Meet the Ethiopian girls who refuse to be silenced (video)
October 29, 2013
On the stage, Ethiopia’s first girl band, Yegna, performed their hit single Abet with the crowd singing with them: “We are here, we will not be silenced.” Photograph: Girl Effect
In the small town of Akaki, 20km south of Addis Ababa, an overgrown stadium was transformed into a sea of thousands of girls, all dressed in brightly coloured t-shirts. All of them were part of something that had never been done before.
On the stage, Ethiopia’s first girl band, Yegna performed their hit single Abet with the crowd singing with them: “We are here, we will not be silenced.”
At the entrance, groups of men and boys looked on as hundreds of girls in the priority queue walked in ahead of them. The VIP area, usually reserved for members of the government, was this time set aside for teenage girls.
“Everything is amazing,” said 14-year-old Rebkah who had walked from the nearby town Kaliti. “I got a ticket through my school and I’ve never been to a concert before. I came here with my sister, mother and my brothers. The songs all sound really beautiful.”
This was one of two Yegna concerts arranged by Girl Hub – held in Akaki and Bahir Dar – to mark International Day of the Girl earlier this month. The shows also celebrated series two of the Yegna radio drama and talk show, which launched last Sunday. Flyers and posters advertised that everyone was welcome, but in order to get a ticket, concert goers had to ‘be a girl or bring a girl’.
Yegna actress and band member Teref Kassahun Tsegaye, who plays Melat in the drama, said: “These concerts are about celebrating every daughter, sister and mother in Ethiopia. I’m so excited to be singing our songs in front of thousands of girls and I hope they will be inspired by our message.”
Promoters of the concert rode Yegna-decorated mules, three-wheeled bajajas and motorbikes, to remote areas around the two towns. They targeted schools, youth clubs, women’s associations and villages within a 5km radius of the events.
“When I explained to people that this was a celebration of Ethiopian girls they loved it, because there is nothing for girls here,” said 23-year-old Helen Kedir, who was part of the promotional team in Bahir Dar.
“We even started distributing tickets in our free time because we really wanted this to be a success. By the end, everyone was asking me for a ticket wherever I went.”
Yegna has fast become a pop sensation since its launch in April. Thirty-five buses carrying Yegna ambassadors travelled through Ethiopia’s rural Amhara region on the way to the Bahir Dar concert.
They stopped in communities along the way handing out posters, painting schools and hospitals. They danced in the street to raise awareness of Yegna and leave some of its magic behind.
“We’ve been overwhelmed by people’s reactions. I’ve been handing out grain bags with Yegna’s logo on them and everyone’s been rushing over to take one and ask about the radio show,” said 22-year-old student Gezahegn Getaye.
As the concert came to a close in Akaki, the girls on stage took in the applause, smiling and slightly overwhelmed by the response.
“Events like this don’t happen for girls in Ethiopia,” said 26-year-old Eleni, who works as a housemaid in Addis Ababa. “Seeing Yegna is something I will remember forever. I like Mimi, but they all feel like my friends.”
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posted by Daniel tesfaye