Disgruntled, disgusted, disappointed, disrespected, distressed, discontented, disregarded and deserted lovers of Ethiopian music versus Ethiopian singers and musicians

Dateline: July 5 & 6 199x

Location: Convention Center, Washington DC

11:00 p.m.

Selective efficiency. That’s what caused the crowd herded into the enormous convention center to growl and snarl. But wait, I am getting ahead of myself. Let me explain.

Earlier that evening, thousands of fans had eagerly lined up to buy the steep $25 per person ticket to see the superstars of Ethiopian music. Nevertheless, the four Ethiopian ticket sellers in the convention center lobby astonished patrons with their speed and dexterity. Here’s $75 for three tickets, clutch! One ticket, please, clinch! Let me see…I believe there is eight of us. One, two-- snatch!

Such competency! There were no more than three or four people in each of the four lines at any given moment. The polydextrous (yes, one must construct a new word to accommodate these phenomena) ticket sellers even spurred an existential crisis in a custom office (read Gumruk) bureaucrat visiting from the homeland. "Indet tebelo?" he grumbled. "Ethiopians cannot work at that speed AND be courteous to their patrons!" He declared the frenzied ticket sellers to be, in fact, robots! Then, with a smug smile—one that has never failed to irritate numerous exhausted passengers at Bole airport—he pointed at the ticket sellers’ swinging (for the women) and sparkling (for the men) earrings and declared them to be…silicon microchips! "I know my robots and my zinb Tengaras," he proclaimed. He beamed as the dark clouds of his existential angst receded.

12:00 a.m.

The handlers pack most of the fans into the convention center. Then, the fans wait and wait and wait and wait and wait and wait for the singers and the musicians to appear. And then, they wait some more.

1:00 a.m.

The restless and angry crowd hisses, whistles and claps their hands. A few make snide remarks about the expanse of the bare stage.

1:20 a.m.

The Master of Ceremony appears on the stage. A few young fans hurl insults at this sacrificial lamb nervously pacing in the back of the stage. He finally musters enough courage and steps toward the front of the stage. Then, he grabs a microphone off a microphone stand that is wrapped with the Ethiopian flag. His conciliatory smile does little to conceal the fear that his darting eyes reveal.

"YetekebraChuh ingdoChaChin," he says, in a pacifying tone. The unruly convention center speakers refuse to transmit his voice. Several fervent fans huddled near the stage, break into laughter. The irony of his introductory salutation is lost on the fidgety Master of Ceremony. "We are so much more advanced in Ethiopia," the Gumruk bureaucrat quips, "who in his right mind buys Burmese speakers?" [May we add that the Gumruk bureaucrat knows his speakers as well?

The Master of Ceremony raises the microphone to his mouth. EHHHHHHHHHHH! Feedback. The deafening vibration pops all four pairs of the ticket sellers’ earrings out of their pierced earlobes. One earring bounces off the baldhead of the Gumruk bureaucrat and lands on the floor. The Gumruk bureaucrat snatches the earring off the floor, examines it for several seconds and superciliously declares, "Now, this is an earring!"

1:35 a.m.

Anxious engineers fix the sound system. The Master of Ceremony declaims, "testing, one, two, three. Testing, and, hulet, sost." His voice reverberates throughout the entire arena. The crowd finally quiets down. "YetekebraChuh ingdoChaChin. [A few mollified chuckles and sniggers disrupt the now tranquilized crowd.] I have some good news. The musicians have been sighted and will be here any minute [cheers of approval and delight]. The singers will arrive at 1:45 a.m. You will have fifteen whole minutes with them before we ask you to clear the arena." Pandemonium erupts! Hundreds of patrons shout profanities that would make the most hardened working gal of ye lycee gwaro blush. In an instant, thousands spontaneously form the largest chorus ever assembled—where are the judges for the Guinness Book of World Records when we need them?—and chant "Le-boCh, le-boCh, le-boCh…!"

1:35:30 a.m.

The angry crowd pushes and shoves toward the stage and overwhelms the security guards. A few hard core disgruntled fans manage to climb on the stage.

1:36 a.m.

The theme song from Hawaii Five-O blasts through the sound system as a few stagehands panic and lower the portcullis to seal off the besieged stage from the rest of the arena. The SELEDA Dominatrix and her lieutenants emerge dangling on the iron grids of the portcullis. Then, this buxom feline leaps off the grated gate and lands on the stage in her knee high spike heeled black patent leather boots. Her male and female lieutenants follow suit. She cracks her whip and silences the clamorous crowd into awe. She cracks her whip once again as the insipid theme song is abruptly cut off in mid refrain.

