There seems to be two Eritreas: One is the young nation who fiercely fought for independence from Ethiopia for 30 years. Another is the oppressive regime of Isaias Afwerki, from which thousands flee monthly to avoid military service and censorship. We’re recognizing artists from both sides of the conflict.
This revered Eritrean ex-patriot earned international acclaim in 2013 when his anti-government anthem “Hadnetna” went viral. Some listeners, cited by the BBC, referred to Tikabo as the country’s Bob Marley, uniting underrepresented populations to raise their voices. He has since defected elsewhere, dedicating his art to “Ghedli,” the nation’s original struggle for independence.
Hailing from the capital of Asmara, 31-year-old Senait Amine has an implacable worldliness to her. She ululates like an ancient queen and sashays like a gutsier Erykah Badu. Fans have praised her as having “everything ... voice, body language, presence.” We agree. (Lead image courtesy the artist.)
On the other side of Tikabo’s coin stands Helen Meles, a pop star who fought for the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front at age 13. Her upbeat songs, such as the bouncy “SeAre,” serve as inspiration for those who loyally remain in the country. Meles regularly honors her military brethren in her Facebook posts.
A master of the krar — an Eritrean-Ethiopian instrument related to the harp or guitar — Afewerki has mesmerized music lovers with his serpentine tunes. His 2013 album, Tiena Tray, mixed urban European dance (courtesy his adopted home of Sweden) with complex organic rhythms. (Thank you to Eritrea24 for the suggestion!)
Following in Helen Meles’ footsteps, Abraha has been hailed for her patriotic songs and gleeful spirit. Her inflections recall Ariana Grande, and she has been a vibrant member of Eritrea’s music community since her days as front woman for the band Wari. She’s been recognized as a Woman Who Kicks Ass by Tumblr.
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