Film Review – Girl Rising Documentary

Check out this film review I wrote for Warscapes online magazine.

Extra(Ordinary) Girls

In a span of 100 minutes, Girl Rising, the new film by Academy Award nominee Richard Robbins, conveys the stories of nine diverse, ambitious and fearless girls from nine countries. The film achieves effective storytelling through a distinct narrative technique and uses innovative approaches to present what might otherwise be unglamorous statistics. It is rich in cinematography, creativity and imagination.

Read more here.

Wadley from Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Photo from 10x10 Girl Rising facebook page

Wadley from Port-au-Prince, Haiti. Photo from 10×10 Girl Rising facebook page

Ruksana from Kolkata, India. Photo from 10x10 Girl Rising facebook page.

Ruksana from Kolkata, India. Photo from 10×10 Girl Rising facebook page.

Maaza Mengiste (author) and Azmera (feature of the film's Ethiopia section). Photo from http://girlrising.com/

Maaza Mengiste (author) and Azmera (feature of the film’s Ethiopia section). Photo from http://girlrising.com/

Hello :) It’s been a while. Wanted to share a recent post I did for Africa is a Country. It blends Ethiopia’s coffee tradition with photography and storytelling. Hope you enjoy and share.

Originally posted on Africa is a Country:

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Our new weekly feature profiles blogs and/or tumblrs curated by Africans, on the continent as well as in the diaspora. The posts will highlight influences, genres, and point to the kinds of work being produced by young African photographers/curators. Most of those featured are at the start of their careers. We launched this feature last week with Batswana photographer Karabo Maine. We hope to introduce you to artists you either have not heard about or whose work does not saturate the mainstream (yet). This week’s post is co-authored with Genet Lakew. So here we go: meet Metasebia Yoseph, an Ethiopian-American curator and mixed media artist.

Read the original post here.

Just a Short Note

Hello there :) Just wanted to check in. I probably won’t post anything on here through the month of August because I’m working on a daily #AugustWritingChallenge on my other (neglected) Tubmlr blog. It’s a pretty cool way to make sure I write everyday and interesting too because the posts are centered around a different theme/topic for each day.

On top of that, August is a busy month for me: celebrating birthdays of my most important loved ones, preparing for grad school and moving to New York :) I’m especially excited about that last part. In the meantime, feel free to enjoy previous posts and venture to my Tumblr for my random thoughts. Who knows, you may even be inspired to join in on the challenge :) Happy Olympics!

-G

Film: Town of Runners is Coming to DC!

I did a mental backflip when I checked my email the other day and saw that the Town of Runners documentary will be screened at the World Bank’s Africa Film Series in DC. For those who missed the chance to watch it online at the Tribeca Film Festival back in April, this is your chance.

A bit about Town of Runners:

The film tells the story of two young girls, living in a rural town as they try to run their way to a different life.

Narrated by their friend Biruk, it follows their highs and lows over three years as they try to become professional athletes. Through their struggle, the film gives a unique insight into the ambitions of young Ethiopians living between tradition and the modern world.

The film will be shown on Thursday, July 26 from 5 p.m. – 8 p.m. at the World Bank, 1818 H Street, Preston Auditorium. RSVP here. After the screening, there will be a discussion with the filmmakers. Be there or be square.

Timeless Ethio Jazz

For my birthday this year, I bought myself Volume 1 of the 27-volume Ethiopiques CDs. I’ve loved listening to the various albums online at random times and in a random order. But my goal is to own the entire collection some day, a process that I’m sure will take lots of time and burn a nice little hole in my wallet. I’ve got a long journey ahead but with each purchase, I’ll enter music heaven. Here’s one of my favorites from the first CD, Seyfu Yohannes’ upbeat Mela Mela:

The voice behind another favorite on the album, Gara Ser New Betesh, was recently interviewed by Tadias magazine for a three-part series. Teshome Meteku has had quite an adventurous life since he left Ethiopia in 1970 to live in Sweden for 20 years and finally settle in the U.S. Great interviews. Here’s part one, part two and part three.

Tadias also interviewed the brilliant French man who fell in love with Ethio jazz and conceptualized the whole Ethiopiques series. Read about Francis Falceto.

Speaking of Ethio jazz, guess what I just ordered and am ridiculously excited about? Debo Band’s debut CD. Who is this Debo Band, you ask?