1:37 a.m.

The Gumruk bureaucrat, with visible hostility and invisible attraction, dubs the earring in a cup of lemonade [to be sure he doesn’t dabble in spirits as he wishes to keep his mind clear for the imposition of hefty duty on Ethiopian passengers living abroad] and hurls it at the SELEDA Dominatrix. Within a split second, she cracks her whip and lassoes the earring in mid air. Then, with a slight tug, she disentangles the earring from a nasty knot and inspects the lemon scented adornment. "Neato," she purrs, "a silicon microchip earring." In a voice that would provoke the resurrection of an envious Billy Eckstein from his shrine, one of the Dominatrix’s tenor lieutenants tilts his head back and croons "L…omi biwerewir." Cheeks-to-cheeks, a trio of mezzo-soprano lieutenants chimes "Ahahahahaha!" The SELEDA Dominatrix cracks her whip. The tenor and the mezzo-sopranos freeze with mouths opened wide.

1:38 a.m.

The SELEDA Dominatrix grabs her ankle length tail and paces right and left on the front stage. "Dallas, Toronto, Atlanta, San Francisco, Boston, Los Angeles. Did you not pay the same amount and did you not wait for hours for the performers to show up in all these cities?" Crack goes the rhino hide whip. "If you tolerate disrespect and bad service," she meows, "why then should they not nurture apathy amongst their fans?" Her clear voice, without the assistance of a microphone, rings throughout the arena. The musicians, barely visible through the grated gate, hurriedly set up their equipment.

1:40 a.m.

"If you have any grievances that you’d like to address," the Dominatrix sternly states, "I [cough], we, at SELEDA will set up a Chilot under the warca tree in Rock Creek Park tomorrow at dusk". She glances back and notices the presence of several superstar singers. "Neato, they’re five minutes ahead of schedule. Enjoy the rest of the evening," she retorts. Then, the SELEDA Dominatrix and her lieutenants leap and cling on the portcullis. Relieved, the superstar singers begin to sing "Yekereme Fiker" in unison as the stagehands raise the portcullis. The SELEDA Dominatrix cracks her whip one more time for the road as she and her lieutenants disappear through an opening in the ceiling. The crowd cheers.


Dateline: July 6, 199x

Location: Under the warca tree at Rock Creek Park, Washington DC.

7:45 p.m.

Numerous plaintiffs sit on the grass around the warca sipping mango and papaya juices (since the SELEDA agafaris do not want the Chilot to turn into a kangaroo court [Gelada Baboon court, for the Ethio-centric], liquor and acidic fruit juices are strictly forbidden).

7:50 p.m.

SELEDA Dominatrix chaperons Mintesinot, the urbane and self-assured representative of the accused singer and musicians group to his seat, a large concave warca root protruding high above the ground, a few yards from the massive trunk. A few pugnacious plaintiffs spit papaya pulps.

7:55 p.m.

The Dominatrix’s lieutenant accompanies Tigest, a hastily selected plaintiff representative to a seat across Mintesinot. Tigest, renowned and feared for her buda eyes, glares at Mintesinot. Unperturbed, Mintesinot coolly meets her gaze.

8:00 p.m.

The SELEDA Hummer winds its way and parks a few hundred yards from the warca. Three elderly judges donned in plain black kabas, emerge through the fortified passenger doors. (Message from SELEDA’s Minster of Interior: Until such time as plaintiffs and defendants show respect to due process of law, judges will be protected from those that are accustomed to intimidate and/or grease their way to injustice. Therefore, SELEDA judges will be shuttled in the Hummer, the safest [from intimidation] and strongest [against grease] vehicle currently available to civilians. Our most sincere apologies to pacifists and toddlers, the only groups that have thus far not been implicated in coercion and/or bribery).

The three dignified judges, flanked by several armed guards, stroll toward the warca. "Kibratina Kibran," bellows the Dominatrix. The entire assembly rises until the three judges take their seats and lean back on the warca trunk. Immahoy Wolete-Giorgis, the judge on the left, brushes a dead leaf off her cape. Haji Shenno, the judge on the right, fingers the clasp on the collar of his cape. Afe Negus Benti, the principal judge, whacks a warca root with his gavel. Then, the Afe Negus, in an authoritative voice, declares the court to be in session. The charges are read. The plaintiff and the defendant pledge their oath. The Dominatrix (hereinafter called "the Defense Attorney") and her lieutenant (hereinafter called "the Prosecuting Attorney") glance at one another. Then, the Prosecuting Attorney stands up and asks for Mintesinot to be called to the witness stand. The judge complies. Mintesinot swaggers toward the witness stand and takes a seat. Tegest administers a healthy dose of the kenfer memTeT thang. Immahoy throws a disapproving glance at the Buda queen. Tegest demurely covers her mouth with her neTela and looks down. Apart from the chirps of the grasshopper chorus extraordinaire, all is quiet at Rock Creek Park.

