On the Grind

By Nathan Seyoum, December 01 2019

Your search is over. The incline of the small artificial plane may weigh on your knees. You may be faced with a gripping descent down the cobblestone road. This, however, quickly dissipates as you start hearing small reverberations of nearby acoustics. Meander no more! You are here, at Alliance Ethio-Francaise. The ground feels shaky and the vibrations are getting prominent. You go further down to the gate, and the noise is sounding familiar. It is music of some sort – maybe South African. No, it is Ugandan. The fences are near your reach. The pale yellowish-green color of the gates embarks to the series of events– collectively called “On the Grind”. Pret avoir amuser?

The crux of the “On the Grind” event held at Alliance Ethio-Francaise was fun all 3 weeks round with events ranging from games to art galleries to skating, and films and music. After a long day’s work, school and other engagements, people from all places come to lay back and enjoy the variety of talent that is bestowed upon them – so is the aim of the event. But it is not only a recreation center. “The youth subculture is not celebrated in Ethiopia. There are several young underground artists, who have not been given the platform for their talent thus they have not been discovered yet,” says Lucy, the vibrant host and organizer of the event. This is the second edition of “On the Grind” – a collaborative effort from Alliance Ethio-Francaise, the French Embassy, Italian Embassy, Canadian Embassy, Goethe Institut, BGI Ethiopia, and Linkup, aiming “not only to support the emerging youth subculture in Ethiopia, but also to promote the values of fun, freedom of expression, respecting others’ differences and embracing that difference. It inspires the youth to take pride in their uniqueness and gives them confidence to pursue their talents elsewhere.” Lucy reiterates. Hence the name “On The Grind”, derived from the word underground (or asphalt) and signifies the raw urban culture that is often ignored. As the sweltering sun slowly starts to hide behind the trees on 25 October 2019, the first week commences.

An eclectic group of artists had gathered in the hall right through the café. It was an exhibition from Ethiopia Skate, Eyoel Kassa, Zelalem Merga and Woinshet Goshu marking the opening of the event – the icebreaker. The sculptures, paintings and photographs were mesmerizing and can be described as deep analyses of the human spirit, engorging the audience on a slow cataclysm of contemplation.

Down the hall, an artificial rink was created for Ethiopia Skate. “Skating is not a thing that we do; it is beyond an activity – it is a feeling. It describes our personalities and our way of living,” said Yonas who was one of the skaters attending the event. He is part of the organization called Ethiopia Skate – a social enterprise created by Sean Stromsoe, aimed at generating young skaters in Ethiopia. There were photos artistically placed on broken skateboards. Their short touring film called “Eshi Sak Ethiopia” premiered on 06 November along with other documentaries collectively called “Africa Rising.”

As far as music concerts are concerned “On the Grind” did not disappoint as Faizal Mostrixx and Susan Kerunen from Uganda took to the stage at 8 pm to showcase an Afro Cosmic concert on 30 October. This was the second day of the event. “Tetti?” “Tetti Engi.” was the main chant of the day. People danced and had a good time. There was also a live electro concert on 08 November from the throbbing displays of musical wizardry of Kira from Ethiopia, T&T and Tropical Riddims from Ethio-Canada.  By the end of the day, people were left wanting more. Ask and you shall receive.

As the end of the first week of November crept in, the event came to a close. And boy did it close with a bang! The final event had a consortium of things to do and see.  As it was closer, it was fitting to aggregate the whole week into one so that people can see what they might have missed in one day.

The skaters were having fun on the rink that they built. Two stages were set on the backdrop for managing the entire event. Everyone was there. Ethiopia Skate was showing its merch such as t-shirts, jewelry and their skateboards as part of the urban marketplace. Chewata Awaki, who introduced their games from November 1 to 3, presented different games all over the compound such as checkers, rock paper and scissors, and maze games. After a few minutes, a fashion show by the talented Melat Mulugeta commenced. The hip-pop group Ethios Hip pop community electrified the crowd with performances from multiple youth talents while spray paint artists were busy doing artwork on their canvases. There were children, young people and adults all eating, drinking and having fun. Around every corner, there was something interesting and exhilarating to look at. As the night drew near the main stage was occupied by Hamdiya Sherif and Betty Abebe, Sheba sound, Ethios and finally, the anticipated BCUC, the afro psychedelic band. They all drew energy from the crowd and regurgitated it back. We were left saying “What a day! What a night!”

We were near the embankment when I asked Lucy about the event. “Let me tell you this.” She started with vigor, “The previous edition of the event, was a huge scaffold for us. Of course, the intention of the event was for people to have fun but I didn’t anticipate it having such a huge impact on our youngsters. Those who showcased their works last year called me and told me how much it changed their lives for the better and how they are grateful for the opportunity. The phones had not stopped ringing until 2 months after the event ended. This is what we aim for. Now that is a success.” Lucy said. I asked her to sum up the event in one word. “Simply put”, she said, “EPIC!!!”

Photos by: Anteneh  Girma, Abyissinia Photographers Hub & Mekbib Tadesse