On My Father: The Ethiopiques at The Barbican

It’s been a  long long and extremely productive week  but tonight I am attending a concert to see a group called The Ethiopiques so I don’t go home from the Southbank centre but straight to The Barbican.   In the sixties and early seventies, in Ethiopia, Addis Ababa was swinging. Addis was the Monaco of Africa. The men and women wore the best Italian clothes and the clubs were swinging.  Drive-by Coffee houses would begin the evening and  stay open as the club revelers returned from the dance.  . By day time the Ethiopian jazz musicians would be playing in the Imperial Guard Band for  the Emperor and in the night they’d play the hip joints of downtown Addis.  Here is a fascinating News Statesman article on those times.

At this time, 1967,  my father was about 26 years old, replicating the city in his virility.  He was an infamous character of Addis and embodied The New Africa, the cosmopolitan son of the hard working  father an import and exporter. Business was not for Giday. He became a pilot for the then esteemed Ethiopian Airlines, one of the most respected airlines in the world and the best in Africa. The picture of him in his uniform adorning his rolex watch is indelibly stuck in my mind.  This due in no small part to the pilot school led by a charismatic and skilled American. But my father  carried with him faults that on the surface seemed minor cracks but in truth were fundamental fissures that raced from thesurface to his heart.  He lived his life to the fullest. 

In my life long search to find him I have also discovered much of the man because he  left parts of himself embedded in the memory of  men and women around the world. And somehow finding him through their resolved memory gave me a greater unbiased picture of him than if he were alive.  Much of the memory is backed up by documented truth. . For the most part of my search for him, I didn’t know he was dead.   He died in a plane crash in 1972. I was never to meet him othjer than through others memory and documented fact. The details of the plane crash are, amazingly online here.   

My father loved the clubs of addis and I am sure  he either knew the musicians or was known to them.  Addis symbolized the new Africa releasing itself from the shackles of colonialism and opening itself up as did my father.  It was the same energy that London had in the sixties, but for very different reasons.  And like London, it could not lastand  sadly ended again for very different reasons – The Derg. In 1974 the Derg also killed of Ethiopian  pop rock and rhythm and blues. Stone dead. 

As I settle into my seat at The Barbican to a sold out audience I am electrified by the sounds of a past I never knew but that is sown into my skin.  So here am I, a son,listening to the singers that I know my father  danced to, as they break through the English market having dived into the American Market through the film Broken Flowers.  One by one the singers come onto the stage the two parts of Ethiopia evident through Alameyehueshete  known then as The Ethiopian James Brown and the gracious Mahmoud Ahmed . But the embodiement of them both was the glorious saxophone player  Getachewmekyura. 

I would give my life to record a poem with Mahmoud Ahmed and Getachew Mekyura. On second thoughts I wouldn't give my life my father gave his.  At different moments in the euphoric concert I find salt water swill my eyes as I watch the varied expressions of pain and Joy upon the performers whom have not performed together since hose days.  It is an historical moment.  I scour the programme, the advert on the back is for London Liming and my name is there.  It's wonderful to be on the same programme as them! I wasn't expecting that.  I get a rush of goosepimples as I look more.  The event tonight, it says upon the programme, is sponsored by Ethiopian Airlines.

 

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