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Q&A with Adongo Kini, Kunama song and dance star

Adongo Kini was born in 1967 in a small village near Barentu known as Ogana or Sos’ona. His parents were farmers supporting a family of eight children including seven boys and one girl. Adongo stayed in Barentu until the age of 12. Afterwards, along with some friends, he crossed to the Sudan where he worked as a hand in plantation. After joining the armed struggle to liberate Eritrea in 1985, he cultivated his real talent for singing and dancing. Here follows an interview with Adongo:

Tell us about the beginning of your dancing life. How did it start?
It all started when I was a kid. Among the Kunama, we have a funeral ceremony that’s very much different from the other Eritrean ethnic groups. We’re expected to mourn only if the deceased are young. But if an old man or woman dies, the entire villagers gather and dance. I used to dance in such ceremonies and would dance all day long. There are sevaral dances in the Kunama, the Wuleda or Andekula and the Kumda. They are very attractive and graceful and are mostly danced by taping your feet much like tap dancing.

My real life as a dancer and singer started in 1985 just after I joined the armed struggle.  At that time, there was an acute awareness to develop and preserve Eritrean cultures. A cultural troupe with members representing every Eritrean ethnic group there was established.

Then me and other two dancers Ali and Hussien were chosen to join the troupe from the Kunama ethnic group. When we started we had no musicians or musical instruments. As known Kunama music is played mostly using drums but we couldn’t even find a drummer so instead, when we performed , one of us would sing and the other two would dance.


What kind of songs did you sing?
Well, they were mainly traditional songs that we used to sing back at home. We’ve a rich culture and we used to express the culture though the songs. Kunama dancers are free, extremely suggestive and beautiful to watch. After two months, we were transferred to the front’s leading cultural troupe, Bahli –Wudub. In 1988, Hussien martyred, Ali returned to Sudan and I joined Brigade 61 cultural troupe. There I met two fellow Kunama singers, Banana and Jaefer, and stayed with Brigade 61 till the independence of the country.

What happened after the independence of the country?
After independence a national cultural troupe known as Yata was established.  The troupe has around 65 musicians and dancers representing all the nine ethnic groups and was coordinated by the Ministry of Information and Culture. There, I was selected to represent the Kunama. In 1995, Yata was
re-established as Sibrit with about 36 members and was coordinated by the PFDJ’s cultural department. Now, I work for Sibrit,

Tell us about Sibrit?
The name Sibrit is in Bidawyet, Hidareb language, and it means legacy. Sibrit has 28-30 dancers and singers from all the nine ethnic groups. We usually go to remote parts of the country and conduct research on the cultural dances as well as the folk songs of that particular area. We would then practice the dance and song among the natives. And we return home only after we have mastered all the dances and songs.

Where and when do you stage your cultural performances?
We stage our cultural performances on different occasions such as national festivals and other events. We also tour around the world and stage our traditional performances in many international festivals and dance contests. In 1999, we participated in as African festival that was held in Libya. Out of the 36 African countries participated on the festival we stood second, and in a recent festival held in Qatar, we came first. We have also travelled to Singapore, Japan, the US as well as many European countries.

Tell us about your new upcoming album?
My first album was released in 2011, and my second will be released soon. The first one was in Nara and Kunama, including both modern and traditional love songs.

Does that mean you can also speak Nara?
Yes, I am multi- lingual, I can speak Nara, Kunama,Tigrinyia, Tigre and Arabic. Kunama and Nara languages are similar. So it is not that difficult to learn Nara if you are a Kunama language speaker. I learned them during the armed struggle. After I joined EPLF, I met fighters from all over the country who spoke different Eritrean languages. Consequently, you learn many languages.

Do you have any favourite song from your collection of songs?
Dancing and singing is my life and I love all my songs. But of course, in life there are some things that you prefer that others. And I have some songs that I love more than others. For instance, I love Kobesa, the freedom song from my first album. And I also love Edrienakokoba, the song for the martyrs. However, Abinafurda, the Elephant song, is my favourite. It is a song based on a traditional legend about a young woman.

Among the Kunama people, it is taboo for a woman to have a child before getting married. If such forbidden things happen, all the old women of the village would gather and massage the young woman with sweet smelling oils and dress her in a traditional wedding dress. At dusk, her father and uncles would take her to the bushes and execute her as a punishment for her deplorable deeds.

In the song, Abinafurda, a young woman gets pregnant and her mother finds about it. The mother decides to help her daughter escape to the bushes, before her father and uncles find out. The mother calls her daughter and tells her that she doesn’t want to see her own daughters get executed. She advices her daughter to escape and save her life before the father and uncles find out. As a final word of advice, she tells the daughter to be as strong as the elephant. That is why it is called the Elephant song.


Source: Nasair Eritrea Magazine, No. 3 July Dec, 2011

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