The Prosecutor: The Plaintiffs in this class action suit have stopped counting the number of concerts to which you arrive extremely late. We would be forever indebted [a sarcastic chuckle] if you deigned to enlighten us with an explanation?

The Defense Attorney:



Esteemed Judges (Shimagileotch), Kiburatina Kiburan, Endet Walatchehulen? I thank you on behalf of my client for taking the time to hear our side of the story. The charges brought before this shimgilina panel are serious and need to be dealt with in a swift and just manner. HOWEVER, this is also a classic example of that favored adage

"Aheyawin Ferto Dawilawin"

My client(s) are as much the victims in the events that transpired on July 5 and 6 at the Washington Convention Center, as were the patrons who attended! We will prove that while the defendants DID in fact appear on stage at an hour other than the one designated, and while they did perform for a relatively short period, it is the concert promoters who should be taken to task, not us. Since the multitude that crowded the Convention Center came to be entertained, naturally the blame is placed on the performers, and not the promoters. [At this time a loud disapproving murmur starts to resonate amongst the many who have forsaken an afternoon of leisurely consumption of large quantities of caffeinated beverages.]

"LEBOTCH!" yells a particularly rambunctious young man, "This is exactly the kind of double talk and blame shifting we expected, but we're not going to take it,


"Sine sireat yekeber, yih mesheta bet aydelem!" announces AFE NEGUS in a stentorian voice, and a look that woulda, shoulda seared the nascent dreadlocks off the young man's head. Admonished, the young man sits down, muttering words that, had the tribunal heard them, would surely have meant his immediate expulsion from the hearings. Through out all this, Mintesinot is quietly assessing the crowd, searching for a friendly face, a smile of encouragement, anything to show that someone is on his side, as it was quite evident that the people here are in no way sympathetic to the opening argument that Defense Counsel had proffered. Resigning himself to the grueling grilling he was sure to endure, he takes a sip of water and gives a slight nod to show his readiness to proceed.

Defense Attorney

Please describe to us, in your own words, the events surrounding the fiasco at the Convention Center on the evenings noted in the indictment.


The assembled populace is justified at the outrage they have expressed both here and around town. However, the blame should be directed to the concert promoters. This kind of negative publicity is detrimental to the artists and their ability to perform...

AQabé hig (Prosecutor)

OBJECTION! The witness is giving a speech and not answering the question.

Afe Negus

Sustained. Please answer the question as asked.


I was attempting to do just that. The various singers and musicians at that particular event were ready and able to perform as agreed. Per our contract with the concert promoters, we were ready to leave our hotel on time; however, first, the limo didn't arrive as scheduled, and none of the promoters could be reached. As a result, we depended on the kindness of several friends and other fellow Ethiopians to assist us in getting to the venue. Second, when we arrived, the whole place was in such a state of disarray that it seemed like the only persons who knew what to do were myself and the musicians. We tried to alert the promoters of our need to perform a final sound check, but were told that it wasn't necessary and that we should just relax. We didn't understand, but we acceded to their request. By the time they allowed us to get on stage, we realized that the whole reason for our cooling our heels backstage was so that we could make an appearance only after there was a full house.


Was there a reason for wanting a "Full House"?

Imahoy Tisemé

(heard audibly in front as she whispered mockingly, sotto voce, to her neighbor) M'ts, ité. It's just like those godforsaken weyala boys on the wiyiyit I take every morning to Kidane-Mihiret…those ill-mannered bututoam duriyés will keep you waiting for an hour to fill up the mini-bus.

{The Chief Justice, a spry 68 year old, looks sternly at the elderly woman, but still cannot publicly chasten her due to an odd mix of fear and respect. He opts to speak generally to the courtroom instead}: Ibakachihun, TSetita.


Apparently, one of the promoters was trying to capitalize on the fact that there were so many "NAME" artist all performing on one stage, and on one night, and he wanted to video tape the concert; incidentally, as this was never stipulated in the contract, we request an injunction to prevent the video from being sold without the proper releases from the artists.

