The Ethiopian Herald has just exclusively interviewed Ethiopian Musicians Association President Dawit Yifru.
It was at the age of 11 he embraced music as his calling. For the past 45 years joining various outshining bands like Roha, Walis , Dahlak, Ethio-Star and Dadimos he had been stamping his fingerprint on Ethiopian music as keyboardist and music arranger.
He is one of the legendary musicians and has been the president of the Ethiopian Musicians' Association since 1997 E.C to date. He had arranged music for iconic vocalists like Tilahun Gesese, Mohamed Ahmed, Alemayehu Eshete , among others.
Along with the aforementioned bands crisscrossing the world he had played an ambassadorial role affording the global community a window into Ethiopian music.
Herald: Could you brief us where you were born and brought up as well as the time you spent in school?
Dawit: I was born in Addis Ababa around Arat Kilo Bashawolde Chilot area. I attended my primary school education at Menelik II School and my secondary education at Shimels Habte Secondary School. Then I entered the Commercial College School and graduated in Accounting Finally I joined university.
Herald: As a professional at what age did you join the music art industry?
Dawit: I started trying my hands on musical instruments while I was 11 in National Theatre House .The emperor's government had called upon youths who have the knack for music to join a special training. The intention was to recruitment the most talented ones in a bid to develop the music industry giving further trainings. Among the instruments piano, guitar, solfeggeo and violin proved to be my niches. My mentors were Nersis Nalbandian and Tsegaye Debalike. It was they that laid the groundwork for the industry here. Soon I joined musicians in National and Hagerfikr Theatre House. I had participated in creative music works at Addis Ababa University Cultural Center.
Herald: When and how did you join the musical journey?
Dawit: After taking the aforesaid training I headfirst plunged into music works at national theatre with full passion. To further hone my skills I joined the Yared Music School and finished my education in piano and kirar.
Herald: How do you describe the role of music in galvanizing people for action? You can relate your answers with the Hezb Lehezbe(People-to-People) movement and public diplomacy. Could we use this to reinforce nation's unity and to promote peaceful coexistence?
Dawit: The role of musicians in our country's history sticks out. Many had played a paramount role in addressing drought, pandemic and war that popped up out of the blue at different times. Confronting the challenges musicians had taught and inspired the people. The respect given to music and musicians in our country is underwhelming as it is not a few who wrongly believe that playing music is a walk in the park. They go to the extent of imagining it doesn't task mental exertion and taking training. But the reverse is true. Music presupposes talent and nurturing skills through vigorous training and more education. In this regard, still these days the government has not accorded enough attention to such a mammoth industry. Surprising as it may sound, for the last fifty years, there was only one Music School in the country, which is Yared Music School, the pioneer one. The number of trainees joining Yared School annually was very small. It graduated only 20 students annually. If music education had been given starting from formative years, our country's music could have gone far and wide on the global level. But now some schools are teaching musical education integrating it in their curriculum. A little sign of change is around the corner. To further popularize our country's music world over we are conducting some researches on it. Mulatu Astatike is introducing Ethiopian music on the global arena by means of jazz.
Sadly, our music has not yet been much exploited. On the other hand, Ethiopia has multinational or diversified cultures and languages but when we come to music the base has the same expression. This being the case this way Ethiopia has five music rhythms and all have the same rhythm. Especially their traditional grooving styles are nearly similar. Music has wielded power over actors to unite ethnic groups together in one stage. In so doing it cements people-to-people relation. For example a music produced by mixing Amharic and Affan Oromo language lures many to tune to it. Our music is in alignments with pentaphonic style. So doing this the difference will narrow down. All persons would understand things in simple way. In this regard some works have been underway.
Herald: Following Covid-19, night clubs are shut down and musicians are suffering the consequences. What can you say about this? What measures have you taken to withstand the problem?
Dawit: After COVID-19 pandemic appeared in our country, the worst hit has proved to be the music industry.
Musical shows were stageged to the delight of packed and handsomely rewarding audiences. In the absence of such opportunities, now the lot of musicians has become bitter.
Cognizant that out of sight is out of mind, we advise musicians not to disappear from the public. Imbued with this feeling, a month back, we had composed an album entitled Nigat .We granted it for Addis Ababa City Administration. It was aired on the mass media. It has played quite a role in creating awareness among the public about the pandemic. Secondly, it relives the public from the boredom the pandemic brought on its wake. Closed concert is cheering and encouraging them. From the income secured, we supported helpless artist who had no income and who were economically weak.
Herald: Have you managed to curb the copyright problem affecting musicians after the copy right issue was approved? What changes are witnessed? What type of benefit do musicians and bands get?
Dawit: The proclamation of copyright and related issues was confirmed in 1996 E.C. But a question mark has been hanging over its translation into action for a long period. Musicians did not get much due to the ineffectiveness of the proclamation and the presence of loopholes. But to avoid such gap we did ratified the proclamation again in 2007 E.C by adding some thing on it. When the creative product is released the royalty will be collected. Such royalty would be paid for the creator. This viable option has flicekered a great hope for all. It is getting off the ground to some extent. But we are facing challenges as Ethiopian Intellectual Property Office is not supporting us to the required level. We are undertaking such an immense task with a view to providing those singers who will be always remember all the time through generation. After all we are expecting those singers would get support from the proclamation. The failure is ascribable to lack of attention on the part of the aforesaid office, tardiness in creating a committee of organized experts and shallowness of the knowledge of copyright society. The creators did not know their right. By the same token, the association did not work hard and created awareness on this issue creating another gap.
