Art Review

Selam Festival : Getting bigger and stronger

What started off as a simple music concert is getting bigger and more global. The organizers must be credited

Zela Gayle

In December last year, the third edition of a yearly concert, Salem Festival 2012, saw an astounding line up of international artists such as reggae legend Alpha Blondy of Ivory Coast, combined with local big names as Mahmoud Ahmed and Alemayehu Eshete – the legendary icons of Ethiopian music, performing on a grand stage here in Addis Ababa.

Set in the beautiful garden of Unity Park at Ghion Hotel, Selam Festival 2012 has aimed at expanding the capacity of Ethiopia’s musical industry by bringing global music legends into domestic experiences.

With such an incredible line up of artists on the program, the festival, a challenge for its organizers, made sure the excitement created was spread evenly throughout the two days on the 8th and the 9th of Dec. 2012.

Organizers of the Festival, Selam Ethiopia and Yisakal Entertainment, said the festival has grown a lot bigger this year in terms of the amount of activities and the big names of artists appearing. Compared to the very first edition of Salem Festival held two years ago at various night clubs around Addis Ababa, Salem Festival 2012 was definitely an occasion not to be missed and a place to experience the heights of the global music scene in Ethiopia.

The concert, which hosted ethnic music and dancing during the day, opened on Saturday Dec. 8thwith Munit and Jorge, local jazz duet, who gave a splendid start to the evening with a jazzed up version of Bob Marley’s  “We’re Jamming” followed by more improvisational acoustic jazz songs.

But the show went into an exciting vibe when Jananites, the first all-female band,  took the stage and warmed up the night as hundreds of people geared up for what was yet to come from the magnitude of artists lined up for the night. With everything going so smoothly throughout the night, the crowd kept on growing with hundreds of concert goers waiting anxiously for the most popular appearances of Mahmoud Ahmed and Alemayehu Eshete, Ethiopia’s music legends of the 70s who continued dominating until today and Jahlude, a young reggae sensation.

Alpha Blondy

However, the night’s disappointing experience came when the sound system unexpectedly collapsed soon after Jananites left the stage, leaving both concert goers and musicians lined up to perform at an awkward standstill for nearly 45 minutes. Many people drifted home from the sheer disappointment and the unfriendly chill as vendors had the spotlight to make the most of their sales. The utter silence seemed to last longer than it did and was frustrating for everyone.

 Saving the night

Stewart Sukuma of Mozambique was up next after the technical hick up and had the challenge of not only pulling back the crowd who drifted away but making sure those who left behind had a good time. Thankfully his charismatic act combined with great backup vocalists who danced dynamically while they sang all the numbers had enchanted the audience back into a positive mood.

As the night wore in it became clear that the crowd had been waiting for the arrival of the legendary Mahamud Ahmed who had received the loudest screams from the audience when he graced the stage. Mohamud played the longest set of his songs from the 70s and 80s and ignited the crowd who kept dancing and singing along with him. It won’t be exaggerating to say every song of Mohamed is known to every Ethiopian by heart.

By way of giving tribute to Ethiopia’s golden age of music, Salem Festival 2012 made sure Mohamed and Alemayehu Eshete, another legend who performed enthusiastically, were on the bill. The way in which both commanded the stage with a resonating sound left everyone mesmerized. Unlike their ages, both held each note of their songs so profoundly that made the Festival to be remembered for months to come.

If the audience thought Mohamud’s And Almayehu’s was a journey back to Ethiopia’s music golden age, Jahlude, a young reggae sensation closed the first dayshow with much excitement by appearing on stage shortly after Mohamud. Jahlude did not wow the crowd at first; but after a while the audience started warming up to his songs of deep rooted reggae and a familiar version of Bob Marley’s “War”, which he sang in Amharic.

 A childhood icon

Day two of the festival was largely uneventful as the crowd was waiting for a single person who is a worldwide reggae wonder and a childhood icon for millions of young Ethiopians – Alpha Blondy.

Speaking to the media earlier, Ivory Coast’s reggae legend and prominent political activist Alpha Blondy says he has been dreaming about a performance in Addis Ababa since he once passed through Bole International Airport nearly six months ago. He described the opportunity as a “dream come true.”

Alpha’s ‘Jerusalem’ was a household favorite for today’s young Ethiopians who grew up with the song in the aftermath of the coming into power of the current regime in 1991, which, unlike its predecessor the socialist Derg, has somehow liberalized the use of Television and allowed the appearance of diversified music clips from the world over, which made Alpha and his famous song ‘Jerusalem’ the childhood music icons of young Ethiopians.

His stage appearance, which was preceded by a number of uneventful stage appearances by musicians including a new Ethiopian female singer, Yeshi Demelash, who disappointed her fans with the release of her first album which was quickly forgotten by the public, was by any standard the highlight of the two day concert and the panacea for the crowed at the second day that were on the way to dispersing unable to cope with the midnight’s chill. Alpha found it easy to connect with everyone as he sang his all too familiar songs of ‘Jerusalem’ and ‘Ethiopia.’

It was to no significance and resemblance whatsoever to the concert that the day time schedules on both days were filled by cultural shows from Amhara, Oromiya, Tigray and Southern regions but were attended by a few people. However, Salem Festival, a festival that started off as a simple concert by ambitious individuals, is getting bigger; is putting together new and exciting artists from around the world; and is bringing them to Ethiopia, invigorating classics and the hottest sounds as was witnessed by the band Timbuktu, a fast-paced rap group from Sweden playing urban hip- hop beats, and a Kenyan sensation Erik Wainaina, making next year’s edition an event not to be missed.

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