Afe Negus

Wait a minute, one charge at a time, you still have to prove these allegations. And what’s this about an injunction? We are not prepared to hear a new case as of right now, so let's stick to the matter at hand, shall we?

Imahoy Tisemé

Leza biis hulu … can't they just stick to the facts? In my day, such wishy-washy behavior was not tolerated. Get to the point or get out… that's my motto. Ere'dia, ité!


Your Honor, we would like to introduce evidence after this witness has testified that will prove the validity of our statement; however, due to the lack of time, I'd like to proceed with my current line of questioning.

Afe Negus Proceed.


Part of the reason why you are here today is due to the fact that your artists (like other artists/musicians we know of) did not, and indeed cannot seem to ever, perform at the time advertised. How do you answer those charges?


Well, while I cannot answer for every situation, it is a commonly held belief that it is not "proper" to start a concert without a "good" size crowd. By postponing the actual time that an act hits the stage, a promoter feels that he/she can still squeeze in those people who purchase their tickets at the last minute. Also, since it is uncommon for advance ticket sales to indicate how many people will show up, promoters delay the time we can perform to ensure that people won't turn away from the door if they know that the act has already started the performance. In other situations, it isn't uncommon for an artist to arrive the day of the concert, sometimes just hours before the event occurs, in which case the artist(s) has to go to the hotel, check in (and Heaven forbid that there be a problem at check in) then arrangements for transportation to and from the event, transportation of equipment, people getting lost, etc., all add to the confusion surrounding a particular event. But promoters do nothing to alleviate the hassles -- usually things work themselves out for better or for worse. The sad part is the fans are the ones who get short shrift. We understand that we are successful because of our fans, but if the promoters don't provide us with adequate lodgings, transportation, time to rehearse, etc., in the end the fans are disappointed. We would like to remedy the situation, but circumstances hinder us: on the one hand, if we perform for a short period of time, as was the case in the DC situation, the fans would want to slit our throats. On the other hand, if we refuse to perform, we slit our own throats, because we would be charged with breach of contract; this in turn would not endear us to our fans, or our pocketbooks. Which would you choose?


Your Honor, as the hour is getting late, and for the sake of everyone, I move that the charges against my clients be dropped for lack of evidence, and that the evidence I referred to earlier be entered only if the Prosecutor wants to proceed with this. How say you?

[Imahoy glares at the defense attorney, and shushes her neighbor (whose hearing is not what it used to be and who needs to know what is being said). "Isti yiQoyu, irso demo." She adjusts her neTela around her amble body and clears her throat to speak. But before she has a chance, Afe Negus proceeds…]

Afe Negus

Is there any evidence to suggest why I should not dismiss this case?

[Again, Imahoy Tisemé tries to speak, but chooses first to move from side to side to dislodge herself from her rather snug fitting chair. Again, someone beats her to the punch -- this time it is a nattily dressed man in his late 20s - early 30s, who had been fingering his silver monogrammed cigarette case impatiently. After adjusting the impeccably folded paisley cravat into the collars of his shirt and flicking an imaginary thread from his bespoke suit jacket, he projects his deep voice to the front of the room]


If your August Honors would allow me but a second of your time…

Afe Negus

(unamused) And who, pray tell, are you?

Yared Mandefro

I am Yared Mandefro, most recently the Native Music Archivist for the Audio Library of Oxford University in England, as well as the Ethnic and Folk Music Critic for The London Times. Although there is clearly a need for expert testimony, none have yet to be called, and I would like to offer my services.

Afe Negus

(impressed in spite of himself) Very well. Proceed.

Yared Mandefro

You're pretending that we're somehow talking about a polite, cultured group of people, assembled to appreciate the lilting tunes of their beloved country, when in fact they are nothing of the sort. It is true that no matter the country, most entertainers are prima donnas, and richly deserve that title. They pout (often unattractively) when they feel they are not being given due attention; they come alive only in the eyes of the people around them, whose adoration they MUST have, and they expect all people, timetables, large planets, etc. to rotate around THEM. It is not unusual when attending a formal affair where such entertainers are present to have to cater to their every whim and respond to their every desire.

Now see if you can imagine 2,000 Ethiopian prima donnas in one adarash, then we'd be getting somewhere.

