Addis Standard (Addis Ababa)

Ethiopia: 'Yegna' - a Musical Band of Five Girls "The Sound of All of Us"

After two and a half years of rehearsals and practice, 'Yegna' is a hit on the musical and theatrical scenes in Addis Ababa. The formation of such a band with a purpose of librating young girls is a unique phenomenon. 'Girl Hub Ethiopia' concocted the idea of forming a girls' band, which challenges taboos and other societal impositions through acting and singing. The initiative is now managed by 'Yegna Bet', (our house), a consortium made up of Emerge, Mango Productions Ltd and Deloitte consulting.

The explosive sounds of the young girls and their talents twisted the band into more influential social pop group. This is not just a musical melody. The girls have now awakened the community at large with their first appearance in a concert on 12th October in Akaki sub-city to an audience of 9,000 girls and their families. A week later, the second Concert rocked Bahir Dar, the capital of Amhara regional State. Both concerts were dedicated to the International Girl Day. The free concert, played with the Mehari Brothers and the well-known Ethiopian Reggae singer, Haile Roots, was the most exciting open air event this year.

What makes 'Yegna' girls' band so special is that it is a band that gives voice to young Ethiopian girls. It helps them fathom their full potential, disengaging them from the age old tradition.

Different girls, different lives

Part of the teams' success story is the 'Yegna' radio drama series which was launched in April 2013. The drama series picked the story of five very different girls, whose friendship got strengthened by their love of music. The girls went on to form a band, in a way to transform each episode of the drama into new marvelous songs.

In an exclusive interview with Addis standard, 'Yegna' five girls' band said they sing songs as a tribute to the characters they play in the drama. Yerusalem Kelemework plays 'Sara', a girl who comes from a well educated family who believe "all that matters is a good education. Yet singing is not a profession."Rahel Getu plays 'Lemlem', the only girl in her family who takes care of her ill mother. The responsibility of caring for the family makes 'Lemlem' late for school every day. Teref Kassahun plays 'Melat,' a girl born into a wealthy family. As the family business expands, they moved to another town. 'Melat' dreams of becoming a singer but her family leaves her no space for her ambitions in their busy life. Lemlem Haile Michael plays Mimi, a girl born in rural area who is forced to marry at age 13. She leaves her husband to seek a better life, only to end up a derelict on the streets. And Zebiba Girma plays Emuye, a girl whose father drinks all day and abuses her and other members of the family physically.

The drama reveals how each character resolves their problems over a period of time. Nonetheless, 'Yegna' five girls' band works with a team of lyricists who compose songs; songs which evoke a colorful mix of Ethiopian traditional music; songs enriched with various pentatonic scales and modern sounds of trendy styles such as rock-pop and soulful moods. They aim at bringing together other young Ethiopian girls who may share their idea. The average age in the band is 23. But still, they have a strong sense of oneness in "the sound of all of us".

The five girls have passions and commitment working to bring freedom to young Ethiopian girls. The radio drama series takes a full day of rehearsal, six days a week. It takes the same length of time to record music in the studio. Over 600,000 people viewed 'Yegna's' first music video 'Abet' online. Recently, the song won the Best Single Award 2013 at "Leza Radio show listeners' choice.

Teref Kassahun told Addis standard, "the video 'Abet' shows where we are now, and that we value love and respect to work together. We are going to change the bad things considered normal in the life of Ethiopian girls". Lemlem added that "'Abet' in Amharic means 'I'm listening to what you say,' So we take this opportunity to tell people that we have something special to tell them, especially something to make girls strong".

Full of color and enjoyment, the music video 'Abet' illustrates the thrilling performance of Ethiopian girls. 'Yegna' releases its second music video 'Taitu' as a single beat this November. Ethiopian legendary soul artists Aster Aweke features in the song. It pays tribute to the great Ethiopian Queen 'Taitu' and also to the girls who share her courage and conviction. 'Taitu' was shot in Ethiopia and produced by an Ethiopian company Mango Productions Ltd. It was directed by Darren Grant, a director who created music videos such as for Destiny's Child.

Working towards launching their debut album, the band aired nine songs already in the radio drama series. This mesmerized the radio audiences in Ethiopia. Teref Kassahun says, "The focus right now is on the nation, on all the people who need a wakeup call from us. We won't stop until everyone at home hears us."

Speaking of performing on international stages, while some media already compare them to the U.K's Spice Girls, 'Yegna' has this to say; "Every artist and bands have their own unique qualities; however we are very different from the Spice Girls. We do songs to help save girls' lives, so we are not like the Spice Girls." 'Yegna' five girls band have distinctive talents in acting and singing. They continue to be 'the sound of all of us'; all of us girls, here and in far of communities.

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