Interview with Eyob Alemayehu
By Selam Tarekegn, June 01, 2019
Yisakal Entertainment, a pioneer in Ethiopia’s entertainment industry has been changing the cultural and entertainment landscape of the nation since its founding in 2003. Organizing events, helping launching careers of several performing artists and creating advertising, Yisakal has been involved in numerous facets of the entertainment business. Linkup sat with founder Eyob Alemayehu to get some insight into how Yisakal operates and its recent initiative “Sewawi” concert.
How did you get started in the entertainment business?
I believe in doing things that are not done before. Being privileged to travel to different places around the world, I saw the entertainment industry thriving and booming everywhere else but Ethiopia. I saw that there aren’t many, if any, events and shows and other entertainment happenings taking place here. So I started the company with a mission to promote Ethiopian culture and art to the world and introduce contemporary entertainment practices to the Ethiopian entertainment business.
We know that Yisakal is invested in many areas within its industry. How do you define it as a company?
As I mentioned earlier, Yisakal is a company that was established with a mission to bring something new to the country and give back from our invaluable culture to the world. With this mission, I say we have created an entertainment platform. Though the business is not yet fit to confidently be referred to as an ‘industry’ within the existing level of capacity, we operate in areas of talent management, production and distribution. On the other hand, we also operate in marketing and advertising landscapes.
There has been a significant shift in the entertainment scene in Ethiopia. How positive do you think are the changes?
Entertainment, as it is, has several segments. Each segment has its own trend and distinct growth pattern. If you take the movie industry, for instance, it had been growing very rapidly a few years ago and has been declining in more recent years. When it comes to music, I think it’s developed in some ways. As the population grew and as the people got more connected with the rest of the world, several genres have been introduced and quite a lot of artists have joined the scene. So if you consider that as growth, then there is growth. However, quality is still an issue and we still have a long way to go. Though there is a lot of production, one cannot confidently say it has grown as an industry to a global standard.
What are some of the marketing and advertising works Yisakal is engaged in?
Even though it’s not our core business, we have advertisement projects, especially in digital advertising. We placed digital screens at places that have heavy foot-traffic such as malls, public service centers, etc. displaying various ads for people to watch while they wait for service. Through those screens we built a platform where both the advertisers and the public can easily access each other without much hustle. Our clients can get to their prospective customers while they are on the go. That’s the kind of convenience we have created through the digital screens.
Of course, there are several billboards across the city, but the digital screen advertising is still in its early stage. Such trend of advertising is not just advertising but also a means of entertainment. With our mission and strong tradition of bringing in new methods into the business, we plan to work more on digital advertising. We also are not strangers to using disruptive methods in advertising.
Yisakal manages several prominent artists. Tell us a bit about the artists you manage and how you support them.
When we got into this business, we had a vision to set a standard and bring something new by offering the best the industry can offer with the available resources. Since we started, we have been working to promote Ethiopian artists globally, so they promote our culture and get their career boosted along the way. I think we have been quite successful in that regard. We have managed a number of young stars such as the late Eyob Mekonnen, Jah Lude, Betty G, Lij Michael, Abyssinia Vines, etc.
Let’s now talk about Sewawi Concert which you were part of. What was your role and in what capacity were you involved in the event?
We believe that art is a very effective tool to make a difference, to resolve many problems as a society. One can revolutionize society through art. I think many of the problems we are facing right now due to very minor ideological differences should be solved before it’s too late. We can easily take lessons from other African nations and decide not to go down the same path but work for a brighter future.
Sewawi is Amharic for Humanity. The plan with the event was to promote peace, tranquility, and humanity; on top of that, to create awareness using art as a medium. At the center of it Sewawi promotes empathy and unity. Though we are very diverse we are also one as humans. Our involvement in the concert ranged from inception, planning and execution in collaboration with Heineken Ethiopia under their Walia Brand. Though I think there were some things that could have been done better, it was a successful event. The concert was the first in its series.
As a company that has been in business for quite a while, what value do you think Yisakal has added?
I would like to start from our name. We originally started with the name Yisakal, which means ‘it’s going to happen;’ we eventually evolved into ‘Yisaqal’, which roughly translates to ‘There is going to be laughter’, when we pioneered in Ethiopian stand-up comedy shows. This explains well that we have been trendsetters in the business leading the way in new entertainment ventures and trends. When we started stand-up comedy shows in Ethiopia, no one believed in stand-comedy as stand-alone event, now it is something people enjoy and artists earn income from it. As a result, many comedians came together to establish an association to protect and promote their interests.
We believe in flawless planning and execution. We have supported several artists and causes contributing for a positive change both within the business landscape and the society at large.
Finally, what words of wisdom would you like to give to the youth when it comes to succeeding in life?
I would like to take this out of the context of this industry and speak about it in general terms. I would say one of the most important factors for success is staying positive. Unfortunately, there is a lot of hate, in unexpected ways, within our society that hinders individual as well as social success. We need to move towards mutual understanding, love, respect and being supportive. In my view, honesty, integrity, communication, and sincerity are the building blocks of success in any aspect of life.