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An Undying Love of Music and Art

“We are the outcome of the society…all artists ought to produce works fitted for the people” Ruftalem Abraham, artist

A love of music and art is all she ever had as a child. Despite her family’s frequent admonishments, Ruftalem Abraham decided to follow her true passion, music and art. Today, the mother of two is one of Eritrea’s most famous and talented singers and fashion designers. Ruftalem is well-known for her creativity, innovation, and unique styles and she has helped produce music videos for an array of Eritrean artists.

Today, Q&A is happy to introduce one of Eritrea’s most exciting artists.

  • -Ruftalem, it’s such a pleasure to meet you. Can you tell us a little about your childhood?

My parents weren’t overly happy with the idea of me becoming an artist. I don’t blame them since I was their only child. They wanted me to be serious in my education. When I was in first grade, I used to write poems for kids’ programs and also lyrics for song. I dreamt of becoming a singer one day. My role model was Dehab Faytinga. I wanted to sing just like her. So much so, in fact, that I even studied her Kunama songs and imitated them.

Also, I joined Yatana, now known as the Boba music band, without my family’s knowledge. Now that I look back upon it, I can remember just how challenging it was. However, I did it all because of the love I had for music. I used to run home after my practice sessions with the band before my mom came home, sometimes even taking the dark roads and alleys.

  • -How was your time in the band?

The band is where I learned about music. I learned the basics and also had an opportunity to share ideas and experiences with others who love music. The leader of the band, Denden Ismae, is someone who I would like to thank from the bottom of my heart. He was the one who supported and guided us all. The band included many young artists who are now very famous and well-recognized.

  • -You preformed during the official Independence Day celebration, which is one of the biggest occasions in Eritrea. That was even prior to you releasing your first song. Can you tell us a little about that?

It was one of the happiest moments of my entire life. How it works is that an artist submits their work to the committee. The committee decides what work gets presented at what stage. I only submitted the song just to try out – I wasn’t really expecting to be selected. However, I was notified that I was one of the people selected to perform at the official celebration. I already made my first song, which at that time I hadn’t publically released. Although it all came as a big shock to me, I was so excited to be there. It was like a dream come true.

I remember inviting my mom to the event. She never believed me. Instead, she organized a family get-together. She later watched me on television! That is when she really accepted me as a singer.

  • -How many songs have you released so far?

I have released seven singles so far. Although I think about making an album, it is also very challenging financially. I think that people should support the artists here. An artist is nothing without the support of the society. To be honest, singers here don’t make money from their musical work. People should try to buy original music from the legal sellers. If they keep sharing it through various sharing applications, singers will have less motivation to continue or produce great work. That is a big problem we are facing. We all do it for the sake of the love we have for music. You might have come across many artists who tell you they can’t live without music, that they do it for the love inside of them. They are right. We all do it for the love.

Also, I try to come up with good ideas for my video clips. I work hard to make sure all the things in my clips are meaningful and related. Video clips have to tell the right story to viewers. When I first look at a song, I try visualize it in a video sense. I want everyone to understand the story. If people with hearing impairment are watching, I want them to be able to understand my songs just as much as those who do not have impairments.

  • -Ok, let’s talk about how you became a fashion designer.

To be honest, I have never thought about becoming a fashion designer. When I was a child, I wanted to be a singer. That said, I also wanted to be a singer who was uniquely dressed. I never took classes…it is just something I had in me from the beginning. I used to design clothes for myself when I was in high school.

When I began to sing, I started to design clothes for myself. That is how I got into designing. So far, I have had two fashion shows. The first time, I tried to make modern type of outfits. But I was also aware that there are many talented designers who can do that type of style better than me. I wanted to showcase the beauty we have in our culture. So my second fashion show was titled, “Eritrawit.” It was a cultural dress with a touch of modern style. I have a dream to someday participate in the world’s biggest shows and I want to showcase my country and my culture. I also want to make different cultural purses out of traditional tools such as Laka.

  • -You are famous for designing the outfits used in many video clips…

It is mostly because the artists feel like I can understand what they are looking for since I also am an artist. I try to work on reflecting what the song is about. Colors and outfits tell a story as well. As such, in my last video clip I tried to incorporate unique aspects of lighting, tools, and even my own style.

  • -You are married with two kids… how do you manage it all?

Let me tell you, it is hard to be married and a mother while pursuing or engaged in any kind of art, especially singing. Our society doesn’t really accept the idea of being a female artist. But there is nothing that can stand in your way if you have an endless love for anything. That is why we see many female artists abandon their jobs  after some time. By the way, I would like to express appreciation for my mother, mother-in-law, and husband for all the support they provide. It is because of them that I am able to do anything I like.

  • -Is there anything you would like to add?

I want to thank Tewelde Qeleta; he has been there for me from the beginning. I also want to thank all the people who work with me. It is because of them and a lot of hard work that I am here today. And, finally, a message to every artist: we are the outcome of the society, we work for our people. Since we are that, let’s do something that is for the people.

  • -Thank you and good luck, Ruftalem!

Thank you for having me.

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