He got his nick name when he was 13.He fell from a small bridge and lost his tooth. Not long after the accident, people started calling him “Minus”, which replaced his actual name. Yonas Mihretab, aka Minus, grew up wanting to be an artist but he was awfully shy. Who would have believed that the shy kid would turn out to be a comedian who has made his way to the top and managed to present works of art that are recognized internationally? Being a comedian did not just mean acting for Minus. He knew he could write his own materials and direct them as well. Minus was famous for his comedies, but he also got famous for a passion he picked up along the way. He got into directing and managing video clips for which he has won many awards, including the Shamot award of best director for two successive years.Today, on the special occasion of the New Year, Minus is here with us to talk about his journey as an artist and let his fans learn something about him.
- Passion Vs Confidence
My father was one of the martyrs who freed Eritrea, so I grew up with my mom. To be honest, there isn’t one family member who was interested in any type of art. There isn’t anyone that I would say has influenced me to become an artist when I was growing up. No one even suspected that I would get into art, let alone to see me on this stage today. My mother has always known that I loved art and she has supported me to have my absolute freedom to do whatever I wanted. But she never thought that I would develop to be the artist I am today. She just supported me so that I could try it and expected me to give up when I couldn’t do it. My family has a reason to believe this. As a child I was not very sociable; I was very shy, which I still carry with me till this day. However, my reticence didn’t stop me from wanting to become a musician at first. I dreamt about playing a musical instrument; the saxophone, to be exact, is one of the instruments I love. But that wasn’t the only thing I sought; I wanted to get into comedy as well. I grew up with all those feelings inside me and shyness that was beyond my control. Even though I felt my eagerness grow by the day, I couldn’t make myself get proper training or courses for both music and comedy.
Finally, during my high school years at Barka Secondary School, I decided to join the drama club which was a challenge for quite some time. I started to withdraw from the drama club after I was given a part to perform as I still didn’t have enough confidence to perform in front of a crowd. After I realized that acting was hard for me, I started to train myself at home with various musical instruments such as the keyboard and the saxophone that I borrowed from people.
Afterwards, I joined the National Union of Eritrean Youth and Students (NUEYS) which helped me gain confidence. Even though I still had difficulties, I finally got to control myself and got to be excited to perform for people. Later, I became a member of the Asmara Theatre Group and played as an actor and musician for some time before I joined the Police Cultural Group that I am still a member of.
- Knowing the way to get over stage fears
Getting over something that comes on naturally is always the hardest thing to do. Till this day, performing on stage makes me nervous and fearful. Performing on stage is one of the things that frighten me the most. Every time before I get on the stage, I intend to do something that would make me forget my anxieties. I sometimes do a little exercise behind the stage or something. Most of the time, I get to the stage tired as if I have been running a 10k run. People can actually see my heart beat through my clothes if they look close. Sometimes, I start my shows with things which are unrelated. That is just fear. Now that I am talking about it, playing music instruments standing with a band makes me sweat. However, I came up with a solution for performing live, never looking directly at the crowd. That is my stage drug. No matter who is laughing, who is sitting in front or what is happening at the back, I just do my show and get out of the stage without recognizing anyone, even my friends.
Nevertheless, there is always a bigger reason for an artist to work hard to control their fears. When people accept you for the works you do and keep you close to their hearts as someone important to them, that is a motive for you to work extra hard at your problems. That is why I gather myself up and work through my confidence to bring a better work for the public.
- Joining NUEYS was the start of it all!
I joined the NUEYS club as an organist, but when I saw better organists than I was, I knew that my skills were only good enough to play at home. Then I went on to join the drama club there, until I met people better than me who made me switch to being an announcer. That stage of my life is where I got to try my talents in different areas, for which I am grateful. It was helpful to know my level and the weakness I had. It was a time when I got to explore myself at different levels, and it was the time I met many talented artists who became my idols such as comedian Dawit Eyob, who is now one of the favorite comedians of the public. Not only was I inspired by the talents of the artists, but I finally got the opportunity to get proper courses in music and acting. I had a three-year musical note course. In 2002, we were given training on acting by Efrem Kahsay (Wedi Quada). By the way, I would like to praise Wedi Quada for he is one of the leading artists who have been presenting marvelous works over those years. He is also the person who has shaped me as an artist and I am forever grateful.
