I may have mentioned how I am not a very musical person. Giving, or receiving. In my defense, these were the worst of times and the worst of times for my country. Our choice of entertainment lied in either “gidel teGadel” or “Eshet Qorto laake leAbiyotawiw meri”. Hibret Ti’ryit didn’t have much of a “ti’riyit” to it until “Hizb lehizb” materialized and we get to watch the rest of the world’s reaction to what was ours; over and over again. The rest remained the same. The news was bad. The movies were bad. Even the books, with rare short-story exceptions such as “Shilingen” and “YeEmet Taye Engurguro”, were Maxim Gorky [“Enat”] type.
The one thing we had; the one man that made our weekends bearable, was Hailu Tsegaye. Who, with Jemanesh Solomon, Kurabachew Deneke, Getahun Girmamo and a couple of other fabulous radio-actors brought to us dramas of the supreme category on “Qidamen Landafta” and “Ehudin Kegna Gar”. He wrote/co-wrote and acted in those dramas, and they were all good – indiscriminately.
So, yeah, I grew up preferring “Qededa” – wore, tewnet, tireka – to singing and dancing. I wasn’t a fan of music even after I started going to the Protestant Christian Church in “Shiro Meda”; a church that was accused by non-Protestants of drawing people from all walks of life through its magnificent use of gospel songs. I sang along. I “mashebsheb”ed along. I clapped the hand, worked the trouser muscle and did everything expected of a “Merry” and “[of a] cheerful mind” person – “des yalewu yizemir” yilalina metsihafu. Deep down, though, I was fidgeting with my internal watch, nudging them to get on with it and get to the “sibket” part. And if you, like me, were a student of the human behavior, there would be no such thing as a “bad” sibket! Even when you suspect “Wondim” or Pastor Ekele may have heard a neighbor the day he thought he “got” the “call”, you will get to learn something. It’s either good, or entertaining – nothing in between.
Then I came to America.
Once there was the dot.com boom. Then the I-boom. Everybody was connected all of a sudden. We ditched snail mail. We did away with land-line phones and got our music solely from iTunes. We avoided looking at one another and focused on the screen in our palms or laps. Life become about tapping; into and out of social networks, weblogs and/or music websites. In a city like Seattle – a cold city like Seattle! – you’d be hard pressed to find anybody driving or riding a bus or even walking on the street who isn’t tapping at something internet-related. Buses are filled with people who won’t look up and take a last look at the world they would be leaving behind was the bus to go on fire, drive into a ditch, or another bus. And when they got off the bus, the car, or whatever means of transportation they use to get to their “wired” work-place – they have their head-phones with which they drown the world further out.
All except, ofcourse, for me.
Being the aforementioned student of human nature, and unable to afford the battery 3G connection would suck out of my phone; I have chosen to focus on observing those that are too e-preoccupied to observe me. I have paid attention, employing all my five senses, to study the interactions and social behaviors of the folks in my new country of residence. I watched. I listened. I learned. About White Americans. Black Americans. Asians; and everything in between. How, in a Capitalist world, we were all sales people; and the one way to get ahead is by pukering up and kissing where the sun don’t shine.
This learning, needless to say, wasn’t making me more enlightened. Rather than make things easy, it added to my confusion. It put me through bouts of depression. It screwed my brain so loose I started questioning my values then doubting my very sanity. I started suffering from anxiety attacks. Suicidal/homicidal cravings. Serial killing fantasies. The “thought-ants”, as I call them, that feed on the brain, worked on mine like nobody’s business. Cigarettes wouldn’t help. The minute I find myself breathless after smoking a cigarette and climbing a hill, I go close to passing out from what feels like a fog descending on my brain and suffocating the life out of me. The Weather, a major cause of SAD [Seasonal Affective Disorder], ofcourse, didn’t help.
And then I met Jah Lude!
