What’s Going On In… Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

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Musician – Teddy Afro

Teddy Afro is more than just an Ethiopian singer; he is in the middle of a round-the-world tour and regularly plays to sold out stadiums. But the music video for the title track of his new album, Tikur Sew – which literally translates to “black person” – is defiantly Ethiopian. The nine-minute video is an epic recreation of the 1896 Battle of Adwa, in which Ethiopian forces under Emperor Menelik II, with not much more than swords and wooden shields, were able to successfully rout the rifle-wielding Italian invaders. Ethiopia became the only African country to successfully avoid colonization, and Menelik’s surprise victory against the Italians became a rallying cry for African sovereignty that still resonates today.

Author — Eskinder Nega

Easily the most prolific and well known journalist in the country, Eskinder Nega is currently living in a dark corner of the enormous Kality prison, just outside the city. Convicted in 2011 on charges of terrorism after publishing reports about the government’s jailing of journalists, Eskinder faces an 18-year sentence for putting pen to paper. Nevertheless, he has managed to remain both timely and prolific, smuggling out an essay that made its way to the opinion pages of The New York Times. Five days before his arrest, he said: “Freedom is partial to no race. Freedom has no religion. Freedom favors no ethnicity. Freedom discriminates not between rich and poor countries. Inevitably freedom will overwhelm Ethiopia.”

Director — Aramazt Kalayijan

Aramazt Kalayijan is the designer and photographer behind the upcoming documentary Tezeta, which aims to remember the story of the Ethiopian-Armenian community through words and music. In 1924, after visiting an Armenian church in Jerusalem and meeting a group of 40 orphans who had escaped the genocide in Turkey, Haile Sellasie (at the time known as the crown prince Ras Tafari), invited the arba lijoch to Addis Ababa, where they went on to make indelible contributions to the country’s arts and music. The once thriving community has dwindled in recent years, and the word tezeta is an Amharic concept that implies memory and nostalgia.

Food — Tere Siga

Most Ethiopians consider themselves lucky if they get to eat meat more than three or four times a year. When they do get the chance, most prefer the dining experience to be as closely related to the animal as possible. Hunks of raw meat – called tere siga, tasting earthy, rusty and pungent – are wrapped in the country’s ubiquitous sour spongy bread called injera, and dipped into a fiery hot sauce called awazai. Extra points if an Ethiopian offers you gursha, in which he or she picks the finest piece and deposits it into your recipient mouth.

Neighborhood — Merkato

Some people call the Merkato the largest open-air market in Africa. That’s a hard statistic to verify, but it’s impossible to not recognize the intensity of the messy, sprawling ghetto of commerce in the city’s northwest corner. Sword, spice and sneaker stores pack the market’s outskirts. Dig deeper and you can find men welding boat frames, weight sets made out of reclaimed truck gears and axles, not to mention piles of khat so large that kilos of the leafy green narcotic are often in danger of crushing bystanders.

Public Figure — Melaku

At Fendika, in the heart of the city, an Azmari house straddles the divide between old and new Ethiopian culture. An azmari is a traditional one-stringed Ethiopian instrument, played with a bow, and when set over animal hide drums beaten with an expert violence, the ancient, entrancing music makes for an incredible dance track. Referring to Fendika’s success, Melaku Belay, the dancer who owns, operates and performs at the bar, refers to the turu gulbet, which literally translates to “good knees,” but means good energy more than anything else. An eclectic mix of foreign and local faces gather around nine every night; the honey wine and dance don’t stop flowing at least until two in the morning.

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