Field and river

20th International Conference of Ethiopian Studies (ICES20)
Mekelle University, Ethiopia

"Regional and Global Ethiopia - Interconnections and Identities"
1-5 October, 2018

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MELAKU Belay, Professional Dancer & Teacher, Founder and Manager of Ethiocolor & Fendika

This paper is designed to narrate the self-experience of Fendika Azimar Bet that was established in 2008 in Addis Ababa. It is a kind of sharing personal experience and self-reflection over importance of participatory azimar performance. Before Fendika was established as a kind of private traditional music institution, for 12 years I had been performed as dancer without any salaries, rather small gifts afforded from the audience. Expecting to get a job I served as a volunteer at Ras Theater for 6 months and at the National Theater for 3 months. Nonetheless, I was never trained in the modern higher art schools about traditional dance, rather I believe my dance skills came from participating in public events like Timqet festival, digis, and wedding events.These events, especially Timqet (Ethiopian Epiphany), laid a foundation to learn the dance styles of the different Ethiopian ethnic groups. Later, I joined Azimars in Fiker Bar and restaurant and night club, named as Fendika. At a time the role of the Fendika was simply to entertain the bar customers with azimar musicians and dancers. The owners never pay money for players or dancers. At that time, the customer whom I contacted in the bar invited me to perform an Ethiopian dance in America and Europe in 2008. Soon, I was returned back and rented the whole bar from the owner and turned the bar into Azimar Bet. Hence, I had begun to hire azimars with fixed salaries as well as introduced a trend of paying the entrance fee, at least to value azimar. In the same year, Fendika performed its work at Alliance Art School, Addis Ababa University, France and Holland. Furthermore, international institutions like Harvard University invited me and I offered training about Ethiopian dance/style. Moreover, in 2009 it began to collect legendary performers of Kunama, Somali, Wollaita, Konso, Oromo, Tigray and Amahra in which Ethio-Color night club was established, questioning how to depict the original indigenous music and dances. In addition, since 2016 it brought in indigenous music instrument player and dancers from different countryside (like Tsadiqe- from Gamo and Dinka from Dawuro) to exhibit their work at Fendika Center. Now Fendika produced documentaries on Ethiopian dance and performances such as Fendika, Birabiro, and Ethio-Color, performing at merkato and misunderstanding. Every Friday, it has a night events that attract huge amount of domestic and foreign music audiences. In this paper, as a dancer, I want to argue that when traditional performance is stage oriented, it seems to me we are fast-moving its death and to display it in a museum. On the other hand, it proposes what, why and how to create participatory Azimar performances. Its aim is to reduce the negative connotations towards azimar not only from illiterate groups, but from literate music professionals -“big infants” and the internal challenges within azimar groups. Lastly, it seeks an intervention to win over those challenges and strengthen collaborative efforts with other public and private institutions, individuals and NGO which are working in the field of Ethiopian indigenous performances.