Jah Lude was a belated-birthday present from my little sister Blen; along with a heart-breaking hand-written message that made me wanna drop everything and go home – just so I could live for and to enjoy the little time I had left to watch my little bro and sis grow. It’s true that I didn’t make a dash for the cd player and hit the “eject” button the minute I got the album. I let it hang around for two days, looking at it askance; wondering if it was wise to get “involved” – for I have noticed an inclination in myself and many other Ethiopians that the minute we come across a music we like – instead of jumping around as “House of Pain” would have us do – we would start feeling the actual pain. Our faces would fell. Our brows would crease. Our lips would start trembling and before long – we are crying like a brat whose mother has gone down to the lake to fetch a pail [or a “Qimchana”] of water. We cry, feeling a loss and a yearning no amount of fancy living and Burrito [Or “buuuriTo”, as is pronounced by most of the abeshas I met here] gobbling could fill. We, in the words of Pinocchio, feel robbed.
Do all immigrants do that, by the way? Do they weep like their hearts are breaking when they hear “yaGerachewin zefen”?!
And so… finally, and because I have to report to Blen I’ve received it, I stick it in the player. I hit the “play” button. And hoped the judgment won’t be too harsh upon me.
The “judgment” came and went. I burst into fresh tears every time I heard the word “Dancé Dancé”; I coughed and whizzed with “Asha Bel Yaho” and “tinish tinsh” of “Feyamo” gave me “tinish” relief.
This is me with music I like. I listen to it for about 2 days; continuously.. day and night. I even hear myself singing the lyrics in my dream – or wake up from a sleep feeling exhausted – rather than refreshed – to realize the music I’ve been listening to obsessively for two days has been playing in the background of my dreams. By the time I am done learning the lyrics by heart, it goes to the bottom of my drawer and is quickly forgotten. I do that even when the lyrics are good and superior, like that of Tigist “Kabu” Bekele’s, Teddy’s or Gigi’s. Or pleasant, if not a Grammy award material, like Zeritu or Aster’s. I loved Jah Lude and I would still cry to half his songs. But you don’t have to be an “Elias Melka” to realize that despite the fabulous music arrangement, the flawless rhythm and the showers of praise he’s been getting on the internet [with one exception, accusing him of being Eritrean. Who gives a fuck people?!] to know here wasn’t the work of a master. The gitim, in quality, is the equivalent of what we call back home “Qoreta” with this other thing we call a “duuldum geJera”. The verses aren’t “emiQ”, “Qutib” and powerful the way verses should be in a good lyrics. They are every day words, the kind a dumb 7th grader would come up with was he forced to find a “bett memcha” for “Anchi lij”, i.e. “Yemitwedej” [“Eyesus yegna geta” – “Yematreta” — or, as in this case, “Girum ayn alat, betam tayalech; Tadia yichi konji, zarem yewah nechi”]. Some of them don’t even rhyme, and not in a good “free verse” way. But the album is pleasing in general; because of the sentiment it encompasses; the genuineness the artist brings to his music; and, ofcourse, the cute Oromo accent.
So.. when I found myself sited across Elliot Bay the other day, waiting for the sun that has decided to grace us for the 2nd time in a row – a beautiful sun whom I love, hope to one day marry and have kids with – to set; I remembered that I didn’t have to feel so alone [surrounded by couples, of the human and pet kind] when I have an android phone within reach. I turned off the Airplane Mode. I turned the 3G on. And connected to you tube. Found “Asha Bel Yaho” and hit “play”.
And a miracle happened!
My thought-ants, the ones that’s been feeding on my sanity for almost a year now; ants not even a mental professional can help drive away; ants I was about to resign myself to the usage of drugs to ease the pain from – those very ants!, started scattering every which way like a powerful heat-producing torch has come out of the blue and started killing their tiny comrades. I can feel them scuttling to the dark depth whence they came from, leaving my mind as free and empty as every good American should strive to be. Jah Lude was what I was hearing. And Jah Lude was what I was thinking. It was as if the music was massaging the neurotic nerves that used to set cold-fire to my insides, with no outlet for the “dragon” smoke that follows. It was quieting the voices down; the voices that tore at the walls of my mind like a vicious psychotic child would. Two hours into it I was still hearing and seeing Jah Lude; not caring who is walking with who – doing what – in the street. When I got home, I thought maybe that is why people have head-phones on their ears all the time. Not so much to drown the world out. But to drown the voices within. To scare the demons away.
I can definitely get used to this, y’all.