Debo Band

Debo Band is a 11-member group led by Ethiopian-American saxophonist Danny Mekonnen and fronted by charismatic vocalist Bruck Tesfaye. Since their inception in 2006, the band have toured Ethiopia twice, having appeared at both the Ethiopian Music Festival in Addis Ababa and Sauti Za Busara in Zanzibar, the largest music festival in East Africa. In North America, they’ve shared stages with Gogol Bordello, The Family Stone, Tilahun Gessesse (one of the great voices of Ethiopian pop since the 60’s), The Ex with Ethiopian sax legend Getatchew Mekuria, Group Doueh, and Khaira Arby and Her Band.

And what does “debo” even mean? It’s an old Amharic word that means “communal labor or collective effort.” They’re a group of musicians “reinventing” Ethio jazz and infusing their own fresh flavor while retaining the old timeless sounds. Here’s a snippet of what they sound like:

Pretty amazing, huh? Do yourself a favor and read this wonderful piece Siddhartha Mitter wrote on them as part of the album liner notes. Now that’s some good writing. To learn more about Debo Band, check out this interview (Tadias is on it!).

If you live in DC, Debo Band will perform this Saturday at U Street Music Hall. More info here.

I’m grateful to have such good music to keep my mind lifted. I hope you enjoy as much as I do.

Music Friday – Jah Lude (Ethio Reggae)

Maybe I’m kind of late to the game (shrug) but I love Jah Lude. He makes good Ethiopian style reggae music. According to an interview he did with The Reporter, he was born and raised in Addis. You might know him from his single titled “Yachin Neger,” which is basically a song about condoms. In it, he encourages couples to preserve their love until marriage but that’s not always realistic. It’s a positive song that sends an important message without sounding cheesy or like a lecture from your mom.

He has another song called “Feyamo,” which he sings mostly in Oromgina. I was surprised to learn that he doesn’t actually speak the language. But his family does, as well as a lot of the people in the neighborhood he grew up in. I appreciate the fact that he’s very aware of his Ethiopian and African-ness.

I have my own world that is called Ethiopia. When I merge my identity with my inner love for music, Ethiopia is my world. Wherever I am and wherever I go Ethiopia is always with me. Ethiopia is the country to which I give the most values in my life. I belong to Ethiopia and that is my world.

He appreciates his origins, his country and his culture in a very unique way, as he shows in “Hager Bet.” And that might partly be because he was away from Ethiopia for a while, living in neighboring Djibouti. He came back to live in Ethiopia five years ago. I don’t know how long he was away but I’m sure that experience shaped his worldview, his attachment to his home country and even his speech.

All around cool, conscious artist. Check him out.

And if like me, you want to learn about about the man behind the music, watch this interview Jah Lude Awol did on The Kassa Show (EBS).

Young Leaders – TEDx Addis

Hello there. Sorry I’ve been MIA lately, I have no valid excuse. But I shall return soon with awesome posts. In the meantime, enjoy this TEDx Addis video of Eden Gelan. The popular forum that brings together activists, thinkers, businessminded individuals, etc. went to Addis Ababa in 2010 and has returned ever since. TEDxAddis is the independently and locally organized version of the big TED conferences. A bit about Eden, community development worker:

Eden graduated from Haramaya University with a BA in Law, but her desire to help the underprivileged and give voice to the voiceless has been expressed outside of her academic descipline.

Shorty after graduation she co-founded an NGO, Beza Community Development Association (BCDA), which empowers people living with HIV by providing income generation activities, counseling, medical support, and education.  During this time she also completed an MA in HIV/AIDS Counseling in Relation to Theological Studies at the Ethiopian Graduate School of Theology.  Working as Project Coordinator, she has been able to create and implement new ways of taking care of at-risk communities.

She’s an inspiring young woman, a great example of the change our generation can and should make. Enjoy :)

Survey – What’s Your Favorite Ethiopian Restaurant?

Hi :) I came up with an idea to survey my readers and friends because I want to know where you like to go for some good Ethiopian grub. I’ve had my share of good, bad, entertaining, satisfying, and disappointing experiences at various DC area Ethiopian restaurants. I have my faves and the ones I will avoid at all costs. There are those I would recommend in a second and others that I think don’t deserve to have customers period.The last encounter I had at a restaurant was last week when an American friend expressed interest in trying Ethiopian food for the first time. Oddly enough, she and another young lady were headed to Ethiopia the next day, to visit and research for a couple of months. I told her nothing we have in DC can compare to the original back home but we went out nonetheless.

