There is an old saying that goes with that one photograph equals thousands of words. This old saying, true or not, holds water as far as I am concerned. Thanks to the government institutions and individuals that took the initiative to keep the old photographs in their archives people have the opportunity to see renowned artist that they have been in their memories for long in their life time. This is about the photo exhibition organized by the Eritrean Musicians Association in connection with the Eritrean National Festival 2014 at the Expo compound.
Music Orchestras from ‘Banda Chita Di Asmara’ to the modern day music bands have been displayed there. In other words visitors have the opportunity to see photos of music bands that have been organized back since 1940 to present day. And I personally observed people of different age groups enjoying to see musicians and singers that they used to admire in their young age.
The Italian music band “Banda Chita Di Asmara” is part of the history during the Italian colonialism over Eritrea and that has been common to all for there were highly unlikely people who have been there during that time to come and visit the exhibition. The others have their audiences who personally knew every singer and musician and come in group to discuss about them and share their memories. “You remember what Mr. X was saying when we had our first night at Club Matae?” The other would say “I remember it most. Do you see (in the photograph) how Tegbaru has been beautiful? Look to day how she looks like.
How people change with time!”
I heard another group also discussing and arguing about the incident the legendary singer Mr. Ateweberhan encountered that caused him to remain one eyed the rest of his life. One would say it was the Emperor who ordered his arrest and with the torture he encountered lost his one eye. The other had different perspective, each giving own analysis. Hearing to their argument I wished someone who knows the history of what happened to the legendary singer come forward and publish about it and other historic figures in the history of Eritrean music.
Others, probably in their 50s have been discussing about other music bands and especially their memory with Zerai Deres Band and the nights they used to spend at Ambassador Hotel. Osman Abderihim, Tekle Tesfazgi have been their favorites. Others discussing about the legendary Police Band, its singers and musicians. All these have been the point of discussion among those who have been in their 20th at the time and calling themselves Asmarinos.
Everybody from the visitors has a place in the exhibition to discuss about. Some are veteran fighters of the EPLF talking about the old good days in the field during which they had entertainment programs and singers like Fihir, Wedi-Tulul , Abrehet Ankere, and others entertaining them. Looking to the photographs of their own and their colleagues “Look to this, it looks a long time ago. It has been only 30 years, and he looks as if he is 90 years old!” They say recalling how young and vibrant they have been at the time the photo was taken.
While I and Taezaz Abraha were visiting the exhibition one veteran fighter called us and she took us to one of the photographs. And she said “Look to this, could you identify who is who?” she asked Taeza. Taezaz told here who is who. She was mesmerized, and said “How young they have been”. The photograph has been of some of the senior leadership of the EPLF dancing together at one of the entertainment programs and she couldn’t identify two among them. I could understand she has not been able to see them from a long period of time after independence.
Here came around five youngsters. The photograph of the most singers and musicians is only a history to them. They had never imagined there has been a music band called “Banda Chita Di Asmara” in town. They know through some songs that Eritrea had renowned singers like that of Atewebrhan Segid. They have slim memory of Tekabo Woldemariam, Yemane Baria, and others playing on the stage. Zerai Deres and Eritrean Police Bands are for them in history. Here they reached to the photos of the Gedli era. They know and they have experienced for sure on the stages of Asmara Gedli singers like Fihira, Wedi Tukul Tefeno, Abrehet Ankere. They might be short of history of what these Gedli singers have been performing and in what circumstances but still they know them first hand and they could have a lot to discuss about them. Based on their experience after independence, and may be not more than 15 years ago.
Others also have the opportunity to discuss about Adulis and Asmara music bands and their experience in the night clubs of Asmara under a harsh condition only to enjoy themselves and get relieved from thinking, at least for a while, the harassment they have been experiencing on the hands of the enemy soldiers. Aside from their experiences in the night clubs of Asmara, during those times, they also discuss about the experience they have been encountered in the streets of Asmara by the ‘Ronda’ of the Ethiopian army upon their return from the night clubs and for that matter everywhere they go. They vow never to come back, but their age used to force them do that again and repeat the same experience.
I, in my part, have extremely enjoyed the photo exhibition in its organization and excellent lay out. And I have also observed many visitors involved in deep discussions. With that I also understood that not much has been said and written about Eritrea’s music history.
Many people, and it is true, understand that music in Eritrea has played vital role in motivating the Eritrean youth joining the armed struggle for independence and lifting the morale of the people and the combatants. Music in Eritrea has been a driving force in mobilizing the society in whatever public activities and community works. Music has been playing pivotal role in alleviating the grief of members of the society in many circumstances, during lose of loved ones or other situation during which one needs someone to come to his/her side.
When one observes the number of visitors to the exhibition and the heated discussions one could come to some kind of conclusion (observation mine) that someone come forward and take the initiative in writing the history of Eritrean music in its entirety. To do that I don’t think we could have material shortage, only the will to do.
Well organized exhibition that everyone need to see in the remaining days of the festival.