I am Tikur

We are born enveloped in black. We sleep hugged in black. In the end, we fade to black. Nearly 40% of our lives we are loved by black as we close our eyes and slip and sleep and into black. Thus, I am dumbfounded and confounded as to why black has become such a cursed noun. Black is life, black is love, in the end when we die, we disappear into the essence of black. Black is a lot more than a word, black is a state of being and a state of consciousness. Black is Africa and in black one could find the inception of humanity and the launch pad of intellect and civility. Yet throughout the ages, black has been transformed from a blessing into a curse—black became the personification of death instead of the conception of life. I write these words today to reclaim black and restore God’s hue into a black with renewed sense of purpose.

For too long, we Ethiopians have forsaken our blackness. We splintered ourselves from Africa and stood alone at the precipice of isolation as we insolently rebuffed our African brothers and refused to be proud of our black skin. We divorced our culture from black; a people who once were adored and loved as the essence of black hope visited onto our souls the enmity of the African diaspora by insisting that we were not black. Generation after generation of our forefathers set us back, they passed on to their children a deep-seated bias by denying our black souls and injecting in our menfes (spirits) the ways of nefarious Western thinking by having the paucity to believe that we were “different” and that we had more in common with ferenjis than we had with our black brothers and sisters. That ends today, our once warped thinking and our disbelief in our blackness is being buried in the black ether, aided and abetted by a transformational singer and a visionary cinematographer.

The transformational singer is none other than Teddy Afro. While most celebrate and do cheb-a-cheb for Teddy Afro as they serenade him with eskista and unending “eleleleleles”, I have always looked at him and applauded him for a different reason. Teddy Afro holds in his vocal cords the deliverance of Ethiopia; as much as I write, I can never be as powerful as Teddy Afro. I told my good friend Vahe Tilbian that he is 10,000 times more powerful than me, he chuckled and said that his power does not compare to mine. However, I know different, singers will always be more powerful than me and most writers combined by a factor of a million. Singers give people the true essence of the joy and remembrances as they transform embas (tears) into desta (happiness) and filter into our subconsciousness a forgotten tizita (memory) of our homes back in Addis, our friends back in our menender (neighborhood) and our loved ones up in heaven. To this day, whenever I think of weddings, I think of Webeshet (god rest his soul), when I think of famines I remember Tilahun’s (wey wey wey selu), when I think of love I think of Kuku Sebsebe, and when I think of chefera (getting down) I think of Mahmoud.

Singers are artistic radicals—they are out and out revolutionaries. Songs are the melodies of freedom and tunes of redemption; in between each chord and B Flat note you will find the A Major of liberation. Thirty million of our brothers and sisters who were on their way to eternal enslavement drowned into the Atlantic Ocean as they sang melodies of their homes in West Africa. Hundreds of millions of black folk found themselves disconnected—some dismembered—in a new land picking cotton and feeling the twitches of witches cow hide tearing inch after inch of their hides being ripped off their own backs as they reconnected to their parents and children back in Africa tethered with nothing more than silent drums and murmured melodies of freedom. Three centuries before Puffy, slaves were remixing European songs with African melodies as they sang melodic redemption songs as they hit high notes laced with Alto hope and bass aspirations. Bland European songs became Negro spirituals as black folk hummed and strummed “Glory Glory Halleluiah”—singing His praise only to lay their heads down to sleep on dirt pillows and muddy sheets. With staccato beats and allegro rhythm, they sang into their future seeds a hope for freedom and a day of deliverance from the devil’s touch and instilled into future black children the hope of a black president that would win the very states that confined them into a state of enslavement—say hello to President Barack Obama.