But picking a spot proved difficult for me. You’d think having so many options right here in Washington, DC, (i.e., “Little Ethiopia”) would have made my job easier but no, it only made it complicated. I’m sure there are well over 50 (my wild guesstimate) Ethiopian restaurants and shops in D.C., Maryland and Virginia combined. But I certainly haven’t been to all of them. I tend to frequent the same ones that I’m used to or am familiar with. So I narrowed it down to U Street because of its convenient location. First I thought Dukem because it has a nice dining atmosphere and features dancing and cultural performances certain nights a week (I forget which days it is). But I’m not a big fan of Dukem’s lackluster customer service or some of their dishes (mainly the doro wot and any kind of wot they serve there, which all basically taste like cardboard :/) My mom told me a long time ago to never order wot at Ethiopian restaurants, never. And I’ve usually followed that advice, with very few exceptions.

So I wanted to pick a place that would leave my friend and her travel partner with a positive impression and get them pumped up for their trip. I decided on Little Ethiopia restaurant (RIP), owned by famous Ethiopian singer Yehunie Belay and his wife. But when we got there, we found out that it’s now closed! Sad day. I was surprised (sort of). I mean, it has been a while since I’ve been there but probably not more than a year. And each time, there were always very few customers around. But I attributed that to different factors like the times and days I happened to visit.

Little Ethiopia restaurant

But alas, no more Little Ethiopia. I liked the place because of its beautiful and authentic decorations. It had a very unique setup and the waitresses even came with a jug of water and pail so you can wash your hands right there before eating, saving my lazy behind from having to make a trip to the restroom.

One main thing that sparked this whole survey idea is a Dukem review I read on Yelp, written by an Ethiopian:

I agree with her; some non-Ethiopians try our food and fall head over heels in love, which is fine but they also have nothing else to compare it to, like home-cooked, original Ethiopian food. But on the same token, I’ve also seen critical reviews by some who might be ‘foodies‘ or have frequented enough Ethiopian restaurants to make a sound judgment. I just thought it’d be super cool to have reviews and feedback from natives who can provide more balanced and accurate opinions.

So let me know what you think below!

New Video: Tikur Sew

The music video for Tewodros Kassahun’s (Teddy Afro) single ‘Tikur Sew’ (Black Man) is out now. I like it. The sepia/faded hue does its job of setting the antique, warlike theme of the 1896 Battle of Adwa in which Ethiopia defeated Italy, and thus colonization. Obviously Teddy isn’t in the video much, just very briefly in the beginning. Can you imagine what the reaction would be if he played the role of Menelik? By not doing so, I think he successfully asserts his humbleness and pays homage to the victorious emperor. It’s a good way to take himself out of the story, turn the attention away from Teddy the star and depict the intended message.

My favorite part of the song and the video is Empress Taitu’s role:

Kefit hona merachiw nigistu…
She led the way for him…

You know what they say, behind every successful man… :) And as is typical with amateur cinematography, I’m glad they didn’t overdo the gruesome nature of war with excessive and clearly fake blood. The Adwa battle scenes are heroic and poignant.

Enjoy!

Locked Up for Writing, pt. 3

This is the third installment of Locked Up for Writing, in which I highlight stories of African journalists who are silenced and restricted from practicing press freedom in their respective countries. Part 1 featured Fasil Yenealem Agegnehu, part 2 Aaron Berhane and now part 3, Dawit Kebede. The Video Journalism (VJ) Movement, a worldwide collaboration of journalists, went to Addis Ababa to meet Dawit and learn about his work. He says,

Reporting the truth should not get you labeled as an enemy of the state.

I’ve had the pleasure to meet Dawit since he left Ethiopia this past November. His experience has made me realize how much we take journalists and the press for granted in the U.S. Here, all kinds of psychos like Rush Limbaugh, Bill O’Reilly and countless others sound off on their own controversial tangents on a daily basis. But the American government does not label and persecute them as terrorists, enemies of the state, or persons who commit treason. Because they’re not. They’re ordinary people who have something to say about something. A seemingly simple concept right? Not so in the Horn of Africa. Voltaire’s famous quote is appropriate for this context:

I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.

Contrary to his wishes, as we hear in the video, Dawit now lives in exile. He is a stubborn journalist. He applied for a new newspaper license two days after he was released from a 21-month prison sentence. How many people do you know that would do that? Most recently freed prisoners would probably be found sleeping, eating, spending time with family, perhaps shopping for new clothes and all of the things they were deprived of in prison, and just enjoying their new freedom. Dawit’s seemingly simple act speaks to his level of dedication for his craft. In May, he launched the website version of his popular independent newspaper, Awramba Times. He refuses to give up and for that, I believe a lot of people greatly appreciate him, myself included.

Living in exile and living here in a repressive situation, both are the same.