A few years ago, I was in my home city of Addis Ababa from Toronto. I felt I was a stranger in my own birth city after being away for an eternity in Canada. The old aging sleepy Addis Ababa has changed becoming a more modern city. There are now wonderful destinations to visit besides the night clubs that used to occupy much of the city. Constructions are literally at every street and it seems, there is a much United Nations like diversity in the population.
While I left as a youngster, I had returned as an adult. The city is full of youth and in my thirties, I felt like a grandfather. It seems everyone was calling me "gashe" -- the Amharic term that is usually reserved for the elderly. In a city that is emerging as an "African economical giant," its poverty really shocked me as well. I felt a stranger and an outsider at best.
However, where I felt an Ethiopian and saw the local Ethiopians at their patriotic best was at the cultural centers throughout the city. The cinemas are full of customers patronizing Ethiopian made movies instead of the Indian movies I used to watch growing up.
To the world, Ethiopian music is still foreign unlike the African music from South Africa, Senegal or Congo is enjoying international destinations. From the patriotic Teddy Afro to the soulful sound of Gossaye and the sound of the Ethiopian Armenian Vahe Tilbian -- Ethiopian music is slowly yet surely gaining ground.
While in Ethiopia, I was invited to an Armenian (Ethiopian) event at the beautiful Beherawi Theatre in downtown Addis. The event was paying tribute to the vast musical contributions of the Armenians in Ethiopia. The event paid tribute to the Maestro Nerses Nalbandian who has made a gigantic contribution to the modern day music of Ethiopia.
In the magnificent stage, there were musical talents from the local and international communities. One stood out the most. His name is Michael Belayneh.
For him, every song had a story and embraced the emotions of each and every word as he experienced them all. His presence was so profound much like the late Tilahun Gessesse, gave the words so much authority with rare emotion the way only Mahamud Ahmed could yet made it all seem simple and classy the way Alemayehy Eshete has made it his signature.
Belayneh may not have the popularity of a Teddy Afro yet however he is creating a quiet revolution in Ethiopian music. His latest CD is a testament of his rare organic talent and gift. His new CD is a text book of where Ethiopian music is potentially is headed. If Ethiopian music has any positive evolution in the years to come, Belayneh is one of the few rare talent to lead it.
His ballads -- three in total -- will soon become a soundtrack to many milestones in many people's lives. In Temechi Endew for instance - he sings about love lost and the hope of being reunited to it. It is the most beautiful ballad I have heard in such a long time. He even attempts a daring cover of a classic song by Getachew Kassa -- Saysh Esasalehu.
For many artists, it could have been a big risk to imitate the very best in Kassa yet Belayneh is an exception. I am sure Kassa would be proud of Belayneh.
While I sat down with thousands in a beautiful hall, Michael Belayneh took me to my roots as well as the culture I have always tried to maintain in my Canadian life. In the presence of the great cultural ambassador that Belayneh has become, I no longer felt a stranger in my own Ethiopian heritage but an Ethiopian.
No Ethiopian artist made me feel that way -- until I discovered the wonderful talent of - Michael Belayneh.