Around the same time as enslaved Africans were being lynched and robbed of their dignity, 5,000 miles away, a proud people were being subjected to Italian imperialism and invaded by nefarious Romans who were intent on rebuilding their crumbled empire at the cost of enslaving Ethiopians. But Ethiopians would not go silently into the night; we stood up and united with the force of 5,000 hurricanes and blew the Italians away and sent them back to a would-be Caesar while carrying with them the deceased and the defeated. 100,000 Ethiopians united in Adwa, Ethiopian women and men jegnas bonded by a common heritage and shared suffering refused to be divided by tribe or religion and marched headlong into a volley of bullets and bombs to reclaim freedom from the menacing hands of Italian soldiers and mercenaries. They died to give way to life, they perished to give birth to a free Ethiopia. Tom Brokaw writes about the Greatest Generation during World War II, it’s crazy that I find myself delivering breaking news to the most famous journalist of our time. Tadias Mr. Brokaw, let me introduce you to Ethiopia and you would understand in short order that our Greatest Generation gave birth to your Great Generation.

The most amazing story that I heard about Adwa is the chronicle of Ethiopians who invaded each Italian cannon brigade one platoon at a time. Five Ethiopians would charge and literally hug the cannon to perish from a cannonball blast that would shred them into smithereens. As the five Ethiopian warriors evaporated into bits and pieces, the sixth Ethiopian would charge unencumbered as the Italians reloaded the cannon and soon thereafter vanquish a platoon of Italian soldiers armed with nothing more than his sword. Osama bin Laden forever bastardized the essence of martyrdom by killing innocent Americans on September 11th; the truest essence of being a martyr is personified in thousands of Ethiopians who charged headlong into cannonballs. They gave up their lives willingly so that their brothers in arms behind them could follow in their blood-stained footsteps to vanquish the lives of Italian soldiers who only a few minutes earlier took the lives of their fellow countrymen and warriors. There is never honor in war, but there sure is an honor in giving your life so that your children could grow up free from slavery and colonization. Adwa above all wars fought in the history of this world was honorable. Adwa was the clarion call of liberty, it set the a freedom agenda for not only Ethiopians but for all enslaved and indentured souls throughout the world.

This is where things go from beautiful to phantasmal. You see, as Ethiopians united to defeat the Italians in Adwa, instantly a freedom bell rang from the distant corners of Ethiopia and traveled throughout the world faster than Italian soldier’s bullets and arrived in every continent where proud souls were imprisoned at the hands of evil folks. Instantly, news got back to America; slaves who were freed only twenty years prior and were mired in a de facto neo-slavery era found themselves all the sudden buoyed by spirits of Ethiopian heroes who refused to submit to a hegemonic European force. We stood up with force to Italians and buried their aspirations to colonize Ethiopia in unmarked graves. Instantly, this gave rise to a black power movement. Adwa gave birth to Garvey, Duboise, Malcolm, Martin, Colonel John C. Robinson aka the Brown Condor and yes, Adwa is the womb that delivered Barack Obama. When I say “We are Adwa”, I mean not only Ethiopians, the whole world is Adwa because Adwa renewed freedom in an era where freedom was being murdered by genocidal Europeans who were killing hope in Africa one riffle and gunshot at a time. Excuse me, Winston Churchill, let me correct you Sir, the truth is that in the history of humanity, never have so many owed so much to so few Ethiopian warriors and jegnas (heroes).

Flash forward, 130 years later, Teddy Afro comes along to tie and weave the story together, like 40 dirs (spiders), he did something audacious and with Hebret in his soul, he sang a soulful song to remind the world of the Audacity of Adwa and tied up the lion that is inertia with his melodic web of Ethiopian courage. This is why I am a fan of Teddy Afro, look in his eyes and you will see the day soon when Ethiopia will spread her wings and touch the face of God and live out our destiny of setting Africa free from the bondage of self-colonization and self-subjugation. The courage it took for Teddy Afro to stand up and say he is a black man is not to be underestimated. I am not saying that all Ethiopians, or even the majority of Ethiopians, believe they are not black, but lets admit that there is a virulent strain of Habeshas who think they are not black and think that black is beneath them. Teddy Afro grabbed the mic and spoke truth to ignorance, eloquently one bar at a time Teddy Afro set out to conquer the minds of petulant Habeshas who refused to identify with their blackness. Teddy Afro shifted the paradigm 180 degrees, one degree at a time he turned up the heat and melted off the face of elitism while recounting our story and owning our history while singing out loud about the battle of Adwa. He unmuffled the muted sound of melody and sand of how a proud king by the name of Menelik II and a dignified queen by the name of Taytu led their people into battle and defeated a legion of Italian minions and in the process healed the lesion of racism and bigotry that European powers had scared the heart of Africa with centuries with guns and cannons by the names of colonization and genocide. Teddy Afro took side with justice and rewrote a continental injustice armed with nothing more than his mind, a mic, and his band of merry pianists, saxophonist, and a masinko players.

