A fresh new wave of musical fusion & experimenting is emerging in the Ethiopian musical air restored to it. The ‘Masinqo’ – a single-stringed bowed lute – has been played in a slower & mostly melancholic way until recently. One of the few musicians able to revolutionize the way people approach The ‘Masinqo’ by leading its revival in the context of the Addis Ababa jazz and pop music scene, is none other than this issue’s distinguished guest Haddis “HaddinQo” Alemayehu. Performing on stage alongside legends like Gash Mahmoud Ahmed, composer Dr. Mulatu Astatke, Seleshi Demessee (Gash Abera Molla) & Teddy Afro, HaddinQo has captured the attention of many years. From making covers of other famous works, teaching how to play The ‘Masinqo,’ collaborating with artists across the world & even representing Ethiopian music at the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize awarding ceremony accompanying prime minister Dr. Abiy Ahmed, HaddinQo does it all & shows no signs of slowing down.
What annoys you the most about being a recognizable ‘Masinqo’ player?
For the time being, it is more rewarding & pleasant; there are only a few things that could bother me. People are pleased that I’m trying my best to promote their culture through music & most of my interactions are pleasant. However, sometimes, admiration can get in the way of some tasks I have to take care of when fans want to take pictures, have autographs, or have a quick chat with me. I don’t mean to be rude, but I wish people understood more. I know these people have good intent & it isn’t manners to be avoidant, but it just sometimes becomes challenging.
How do you feel when you’re playing the ‘Masinqo’?
I feel a lot of things in those moments, but the first thing is joy. The joy that comes from the fact that I am doing the job that I love most. After that, I am led by the music & its content. Happy songs trigger the same feeling & there are times when my environment (on a personal, communal, or national level) influences the music I play, which in turn mainly determines how I feel while performing on stage.
How do people react to the way you play the ‘Masinqo’?
Since the ‘Masinqo’ is unfamiliar to most people across the world, any sound the ‘Masinqo’ makes, usually surprises first-time listeners. For those who know what the instrument sounds like, new sounds (inspired by things like animals, objects & fusion with other types of music without it losing its identity) that I constantly try out amuse them & even shock some people. People react to the music in many ways & sometimes confuse it for other instruments like a Saxophone or Violin. So it isn’t a one-time discovery but rather something I have been doing for a while & will continue to do.
Who would you say played a bigger role in you becoming the artist you are today? How exactly did this person cultivate your originality?
One of the first influences has to be my upbringing & environment. The people I grew up around & mostly my family have been key factors as to who I am today. The role my mother played is unmatched by any. She was the one who always made sure I had my hopes & spirits up when things were tough. In addition to that, she also made sure I had exposure to traditional Ethiopian music that would go on to inspire me & pursue this path. Endirs Hassen & Dawit Lesan (a friend of mine) have also influenced me & I would like to thank them. Other than them, I would have to acknowledge the greats like Bahiru Kagne, Getamesay Abebe, Hayete-Michael Demissie & Mea’rey. Since listening to their playing style has enabled me to get a taste of the past.
What kind of impression do you think the world has towards Ethiopia, its culture & music?
Despite the negative & devastating image Ethiopia has had for the past few decades, I think there are more positive developments & progress that have led Ethiopia to have a more positive impression in the eyes of the world. It is no question that the rest of the world is now waking up to the reality that Ethiopia has a lot of potential & value to offer. Since Ethiopia is known as the origin of many things & home to many cultures, a lot of people are attracted by the music, dance, food, history & much more.
If you had to simplify your values into one applicable life philosophy, what would It be?
I am not one to philosophize, but I lead my life with some simple and clear principles & the one thing that I believe has helped me a lot in my life is optimism. No matter what I come across in life, be it good or bad, I always strive to grab & hold on to the positive lessons life teaches us then turn them into great opportunities. As a child, I grew up with not much around as most Ethiopians did & during tough times, all I had was hope that things will be okay. The way I apply this is by adding my passions like music, so I cope by expressing whatever life throws at me through my music for people to hear.
It has been an honor having you as our Person of the Month, any final message you would like to pass on to readers?
I would first like to urge everyone to do what they truly love & enjoy & those who haven’t found that yet, to persist with what they have on hand until they are clear on what they want to do. I strongly suggest people embrace any unfortunate circumstances & move forward with the opportunities it could present. Other than that I would like to reach out to my fellow artists & anyone involved in the arts to explore Ethiopia’s rich culture. There are so many instruments, playing styles & melodies that have been neglected & underrated. These are blessings with so much untapped potential. The whole world is craving for something new; there are so many sounds that can add color to the world’s music. So by working with the traditional instruments & sounds, we can realize this potential & spread our influence around the globe. I hope that one day our music industry will be established like agricultural, tourism & other industries, eventually growing big enough to even play a role in the country’s development.