Art and culture

Struggles of an aspiring singer

Mahlet Fasil

Born and raised in Erer Gota, a small town around Dire Dawa in eastern Ethiopia known for its fresh fruits Tezera Habtemariam bumped into his destiny inadvertently at the age of 17.  It was Parent’s Day celebration at the local school he attended and he was scheduled to read a brief poem. “But there was no one to sing [at the service] and I had to fill in,” he says. “That was the first time I sang in public.”

The main breadwinner of the family, his mother, had the family’s livelihood depend on the troubled Ethio-Djibouti railway. She was one of those smalltime merchants who frequently travelled from Dire Dawa to Addis Abeba. But when the railway stopped giving service, the family’s means of income was threatened. That’s when Tezera had to step in and be a wage earner. “So I quit school and began working as a day laborer making around 30 Birr per day,” he told this magazine.

Serious about his late discovered passion, Tezera participated in a televised talent contest, “The Ethiopian Idol.” He didn’t win the contest but “then I decided to take music lessons and from what I made as a laborer I paid 300 Birr per month for my music school.”

In 2005 Tezera came to Addis Abeba in search of better opportunities for his career. “My mother pushed me to come here because she thought it would be better here,” he says.

He ended up singing in Club Yaniko, a spot for many upcoming Oromo artists where now he gives gigs six days a week except Mondays.

At the club Tezera sings cover versions of Afan Oromo legend artist Ali Birra, reggae icon Bob Marley and Amharic greats such as Mahmud Ahmed and Getachew Kassa. But Tezera’s fans at the club adore him for his cover versions of Ali Birra’s famous songs partly because he plays them beautifully or because Ali Birra’s songs are loved by everybody. “Ever since I was a little kid, I have been a huge fan of Ali Birra. His songs are music school to me,” he maintains.

Tezera is currently working on his debut album but things have not been going well for him as planned. “It is an album containing Afan Oromo songs mostly in Reggae style. But due to various constraints I am forced to put it off,” he says. Part of the challenge is because “I support my family. I support my parents as well as my two sisters who are still at school. One is in University.”

Although he attempted to find corporate sponsorship for the album, “which should have come out by now,” his efforts didn’t materialize. “It is often difficult for Afan Oromo artist to find [corporate] sponsorships,” he says.

But this doesn’t seem to let him give up. “I have a plan to release two singles with video clips” he says “and all I think about is finishing my album.”

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