In a foreign country far, far away from home, speaking of one’s identity, tradition and culture might be hard, but music has been a suited method for singer and song writer Daniel Nebiat.
He lives in Canada and along with his fellow African band members, Daniel makes music that reflects him and Eritrea, he makes songs of his own: starting from using his mother tongue in his lyrics, to integrating African and local beats in his melodies and using his childhood memories as themes for most of his music.
On today’s Q&A I present to you the enjoyable talk I had with singer and song writer Daniel Nebiat about his rich music and his ‘affection’ for SHAREit.
I was born and raised in Asmara in the neighborhood of Alfa Romeo. I left Asmara in 1989. Back then Asmara and its people were in hell with the Derg soldiers killing civilians randomly and burning down houses.
We fled from our country, went to Addis Ababa, afterwards to Kenya then Canada.
- Early steps in music
I have good memories of me and my friends humorously singing out in the streets. It is a very well-known and massively common tradition of young Eritreans playing Kirar and sing songs. In Asmara it is probably a common evening hobby for Asmara’s youth to sit in a corner of an alley under the light of a street lamp while hearing the neighbourhood’s “vocalist” singing to classics while playing Kirar.
And in my case, equivalently to young Asmarinos, I learned how to sing in the alleys of my neighbourhood; I was my neighbourhood’s vocalist!
Growing up, in my early teen years, all I wanted to do was only and exclusively sing. My mother had strongly opposed at first, but later, we reached an agreement.
- “The agreement”
My father Martyr Nebiat Negassi was a freedom fighter, obviously, he was away from home in the fields. My older brother Amanuel Nebiat took on the charge of filling our father’s spot as well as helping my mother raise us. However around that time my brother had to live the country and my mother was left alone.
She asked me to man over the coffee shop we owned back then, I was happy to do it, but only if she’d allow me to sing. Hence we made a deal; for me to help with work and my mother letting me be a singer.
- And then?
I played the harmonica extremely well but I was not satisfied enough and asked my, now Martyr, friend to teach me how to play the Kirar. I mastered it in less than six months.
- I know of the “common evening hobby”, it is practically one of the genetic materials in Eritrean youth’s DNA. But wasn’t it dangerous for youngsters of your generations to keep up to the leisure time?
You bet it was! It is not like people were allowed out of their houses in the evenings even; staying out till short after the curfew of 6 pm alone was a huge crime; it meant a bullet in a your head, merciless torture in prison and undefined jail time. But then again, everything was dangerous, what possibly could not be dangerous when lives were under the watch of a gun at all times?
So yes, it was extremely threatening but we were young hence naïve and innocent. At times I would be singing songs broadcasted on Radio DimtsiHafash, which was the freedom fighters’ radio to which people listened massively but secretly. Older neighbours had to spank me only to make me realize of its consequences; nevertheless the young me, gave no consideration to it.
- From alleys to stages
My earliest experience of stage performance was in Kenya. During my stay there I joined a band and together we performed in several community occasions, I even sang during celebrations of the 5th Independence anniversary of Eritrea.
- And now
Now I am residing in Canada, and there, I have a band. I have made two full albums subsequent to prior mini albums.
- Can you tell us what kind of music you make?
The songs that I do are traditional and modern songs in Tigrigna. I normally try to apply Eritrea’s traditional and folk beats. We have a rich culture and the harmonious beats found in all of our nine ethnic groups is so magnificent, that I just can’t help but admire it, hence incorporate it in my music.
Also, because my band members are Africans, I sometimes incorporate African beats too; it is interesting for the fact that the music we make, then, is a great way of introducing my identity along with band mates’ identities.
During all of my performances, it gives me great pleasure to see non-Eritreans wondering of music, I take my time to tell them of my country, people and tradition right after my performance.
That is in fact my artistry’s momentum! The fact that trough what I do and know best, I get to have a chance, to introduce my background and history, gives me supplementary energy to do more.
Additionally letting my music be a medium of relieving homesickness for fellow Eritreans in the Diaspora, is one of the most important aspects of my artistry.
- Relating your music with local audience
It has been hard to get in to the local music network, mainly because I don’t live here, thus I can’t manage to keep up with the local music market pace. However, every time I visit Eritrea and every single chance I get to connect with the local audience, is dear to my heart and an extremely significant chance I do not want to lose since I sincerely want to relate with local audience.
I aspire for the local audience to be the real judge of my songs. As such, in striving to create such a web, I literally spread my songs and CDs in order to introduce myself to the local audience. I hear there is this commonly short Wi-Fi length distribution app that people use a lot in Eritrea, but I don’t remember the name…
- Are you talking of SHAREit?
Yes that one. SHAREit, what a great app! I want the local audience to SHAREit my music, for free, through this very easy app that everybody uses and this way I want to make my music as familiar as possible.
- Spreading your music for free would put you out of the market, so why do you do it anyways?
It would put me out the market, which I don’t care of at all, but it would certainly put my songs on the local audience’s top play list. And that is truly, all I want. Previously I did put the incomes of one of my CDs up for charity, so what I am trying to say is that music has little been a plug of riches for me, especially not in the local market.
- That is interesting. Is there anything you would like to say before we end our Q&A?
I have a message to fellow Eritreans and music fans in the country. I want them to know that I will do all I can to meet up their expectations, I will work harder because you give me all of the energy and motivation an artist could possibly need.
I am beyond explainably grateful to make music for you. PS. Don’t forget to SHAREit my music. I will see you soon!