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The Spirit of Ethiopia in Kino Musica


The 2017 Smithsonian Folklife Festival, On The Move, Foodways, Immigration & Migration: The Spirit of Ethiopia in Kino Musica

Kino Musica is a very D.C. band: the product of colliding music scenes, friendships made during Smithsonian internships, and influence of the Ethiopian community. In fact, Washington, D.C., is known for the largest population of Ethiopians outside of Africa. With musical elements from East Africa, Latin America, and American jazz, and members from Maryland, Minnesota, Texas, Alabama, and New York, it’s a truly cross-cultural group—a perfect fit for On the Move.

At the 2017 Folklife Festival, Kino Musica performed a song called “Mehaber”—meaning a community that provides safety and support—about people who long to migrate away from Ethiopia and those who struggle once they return. As saxophonist Besu Tadesse explains, the first verse in English is from the perspective of a man who wishes to find success abroad, knowing that he will come back changed:

Each day I drink and think about my plan

How to leave this hell, find a way to be a man

Deserts and seas, take me from my home

Give me three years, I’ll make a world of my own

When spirits come home, they’re never alone

Then, switching languages, singer Kumera Genet takes the role of a man returning to his country. The lyrics in Amharic lyrics translate roughly to:

The spirits have returned

To Ethiopia, Ethiopia my homeland

They won’t leave me be

Where is my ground?

The spirits have returned

“For the Amharic lyrics,” Besu Tadesse continues, “the spirits that return to Ethiopia refer to both the individuals who return (in which case there is the physical and financial stress that comes with people repatriating after being away for so long) and the spirits within those who come back, as many of them also suffer emotional and mental issues during their time abroad.”