But Teddy Afro’s part is only a part of it. In the age of twitter, Facebook, and HD TV screens, sound without visuals does not make a sound at all. So Teddy Afro needed more than just his merry men and his melodic voice. Teddy Afro needed a man who was blessed by God to turn words into art, Teddy needed a wizard to transform his lyrics into moving objects and to retell his music through stunning imagery. Thus Teddy Afro’s cast of thinkers cast a wide net throughout the world to come up with a video magician. Their quest began and ended in New York as soon as they found out about Tamirat Mekonen. In a fell swoop they realized that they had in their possession the Ethiopian Steven Spielberg, except when Tamirat says “ET phone home” he is telling his people to phone mother Ethiopia and help those less fortunate than the blessed Ethiopians in the Diaspora. Tamirat is the visionary behind “Tikur Sew”, he shot, directed, and produced the video all in video. He used 420 Ethiopians from Addis Ababa University as he wove an epic story of Adwa as he captured our story and history between a camera lens, his imagination, and the strength of Sabisa Films Production. In between Teddy Afro and Tamirat Mekonen, these two visionaries were set to transform the Ethiopian conception of being black and in the process undertake a mission to link us to our black brothers and sisters throughout the world. And you think Obama had the audacity in 2008.

Let me tell you a bit about Tamirat. He was born in Bahir Dar Ethiopia in 1981. Let me show you how magical this universe is; Tamirat was born exactly 200 years after the first southern states in America formally adopted segregation and codified racism and bigotry during the Reconstruction Era as freed black folk soon enough found themselves back in a state of quasi-enslavement. I told you, our history is tied with the history of African-Americans in ways that you can’t really understand. The first Ethiopians arrived in America in 1808 and partnered with freed slaves to form the First Abyssinia Baptist Church in Harlem. Exactly 200 years later, Ethiopians for Obama banded with African-Americans for Obama to get a black man elected President of the same United States. I swear, at times I feel like I am writing a fairy tale until I realize that realty is a thousand times more beautiful than fables.

From an early age, Tamirat loved photography and movies. When he was a teenager, he worked as a photographer, taking pictures of tourist who visited Bahir Dar’s waterfall. Tamirat grew up watching cinema because his mother worked in the only cinema theater in Bahir Dar—we are nothing but habits of strangers even though those strangers are our parents. Every weekend his mother would let him sit and watch foreign movies. Because of his mother’s insistence, Tamirat dreamed audaciously and kept alive in his blen (iris) a vision of becoming a filmmaker. He attended a one year certificate program in film making at Master and Film in Addis Ababa Ethiopia. After that, Tamirat did what all visionaries of note do, he saved the money to pay for the program on his own; walking endless miles in order to avoid transportation fees—he even skipped lunch in order to feed his dreams.

He worked on a stack of films, including: “Red Mistake”, “Ashenge”, “Albo”, and the award-winning “Siryet”. In 2009, he was awarded a Brett Ratner scholarship to attend the New York Film Academy, in New York City, where he focused his energies on studying cinematography. Tamirat’s vision was given a magnifying glass when his future father-in-law, Matt Andrea, sponsored him to come to the United States to study. Thus let me make this point, being Ethiopian is not inherited as much as it is earned. Matt Andrea is Ethiopian a thousand times more than a lot of Habeshas I know because Matt bend and breaks his back to help Ethiopians and his heart bleeds arengwadey, becha, qen (green, yellow, and red). For this reason, Matt is my wendem (brother) and gwadenya (friend) for life.