- You finally made it, Minus, the comedian
I consider myself one of the artists who were fortunate to have the platform and support from the people to present my works. I would like to express my gratitude and appreciation to all the people who have supported me and motivated me to be where I am today. I am lucky.
Later on, after I came back from my military training, where I had the opportunity to work with many talented artists, I was inspired to do another comedy. That is how I came up with Mrs. Roma (Weyzero Roma), which the public adored; it was watched by everyone from all kinds of ages. That was so motivating that I produced so many comedies such as Hgusha, Fiqrey Honey Honey, Jetok Biyonciok, which were broadcast on television. Ever since my breakthrough with Mrs. Roma, I am glad to say that all my comedies have made a great deal of impression on the society. I write and direct my own materials. Although my works focus on making people laugh, I want my comedies to have a bit of a message to be passed on. What can be challenging is the choice of characters and actors/actress. I want my colleagues to shine out just as much as the lead actor and I want people to recognize the actor and character as one. This is one of the reasons I try to keep the characters for a long run and I believe people accept the characters and recognize them.
- Wedi Shuq goes international….. unexpected!
What is amazing with art is that, sometimes, a product that you have worked on hard wouldn’t shine as much as the one you just came up with using less effort. Wedi Shuq is one of the comedies that just popped up and it didn’t take much effort to be made. However, within just days, everyone, old, young, girls, boys, mothers and fathers started to repeat words from the comedy and those words have become international words Eritreans are associated with. Some words are being used by other nationalities — Ethiopians, Ugandans, Sudanese, etc. When I see people using the words and repeating my work, it scares me the most because people expect more from me, and this puts a huge burden on me to come up with a greater work for the future.
- Realizing yet another talent along the way
There is always some kind of hidden potential somewhere. Of course, I enjoy watching video clips and I wanted to do more in the field, but pursuing the career came along the way. I work with many musicians who produce great work that would make us competent in the music industry. Most of the time we try to travel and showcase our beautiful natural resources in a clip. In other countries, you might travel a 1000km to get to a forest, another 1000km to get to the ocean. In Eritrea, we travel 100km to get to the sea, 200km to get the desert and maybe 50km to get the forest. That is why it is easier and more beautiful to use all those places in our clips. Most of the video clips we have made have been awarded prizes. In 2018 two of the songs I directed became the winners of the Shamot award. “Kinrakeb ina”, a song by Keleab Teweldemedhin, which I directed, became the winner of multiple titles such as best song, best clip, and best directing of the year. Another clip I directed for the same singer, which is titled “Kandoye” won the best directing of the year 2018. I have also been fortunate to see the videos I directed win in 2019.
This year, I was named the best director of the year for a video clip I directed, “Goney”, by Abrham Alem. “Zeymalsey” , a song by Kaleab Teweldemedhin which I directed turned out to be the best clip of the year. Another award followed for a clip I directed, a song of Abrar Osman, “Hello” which Mulegeta Mensgstab remixed for the best picture. The best song of 2019 went on to “Haka Ala”, a song by Merhawi Towelde, another video clip I directed. All these awards mean that we are doing something for the industry and, hopefully, will continue to work harder.
- She is his rock
I am married to the most amazing person, Makda Tesfamicel. She is the mother of my two beautiful kids, Bruk and Blen. In most cases, when people get married, they tend to do less in their career. On the contrary, I got bigger and better after I was married to her. She is the kind of person that supports me and inspires me to do more in art. I would like to tell her that she is one of the reasons I am successful at what I do, and I would like to say thank you for everything.
- A massage to the fans!
I am here today because of the unconditional support and encouragement I got from the first day. I have built up my way because of my fans and I would like to remind you not to stop. Your support means the world to me, thank you. Happy New Year to all Eritreans.