Are you aware of the challenges of arranging a cultural evening for the Ethiopian community? Let the flyer say that the event starts promptly at 9:00 p.m., and you can be sure that the first five people will not arrive till 11:23 p.m., silently kicking themselves for being so uncool as to arrive so far ahead of the IN crowd. Then there's the whole "catering to the in-crowd" you have to do. This is not a community that will come out in droves to see the latest Mulatu AstaTQé masterpiece; nooo, this crowd will not think of attending any event unless it has assurance that the A++ crowd has given it their endorsement, the sole criterion required. If the IN crowd were to so declare it, this lemming-like population can be counted on to attend a Weird Al Yancovic remake of Birtukané (he'd call it "My Orangina," of course) while leaving a languishing Kassa Tessema unheard a few doors down unless THEY decided to stop by. A discriminating crowd, this is not.

Let us assume they actually deign to show up. Once they arrive, there is the requisite three-hour wait while the uptight men in their elastic waistband leather jackets and the tightly coiffed women in their back-outs and their high heels try to unwind enough to even tap an unseen toe in their shoes. Three hours of drinking and surreptitious looks around the room before the first person will dare get up to dance, and woe unto him who dares to approach a group of women to ask one of them to dance with him. Theses social interactions bring back unwelcome memories of high school; at least then, there was the excuse of youthful ignorance -- what, pray tell, is the excuse now?

By this point any self-respecting artist would have packed up their bags and left, especially since they would have been playing for hours with nothing other than the funereal clapping at the end of a set.

It's an unappreciative audience. It deserves what it got.

With that, he readjusted his cravat, again, and sat, oblivious to the half-admiring, half-derisory looks being sent his way. .

Afe Negus

AQabé hig, do you have anything to add?

AQabé hig

No, your honor. The prosecution rests…

Imahoy Tisemé

Rests? Rests? Ere yet'abatachihu. [Having finally found her way to her feet, and having gained the floor, she launches into a diatribe.] Ere yizwachihu yihid! Why, I'm of a mind to cut some sama from outside and tan your insolent behinds like your mothers ought to have! You upstarts have no idea what good music is. You, the snotty one from across the sea, where is this Oskford? new-yalkew Oskord? I've lived nearly forever and I've never heard of it. Oo oo té, don't tell me any of you know of things I don't know about, because that just can't be true. So at this so-called place of higher musical learning -- did they teach you about Yared, your namesake, Mister I-know-Everything who doesn't know enough to take his wife's shash off his silly neck before coming to court? And didn't your mother teach you not to speak before your elders? Gud iko new. Do these Oskord people know who Mary Armidé was? Have they listened to the mournful sounds of the Begena and felt its vibrations in their stomachs (like when the train goes by you at Legehar and you feel the rumbles under your feet)? Does the sound of some poor shepherd's washint remind them of those carefree days where all your worries were about going to fetch water? You the lawyers strutting about -- do you think you know anything? Ho! Even I, mehayimwa, I know more about music than you have hair on your heads.

[She calls out to the chair] Lijé, anteye, weyiss antu libel? [Afe Negus is nonplussed, and does not answer. She digs into her copious top to unearth a wrinkled handkerchief with a knot in it where she keeps her money, using it to wipe her shiny brow before reburying it into her ample bosom]. Why don't you admonish this feeble crowd and ask them the other question, the more important one, eh? Who took our music and gave us this hideous sound that comes from a machine … no masinQo, no kirar, washint, kebero, or Turumba in sight -- just some guy with an electrical machine who is somehow able to make more noise than a field of possessed sinners at Qulibii. And the lyrics! Weladit-Amlak tawQalech, I've said once if I've said it a hundred times -- these words are obscene, unfit for decent ears. In my day, poets knew how to say what happened without vulgar words. With the gifted geTamioch of those days, we all knew everything that the artist implied. Nowadays you have people grunting and moaning like animals in our own living rooms!

I remember the days when just listening to AsnaQech hum to her kirar brought out the pain of loss that every mother understood; when the saxophone of [she turns to her friend … "man-neber simu, ye-Tesfaye inat?" … but doesn't wait for the answer] the man who was on the television every Thursday before the LewT…now THAT was music. The guragigna of the Hager-FiQir dancers; the dorzé wonders of that delightful man -- sintu teTerto yichalal?

[She raises her voice to the bench] Afe Negus, inantem dagnochus bitihonu, I demand that you order this lifisfis prosecutor to ask the RIGHT question question instead of wasting our time: What happened to our music? [She realizes that she had the rapt attention of the entire room and is uncharacteristically unnerved -- she quickly eases her way back into her snug chair, mumbling steadily under her breath, sotto voce, again] "Erenesh Tisemé….hoooooooo. m'ts, ité."

PART TWO of CHilot will continue next month…