Born in Gondar, Abby Lakew, is a rising singer/actress who caught the attention of many Ethiopians through a single concert that took place three years ago. She left Ethiopia for the U.S at the age of 13.She returned as a stranger to Ethiopian music lovers in 2008. But she quickly acquired followers in Ethiopia with the release of her single “Man Ale.” The single was well received and was in heavy rotation at radio and TV stations.
She says her first single, which featured both English and Amharic songs, was a reflection of her two identities – Ethiopian and American.
She has once again returned to her homeland to perform at a concert alongside Kevin Lyttle on July 23rd as well as to attend the premier of her first film“Wodemetahubet”. She caught up with The Reporter to discuss her artistic journey.
Her first concert here opened a new door for her – acting – which is also one of her passions.
After witnessing her first concert, producer Getachew Debalke , approached her and offered her 150,000 birr,(the highest ever for an actor here in Ethiopia), to play the leading role in “Wodemetahubet.” She accepted the role after reading the script.
“I always wanted to make a film and I liked this specific script…I don’t think the payment is that much but I am lucky to be the first to be payed this much. I hope in the future actors here will be payed more than this,” states Abby.
She says she loved the character and the locations in which the movie was shot, locations such as her birth place (Gondar), Bahirdar and Addis Ababa.
When asked about her character in the film she said she did not want to reveal too much about the film.
The movie, which will be released today, is just the start for the multitalented artist who promises that there will be more in-store. “This is only the beginning.”
Her love for music started at young age though it never crossed her mind to pursue it as a career. “Music is everything for me, it’s like my best friend,” says Abby.
She was part of a music choir when she was in high school but she got bored of it. After high school she took music lessons. Her music arranger brother, Million Lakew, was the reason she became involved in music. She started jamming with her brother at the same time she was making a living that even included a stint as a makeup artist.
By the time she released her debut album ‘Man Ale’ things started to change and she started to get numerous requests to perform in different states for various occasions. This album was her break and she started touring and travelling. She does around 15-20 tours per year.
She cherishes every single show she had but her Greece performance two years ago was one of a kind and exceptional. Even if it happened a while back she remembers some moments vividly like they happened yesterday.
“What was special about this concert is the fact that the majority of the audience were non-Ethiopians. I was excited to see these people recognizing my music,” Abby reminisces.
Another show that stands out for Abby was her first concert three-years ago in Ethiopia that was held with the aim of supporting patients with cardiovascular complications.
“To be honest I never have expectations. I never assume anything about the turn up for any of my concerts or how they will turn out. It’s like gambling, at the end everything becomes clear,” explains Abby.
Abby, who labels herself “a good role model”, sometimes writes her own lyrics. In case someone wants to provide her with lyrics, they have to meet a certain condition: they have to be about love.
“For me love is the main thing and it has been like that for as long as I can remember. Music should be able to preach that. I am a person who doesn’t hold on to bad memories, I just move on and focus on the positive things life has to offer,” says Abby.
Even though growing up in the U.S was challenging says she has moved on and she is detached from those memories.
“Coming from Ethiopia and growing up in the States is never easy for anyone,” says Abby.
She reminisces about how she was bullied by other students at school because of where she came from. Being the only black girl in the school for some years meant she faced racial discrimination. Things began to change when she joined high school partly because she was now around fellow Ethiopians.
She accepted the hardships that she had to endure and says that it can happen to anyone. “No hard feelings” are the three words she uses to explain her sentiments about the past.
Despite the racism she was subjected to, she was very active in her extracurricular activities; she joined the school volleyball team and later her high school choir.
“It bothered me at the moment even though I don’t recall it right away. My family saved me from that and they are always beside me,” says Abby.
She doesn’t want to include racial discrimination issues or her past encounters in her songs. Love is the only message she want to pass. “Music should be about one and only one thing and that is love.”
Though she sings in two languages she prefers to sing in Amharic.
“There are many artists who sing in English and anyone who wants English songs can listen to them. For me, I want to sing in Amharic for the Ethiopian community who live in the US and who don’t know Amharic, they can use my music to learn our language,” explains Abby.
Even though she has been a full time musician for the past couple of years she was only able to release one album.
She says that it was due to the fact that she was caught up with a busy touring schedule. She finally decided to take a break from touring, which allowed her to finish a brand new 12-track album that will be released soon.
For a long time she wanted to collaborate with the late Ethiopian artist, Yirga Dubale, but he tragically passed away before she had a chance to approach him.