LinkUp Staff Writer

For anyone who has been following Ethiopian cultural performances in recent years, the face of Haddis Alemayehu aka Haddinqqo cannot be strange. Since he joined the Ethiopian cultural music art scene a little more than a decade ago, Haddis’s journey and his influence in Ethiopian cultural music have been remarkable. From his street performance at Meskel Adebabay a few years back to his wildly celebrated stage battle at Teddy Afro’s “Wede Fikir Guzo” concert and his performance at the Nobel award ceremony for Abiy Ahmed (Dr.), Ethiopia’s Prime Minister, Haddis has been pushing the boundaries of Ethiopia’s cultural art. What’s more, Haddis and his cultural band Messob Band have just released an instrumental album, “Haile Gizie”. LinkUp Addis sat with Haddis for a brief interview about his career and experience. Enjoy.

What makes your music unique?

As you know, I am a cultural musician. Many people who are in my age group and who have grown up in a city like Addis are more interested in contemporary western music. I always try to include elements from cotemporary instruments into my music. I adapt elements from the violin, piano, cello, and many others to make my music unique. Just as vocalists take strong elements from legendary musicians like Tilahun Gessesse and Mahmoud, I try to do the same with my music, and I think that is what makes my music unique.

Adapting elements from other instruments is not the only thing I do, but I also try to adapt elements from various genres in music. As a result, the music I do is not limited to Ethiopian genres but also spans into international genres like reggae, blues, and many others. I experiment with my Massinqqo and employ that experiment whenever I get the opportunity. I have quite a few Massinqqos, but there is one that I usually use, its name is Ettegue (Amharic for Impress).

What makes my music unique is not only the sound that comes out of the instrument but also the performance. I give myself 100% to the performance. A combination of all these is what makes my music unique.

Tell us a bit more about the effect of your performance on the effectiveness of your music?

For me, performance starts long before any event starts. When I check the sound system and my instrument to make sure the sound is optimal, that is part of the performance as it guarantees the quality of the art in the best way possible. During the actual presentation, body language matters a lot. With a great body language, you can make the music not just something to be heard, but also something to be tasted, seen, smelled. As the performance gets deeper and more effective, it might make you react in many deeply emotional ways. So, performance as the most important part of my music.

Performance makes you cry. It makes you laugh. It cures.

Whose music did you grow up listening to?

I grew up listening to all the albums my generation listened to. Since I started playing the Massinqqo, I was very much influenced by Endris Hassen, a Massinqqo player from Wollo. There have also been several others who influenced me like Degsew another artist at the National Theatre. These are people who I met when around the start of my career. As I studied who these people learned from, I found out about Getamesai Abebe, Yirga Dubale, Bahiru Kegne, Lema Gebrehiwot, Habtemichael Demissie who impacted my art significantly. I also listen to music from Mali, Japan, Brazil, etc.

Was there a specific performance or event that you think transformed your career for good?

I don’t think I still am at a point in my career where I can consider my career has reached its peak yet. But, I think a lot of people have seen my battle with the violinist at Teddy Afro’s concert. There also have been performances I had with Mulatu Astatke, and I also worked on music videos with many other artists like Betty G., Zeritu, etc.

Photo courtesy of Haddis Alemayehu

Speaking of your battle with the violinist at Teddy Afro’s concert at the Millennium Hall, whose idea was it?

That wasn’t originally planned. During rehearsal, we just started improvising and we thought it was a good insertion. We finally showed it to Teddy Afro after a couple of rehearsals, and we decided to put it in. The stage performance added to the vibe in the hall was way better and different from the rehearsal. Anyhow, that’s how it came about.

Though the performance has reached quite a lot of people, it is only a small part of what I have been doing over the years.

As the performance gets deeper and more effective, it might make you react in many deeply emotional ways. So, performance as the most important part of my music.

As the performance gets deeper and more effective, it might make you react in many deeply emotional ways. So, performance as the most important part of my music.

“As the performance gets deeper and more effective, it might make you react in many deeply emotional ways. Performance makes you cry. It makes you laugh. It cures.”

You have been invited to several events across the globe over the years. Which events stand out for you as special?

There are two. The first one is my first stage performance with Mulatu Astatke at Ghion Hotel’s Jazz Village. The other one was my performance with Teddy Afro. The other performance special for me in many ways was again with Mulatu Astatke in Belgium in 2019, at the Gent city Jazz festival.

What makes a good event for you?

Being organized the most important element in an event. An event where the performers and the audience are respected and all facilities are duly fulfilled is a great event for me. I also think events should set a positive and constructive message to the direct and indirect audience.  

We have been observing unique Ethiopian artistic productions over the past few years. Do you think the time is right for artists like yourself?

I think we are the bridge to the next artistic generation. There has been a cultural and artistic confusion within our generation because of several socio-cultural and political tendencies in the country. So, to answer your question, yes, now is a great time. It is time for our generation to bridge the cultural, historical, and artistic gap and influence the coming generation following in our footsteps.

What is your current project?

My band, Messob Band, has just released a new album “Haile Gizie” a Ge’ez word signifying the power of time. The album includes several rich cultural instrumental compositions that incorporate tunes from various cultures in Ethiopia.

I am also working on an exciting project which I think will have a significant influence on further promoting Ethiopian music to the world.

Haddis’s famous violin battle at Teddy Afro’s “Wede Fikir Guzo” Concert

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