There, in between Teddy Afro, Tamirat Mekonen, and Matt Andrea, these three heroes of Ethiopia set out to redefine Ethiopia in HD quality video. I will do another article where I focus on Q&A with Tamirat in a couple of days, but for now I just want you to know how a few Ethiopians restored our pride and gave us a bridge to Africa and beyond by producing a video that literally made my jaw drop the first time I saw it . Visuals of Menelik II and Taytu leading their people, Ethiopian warriors battling Italian soldiers, blood interlaced with hope, gun fire as prelude to peace, death a precursor to life, the images that I saw when I witnessed Tamirat’s work (you can also take this the word work to mean the essence of pearls) stunned me into submission. To be honest, what I expected was the typical Ethiopian music video, heavy on dancing and focusing the singer almost solely.

Instead, what I witnessed was akin to the movie 300 and Braveheart. Teddy Afro appeared for one brief shot, the rest of the video captured the story of Adwa in it’s most perfect sense. One visual after another of Ethiopian jegnas (heroes) doing battle with Italian soldiers. Explosive scenes of guns blazing, cannon blasting, and swords buckling at Tamirat captured fully the gory of war and the glory of freedom. I could not move, I was left muted and muffled as I sat there watching the Blue Ray version of the Tikur Sew video in Matt Andrea’s house surrounded by Matt, his daughter Marie Claire, a dear friend I just met, and two other African-American brothers with Tamirat by my side witnessing an epic trilogy of hope and I all I could say every two seconds was “wow”. I don’t have children yet, but I am not sure if witnessing the birth of my own children will ever displace the awe and shock that invaded my own two eyes as Tamirat cleverly cleaved my bitterness from my spine and restored hope in my heart and my love for my people where a week prior I was ready to divorce my own community. I am sure this is how Pope Julius II first witnessed the work of Michael Angelo.

I am not going to rob you of the opportunity to feel the same awe by telling you the full details of what I witnessed. I am sure that most of you have already seen the “Tikur Sew” video on Youtube, but trust me, the youtube video does not give this video it’s full meaning. You have to witness what I saw, you have to see the DVD that Tamirat has in it’s Blueray HD full glory. That is why we are organizing the US premiere screening of the Tikur Sew video so that you too can come out this Saturday and witness the rebirth of Adwa and have your eyes invaded by the epic scenes of audacity and the dignity of our people as they repelled the would-be Italian colonizers. When the premier was first introduced in Addis Ababa a couple of months ago, over 1,000 people came out to witness history, it is my hope and deepest desire that over 1,000 Ethiopians, African-Americans, and yes Italians come out to witness this video and then take the moment to ask any question that you have directly to the director Tamirat Mekonen. If you are not in the DC area, the even will be broadcast live over Brown Condor Television which can be seen at this website. So I am inviting you to come out to Tabaq Bistro this Saturday, June 16th at 6:00 PM to take part in a milestone for our country and a moment of pride for all black people. Come take part as we celebrate our history, our community, and our culture and watch the US Premier of Tikur Sew video in FULL HD BLUE-RAY glory. Afterwards, you can ask Tamirat Mekonen questions on your mind as we will have a Q&A period. Tabaq is a premier destination in DC, we could not think of a better place to tell our collective story to Ethiopians and non-Ethiopians alike.

In between Teddy Afro, Tamirat Mekonen, and Matt Andrea, I now stand renewed and restored. I am now convinced wholly to never walk away from my community all because one video restored emnet (faith) in my beloved Ethiopia for the rest of my life. This is our story, my life mission has always been to own our own history and to tell our own story. Our history is recounted orally, it is time for us to step up and be more active in disseminating our story and stop letting others tell our history and defining us in the process.

Our story is not only about Ethiopia, our story is intertwined and interwoven with the African Diaspora. We are at the end of the day Tikur people, we are brown by skin but our minds and our history is blacker than Ethiopia’s midnight sky. For too long, some have denied our blackness, Teddy Afro and Tamirat Mekonen denied the deniers a stage and focused our eyes and our minds on center stage by retelling the story of Adwa and our history of a proud people who have never been colonized. We have been for a long time a shinning beacon of hope to all black folks, there is a reason that the UA headquarters is in Ethiopia. It is time to accept our blackness and retake our story from those who would deny our connection to the rest of our tikur brothers and sisters. It is time for us to say forever and always I am Tikur!