Meet Yohannes Habteab, better known as Wedi Qerin, a nick name he picked up after he took part in a TV show a while back. Growing up playing in a band using instruments they made out of cans and strings and going to wedding parties at his neighborhood got him to be recognized as one of the renowned musicians in Eritrea today. Starting off with a song that touched everyone’s heart when he was just a kid, Wedi Qerin has influenced his fans to sing his songs with emotions at cafés, bars, and clubs over the years.
He shares his musical journey with Q&A today.
- Let me take you back to when you made your debut as a singer. You were just a kid and your first song was an emotional song about a boy who lost his mother.
Well, that was my maiden song which introduced me to the public, a song which made the public and me emotional. People thought that the song was really connected to me and some of them thought that it described me.
Thinking about it today, I wouldn’t have used my mom to act on that clip. Nonetheless, my first song earned me respect which I was thrilled about. To be frank, that song kept me from working on my plans properly since people started making me sing the song everywhere I went.
- How did it feel? You became famous when you were just a young boy. Did it have any kind of effect on your childhood?
It most definitely had its impact on my childhood. In fact, it is the sole reason I am where I am today. I remember I used to be a hyper kid. And that song enabled me to become recognized by the people and it has helped me to look at life in another perspective. I cooled down since I was recognized everywhere I went.
- Tell me something about how you fell in love with music. Did it just come naturally or were you influenced by someone else?
I’ve had the love of music as long as I can remember. I always went to wedding parties and stood close to the singers. Always paid attention to what they did and how they played. I sometimes played the traditional drums there. Well, of course, I also imitated what the bands did after the event. There was an old car in our neighborhood which we used as a stage and played our musical instruments we made from cans and sticks. That is where it all started. The undying love of music kept growing inside me, and it never went away. Later, I found out that my father used to play Kirar (a traditional music instrument), but I can never say that anyone was my inspiration in music. I think I was just born with it.
- Wedi Qerin, please enlighten our readers on your time with Shewit Cultural Group?
I told you I was a hyper kid; I also had confidence. One day, I saw Rigeat Fissehaye, someone from our neighborhood, singing on TV on Martyrs Day. Right after the song was over, I went straight to her house and asked her where she worked? She told me something about the group and about Issaias Tsegai, the manager. I w e n t to him the next day and told him I wanted to join the group. Issaias Tsegai was an artist, a teacher and, most of all, a father to everyone who was at the group. Everyone respected and feared him. Talking to him like I did was something new to him; he was surprised by my confidence but didn’t turn me away. He told me to come back at the weekend to test me, and he was happy with my recital. I remember he used to show me the festival stages and told me that I was going to play on those stages the following year. May God rest his soul!
I wouldn’t have been here if it wasn’t for Issaias Tsegai and his patience to teach me and guide me with everything he knew. Being a hyper kid didn’t help me much when I think about it. I used to be absent for training many times. I preferred to play soccer instead of being there and getting the most out of the group. However, Issaias did his best to bear with me and gave me chances.
Shewit Cultural Group is where we shaped ourselves and developed the desire to become professionals. There, we had the chance to know our potential and created a family of our own. We worked together, discussed and had snacks together. We used to miss the place and couldn’t wait for t h e weekend to come. Weekend was the only time we used to work together since we all had to go to school. We had lessons in music, musical instruments (I play the flute) and theatre. If you are in the cultural group, you are a singer, a dancer, an actor, etc. It is for that reason that I say although I was part of another cultural group (the Godaif NUEYS), it is Shewit that has shaped our future as musicians.
- Let’s talk about your second song, another emotive song that tells the love story of many freedom fighters.
A song I adore very much, “Aybedelkun” (I didn’t do anything wrong). The song was originally a soundtrack for a movie by Issaias Tsegai about freedom fighters titled Timali (Yesterday). It talks about how the freedom fighters went through the harsh times and the love they had left behind to free the country. The sound track had already existed in the movie when I was away for a while to do my military training. When I came back, the soundtrack got to me and all I could think about was turning it into a song. I talked about it with Issaias Tsegai, and he agreed and wrote the lyrics. The song was related to many freedom fighters and I was happy to share their story and emotions with the public.
- You also took part in the Shingriwa contest, a search for the star? Why compete against people who were just beginning? Weren’t you already a famous singer?
Undeniably I was famous. However, I never think of myself as someone who has done everything in music. There is much that I want to do. That is why I decided to enter the competition. It was a great experience for me and the others. The competitions went on for a long time. I started the competitions with my song, but they told me to change it, to sing another person’s song. I knew what I was getting into regarding my previous experience in music. There is something I would like to clear to my fans. During the competitions, I was asked who I thought was going to win the competition and I answered that I was going to be the winner. However, some fans took it wrong and thought I had unnecessary pride in myself. That is not true; I only said that because I was competing to win and my answer simply was expressing my purpose. I won 2nd place in the contest.
- How many songs have you released so far? Also about your recent two-part song, Liwamey and Aleku ILA, what can you tell us about the songs?
Including the songs in my album, I have released more than 25 songs over the years. I work with various artists. My recent release is Luwamey and its part 2 Aleku Ilia. Originally, the music of Luwamey wasn’t made for me. Aritist Ermias Kiflezghi made it for himself but I couldn’t resist it when I heard it. I begged him to give it to me, and when he finally did Ghebrihiwet Tsehaye wrote the lyrics for Liwamey. After finishing the songs, I decided to do another part and it will go on till the third part.
People have interpreted the song in many ways, and I want it to remain unexplained because I don’t want to bound people’s imagination. I want people to give the song their own meaning, and that adds thrill to music.
- You are married to an artist, aren’t you?
Yes. I am married and I am a father to a daughter and a son. My wife, Samrawit Aklilu, is also an artist. Although she has been away from art for many years, she recently got back to the field. It’s always about the love you have for art that pulls you back, and hopefully she would enjoy it.
- Is there anything you would like to share with the readers at the end?
Yes please. There is something I would like to mention whenever I get the chance to. There are many homeless kids with potential, who can take care of the nation in the future. We need to take care of them and guide them at whatever cost. Let’s take care of them today so that they would take care of us in the future.
- Thank you for your time.
It’s a pleasure.