Zeritu for the People
Reviewed by: tsegasaurus
Although as essential as legs are for a table, here in Ethiopia, a tour supporting a new release is as foreign to us as democracy. Until now. I didn’t want to name names before but Zeritu Kebede was that missing ingredient in EMF V. She is new, young, talented and daring. As her name suggests, Zeritu (little seed) is planting a new trend in the local music scene. Now she’s on the road on an eight city tour to get intimate with her fans.
Anticipating typical Habesha timing, we got to the Ghion Hotel Addis Park (unusual but seemingly decent place for an outdoor concert) an hour and half later than the announced time. We were instantly greeted by a pungent sewer smell of Kurtume river. To my satisfaction we had only missed a few verses of “Yi'hun” the first song of the night and the tour. There on the tiny stage was Zeritu and Arif dance crew already working a sweat.
A Fair price for lateness, spots close to the stage were occupied by those who obeyed the time. With Zeritu, a seven piece band, two back up singers, seven dancers and a camera man on the stage, it looked like a bucket of worms from where we ended up standing. Its shear tiny-ness and setup made it looked like something you would zip up with everyone inside and transport it to the next location. The sound on the other hand lacked both quality and quantity, it didn’t matter where you were and once in a while it would make a crackling noise the otologists declare hazardous. Sound problems, both gadget and human induced, seem to be reoccurring themes in Ethiopian concerts.
Like her album, the show had rocking moments that sent the crowd wild and melancholic ones that had the couples swaying & the singles pouting. With the sexy yet elegant dress and poignant performance, she has got that ‘diva’ thing going down to the very dirty details. Being quirky in between songs and too modest at times, Zeritu’s performance was top notch showomanship. The hip looking Mehari Brothers (M Brothers) provided an equally energetic back up, bringing each song to life and more. Nonetheless, I didn’t see the need for seven piece outfit, including a bongo, when most of the songs were engulfed with synthesized sound.
Two songs and a gulp of water later came that duet “A’kal La’kal” with Abnet Agonafir. The song had almost everyone screaming (((ye’degem))) at the end. Here is a confession. It is one of the few songs that have me reaching for the skip button. What I saw that night made me question my logic. Then again, cheesy duets were never ma cup of bubble tea. When I woke up from a duet induced slumber, Zeritu had left the stage and Abnet was working the crowd.
This way of concert organization, where the headliner set is sprinkled with supporting performance, is a bit unorthodox for those who are use to the conventional opener-headliner sequence. In Zeritu’s case the setup was crucial to give her vocal cords much needed breaks.. The performance of the entourage was nothing to write home about Abnet, Nati and Henok Mehari’s performance was entertaining but not much to decipher. Saba Kahassie and Biruktawit Getahun, although hailed as up-and-comers, their set consisted of covers and nothing but covers. Perhaps we should wait until they come up with their own material before slapping such label on them. One thing they deserve credit for is their choice of cover music which was unusual for most Ethiopians style. From Peggy Lee’s “Fever” to Roberta Flack’s ‘Killing me softly” - unlike Nati’s bland and overly covered cover of Rupee’s “Tempted to touch”.
For Arif Dance crew, taboo sensual contact was the last of their issue, with a stage like that it will be hard not to anyway. The troupe added flavor to “y’ehe sew” with a nicely choreographed visual aid for the song’s strong feministic lyrics. The space limitations being there, I hope they get a hang on the synchronization bit by the end of the tour.
Zeritu herself resorted to covers to make up for the lack of extensive material. Her and Henok’s version of the classic Dolly & Kenny duet “Islands in the stream” which probably had Abenet fuming from a lesson in chemistry. Then she went on to wow us with her take on “yeh’echi agatami” a song first cut by Tilahun Gessesse. She announced the approach of the end with Getachew Kasa’s “mehede ne’w ene” (I am about to leave), by which point she had exhausted the entire album and went in to “athidebnge” for the second time, and when she began humming Abenet limeta new (Abenet is coming), I figure it was a good time to take my slumber else where.
For an event that is the first of its kind, the organizers seem to have their ‘exclusive rights’ rules laid out neatly. In this day of age when cell phone cameras are loaded with enuf gimmicks to capture majestic images, the fact that my puny digi-cam was found to be a commercial threat amuses me. I had a minor altercation with the coordinators regarding my nonexistent press credentials but walked away with a few pictures I managed to snap just before the incident.
So who wants to buy prints for one billion hundred million birr? going once, going twice,.....