music. 
iREFUGEE: What is your view on the present situation of copy-right laws in Ethiopia?
MELAKU: They are in papers but there is much remains to be done. We, Ethiopian artists don't know our rights and we should get awareness about copy-right laws.
iREFUGEE: What's your Ethiopian New Year's message to your fans?
MELAKU: I wish all of my fans at home and abroad a very prosperous, happy and peaceful Ethiopian new year. I hope 2008 will bring to end war, misery and exile. 
Next week, iREFUGEE will present interviews it had with Teshome Wondimu, director and founder of Selam Festival-a Sweden based promotion company. Happy Ethiopian New Year wishes iREFUGEE to all of its readers and followers. 

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