Herald: How do you assess the education policy in promoting music?
Dawit: Pertaining to the music education, it is different from the regular one. The majority needs to start education to develop their talent from early stages to outshine latter as a vocalist or instrumentalist. During Emperor Haile Slasie's regime music education was given from early stages. But for the last thirty years the practice was forced to screech to a halt. Those interested start music education after complete grade 12. This resulted in the deterioration of the industry. The education policy should address the folly. This way , talented individuals with a verve for music would join the industry.
Herald: What supports does your Association Need now?
Dawit: The association primarily needs members. And members should pay monthly fees for the association and must actively participate. On the government side, there isn't support like facilitating premises and offices to run the association in better ways. We are confronted by dearth of skilled manpower. Also association members display low commitment on some activities.
Herald: What are the major challenges seen in the music industry of Ethiopia nowadays?
Dawit: The main problem we are facing today is the copyright violation. If copyrights are respected the vocalist would get proper returns. Activities will be streamlined as per the copy right proclamation and many would get music in legal way and the industry will revive.
On the other end of the sale, in the country, there are not enough studios to produce quality music. We need special studios. To build a studio much capital is needed.
Herald: How do you explain different regimes' role either in contributing or hijacking the music industry in Ethiopia?
Dawit: All regimes had passed leaving behind various musical performance features and characters. The Emperor Haileslassie's regime had played a great role for the development of music industry in Ethiopia. Many bands were established at that time like Kibur Zebegna (Imperial Bodyguard) Orchestra, the Police Orchestra, the National Theatre, and Orchestra Ethiopia. During that time classical music was presented by the police Orchestra. All these were supported by the government. They had presented quality music for the public. The Derg regime had used the music industry for political propaganda. But to some extent it had contributed to the establishment of various kinet budin ,petty music bands. But the regime had focused on war mongering. Owing to this, some did shy away from the limelight of the music industry. During the Derg regime the private bands were staging their music work in hotels for the public at large. In so doing, it had contributed music that could be remembered all the time or through generations.
The bands like Roha, Waliya , Dahlak, Ethio-star and Dadimos were active in hotels during the Derg regime. They did contribute a lot. When we come to EPDF all things became free and went in uncontrolled way. All bands went adrift. Coerced, the music industry experienced a reversal. On the contrary, the copyright issues received attention in this regime. But its implementation proved sluggish.
Herald: For how many years did you engage in the profession? Beyond this calling of yours in what professions have you engaged so far?
Dawit: I had arranged much music during Haile Slasie and Derg regimes. I had arranged for musicians like Tilahun Gesese, Muluken Melese, Melkamu Tebeje, Teshome Wolde, Neway Debebe and Aregahegn Worash. I have been in the profession for about 45 years. Hand in hand with this, I had worked in Awash Sheleko Authority and Ethiopian Coffee and Tea Office for ten years as chief accountant. I am heading the music association from 1997 E.C to date.
Herald: How do you compare the past and present in terms of societies' acceptance of people who opted to be musicians?
Dawit: Pertaining to acceptance of music across generations, the listening audience has various outlooks as the music styles vary from time to time in its character on arrangement and organizing ways. All music have its own limitation as well as its quality either oldest or latest ones.
Herald: Could you tell us the time you spent in different Music bands and about the bands? Why isthat such bands are not seen much in recent years? Is it because they are eaten up by instruments that can compose music by themselves?
Dawit: The music arrangement and organizing task go in various ways so it has its own process.
Some instruments are left or out of market now. But music should be performed by a collected action. There are many instruments that must act in synchronicity to please the listening audience. When regimes change, the band may be changed. That is the reason.
Herald: You are president of the Musical Association of Ethiopia. How is your relation with sister associations?
Dawit: Working in music profession makes you meet various sister organizations. For example film does not go alone without being backed by music and vice versa. Also theatre cannot stand by itself. It needs music. All goes into one basket. We are helping each other. We are facilitating things so that all sectors act together.
Herald: What do you advice the forthcoming singers as your profession?
Dawit: Iadvice youngsters or novice singers to tune to music and love music before they enter the industry. To develop more they need exertion. They should do voice exercise daily. They should get their works evaluated by the famous singers before they release their works to the public.
Herald: To which countries did you travel for music concert work?
Dawit: I had worked and spent long time with Roha band. I had traveled many countries such as Algeria, Sudan, US, Germany, France, England, Italy, Sweden and Spain for music work.
Herald: If you have New Year's wishes or something to convey you are welcome.
Dawit: Last year was a distressing year for musicians and art experts. Due to corona virus many clubs and theater house closed. Concerts were cancelled. As such many artists passed through trying times. I hope the New Year to be a time for an enduring peaceful and prosperity for our country. I expect new opportunities to open up for the industry.