When Artists Lead the Way

Radio Erena: 02 March 2020

After three months of extensive deliberations on by-laws, role and structure, sixty Eritrean professional musicians, songwriters, dramatists, and composers gathered to establish the Eritrean Artist’ Association for Change. The meeting, the first of its kind, was held in Switzerland on 21 February. The leading figure in the meeting was the legendary singer Tewelde Reda. Member of the famous Asmara Theatre Association (M.T.A) in the 1950s and 1960s, Reda sang his famous national song “Shige Haboni”- Hand Me My Torch. Along those who also attended were the famous poet and composer Neguse Haile Mansai and Abrar Osman. The meeting felt the obligation to honor the three leading artists for their historic national contribution to Eritrean music.

Tewelde Reda considered one of the fathers of Eritrean music with the historical singers: Ato Berhan Segede, Alamin Abdullatif, Osman Abdul Rahim, Yemane Baria, and others, was emotionally touched with the gesture. He said, “It is now, among different generations of Eritrean musicians, that I feel my efforts born fruit.” Haile Mansai also commented saying, “It is delightful to find myself among you. Abrar Osman, for example, is a struggling comrade and he is like my son.”
Before electing the managing body of the new association, the members discussed the need for an organization representing Eritrean artists worldwide, as the scattering of artists around the world, due to immigration made it difficult to unite the efforts of the artists in the past. The association is a giant leap forward for future artistic achievements.

To overcome different challenges, the association took shape after the endorsement of its by-laws and election of its managing body which is composed of Mahmoud Abu Bakar (Egypt), Fitsum Berakhi (Germany), Girmay Tious, Merhawit Kidane, Ramadan Shifa (the three from Sweden), Andit Ogbay (UK), as well as Kiflom Yekalo and Haile Gizou (both from the USA). The election of the new body reflected the global dispersion of the Eritrean artists.

Needless to say, the Eritrean government has its associations for artists, but instead of promoting art, these associations stifle creative arts and turn singers into praise-singers and hollow repeaters. The initiative of forming this association is a landmark in the march of free Eritrean music. It also calls upon other Eritrean professionals such as lawyers, journalists, accountants, and others to combine their efforts and unite their willpowers in the fight against dictatorship in Eritrea. The artists have shown the way. It is our turn to play the tunes.

By Fathi Osman