The Sounds of Oasis
By Asmait Futsumbrhan
Inspired by their parents, most members of The Sounds of Oasis Music Group got into classical music when they were young. To ensure their kids continued to be involved in extracurricular activities, some dedicated parents decided to bring together the students and form a music group where they could learn and share experiences and work on their music. Over the years, the Sounds of Oasis has performed at concerts in cinemas, where it left lasting impressions with its individual members’ performance and its performance as a group. The Music Group has also provided its members with many opportunities to meet and collaborate with professional classical musicians, and some members got scholarship awards.
- Ruth Solomon: Pianist & Cello Player
I was inspired to get into Art through my mom, Alganesh Solomon, when I was a little kid. My mom has always wanted me to be involved in extracurricular activities. At first she enrolled me at Segen Art School to learn painting. But when she saw that I wasn’t very much into painting, she enrolled me at Asmara Music School to learn to play the Piano. After two months the school no longer gave service for some reason, so I started having private lessons at home by Samrawit, a music teacher. After noticing my passion for music and the progress I was making, my mom got me a piano. In less than a year, my mom and her friend, Bisrat Desalgen, whose kids were also taking piano lessons, came up with an idea to have a “‘Christmas concert” at home for few friends, and our performance was admired by family and friends.
Later on we were introduced to other kids who were learning to play musical instruments and we continued to perform at home as a group from time to time. Then the Principal at the Alliance France came to our “concerts” and saw what we did; she was impressed and helped us to perform at Cinema Roma. I believe for most of the audience members it was their first time to be at a classical music concert; they were impressed and said they liked it. Three years later, SUKE (the Swiss Support for Eritrea) began to support us by sending violin, piano and pedagogy teachers from Switzerland, and we have been performing at concerts every year since then.
- Piano and Cello (the only person who plays the cello in Eritrea)
I was working to upgrade my skills in playing the piano by watching videos of orchestras. As I was watching I heard the sound of a cello. I didn’t know what it was but was attracted to its sound. Later on, when an orchestra came from Germany to perform for the Independence Day celebration, I saw the instrument there and tried to meet with the group. I seriously wanted to know more about the instruments, and I asked the Music School if they had classes for cello. Elias, a music teacher, told me the cello was not known here. Even though he didn’t know about the instrument, Elias gave me lessons for a year using his knowledge of music. Fortunately, a wife of one of the doctors from the Arshmed volunteers, who was giving violin lessons, helped me with the cello.
There were other cello players with me; however, I am the only one who is around. Even though most people think I am good with the cello, I think I am still at the base. And I will be working hard to get to some kind of level. Cello isn’t popular here that people are surprised to see me carrying it.
- Aklilu Bokretsion, Opera Singer & Applied Marine Science Graduate
Fell in love with opera when I was 7 years of age. It was something I saw on TV. I saw Barnabas Mebrahtu, my music teacher, singing “Selam Gual Eritrea.” I didn’t even know what that type of singing was called, but I just loved the sounds. I had the passion within me till I grew up and five years ago, I met Barnabas accidentally and asked him if I could sing his song for him. After I finished singing, I saw how impressed he was. He even told me that he knew that I could be an opera singer when he heard me talk before I started singing. He also asked if I wanted to be an opera singer. I told him that I would love that and I also told him that he was my role model. Later on, when I was invited to sing at SMAP Institute’s graduation ceremony, I met Barnabas again and asked him if I could sing his song and he was nice enough to give me the original notes. I honestly was nervous to sing a song by a great musician in front of many guests, including high officials. I didn’t know if I could deliver it well, but I guess it was OK because I got appreciation from the audience. I auditioned to join The Sounds of Oasis Music group five years ago. It was challenging for me at the beginning because I hadn’t had the knowledge of notes. I joined the group only with my singing talent. I never had the kind of support and motivation from parents when I was a kid like most members of the music group. After joining the group, I met many friends, great teachers and professional musicians.
- Something about Opera
Opera music was first introduced to Eritrea during the Italian colonization. We have an opera house, Cinema Asmara. The first Eritrean opera singer I’ve ever seen is Barnabas, and we are still few in number. Opera singers are few in number because you have to be really talented and train regularly to be an opera singer. I actually do a three-hour training every single day which is really helpful. On top of that, you have to have great passion and a great teacher.
As my colleague have said we are working on playing Eritrean music in a classical style. It was something that I have always thought about that I even practised with Tikabo Weldemariiam’s legendary song, Nibaet Fiqri (tears of love).
- Bimnet Oqbab, Pianist & Computer Science Engineer
Through my family I got into music when I was 11. My uncle had an interest in music, and along with my aunty and mother, they all chipped in to buy me a keyboard. When I was a 9th grader, I began taking Piano lessons at the music school in Gejeret; till then I only was familiar with the keyboard. Since then piano has become the instrument I use to express my true feelings. Also, the music students performed at a concert annually. Although we weren’t at the stage where we could perform, our music teacher always believed that it’s important to have an exposure. After a while, our parents had the idea to form a music group where we could learn together and work for a bigger thing in the future. The idea was for us to have some other profession outside our academic field. But when our parents saw the response from the public they wanted to make it bigger. The Sound of Oasis now has about 20 members, including vocalists (pop and opera singers), violin and cello musicians, and pianists. So far we have had seven concerts as a group. I am proud to say that all of the members are good students, some have graduated from colleges and others still in school. Education is one of the many things the Sounds of Oasis gives a lot of attention to.
- Fusing classical music with Eritrean Music
The opinions we get from the public are mixed. Some of them tell us that they don’t understand what music we are playing, especially because we are playing classical music from the West. And some of them tell us it’s really good and some say, “How about playing Eritrean music in a classical style?” So we have tried to do that and we have got good responses from the audience. We are mostly working on songs from the past to keep our old songs alive. The most important thing is learning the culture and ways of playing classical music.