Saxophonist and vocalist, Abate Barihun, is an outstanding musician and all-round human being. He fronts the popular Tesfa band, following in Getish Mamo's great footsteps (one of Ethiopia's top vocalists to date). With a joint performance paying homage to Mamo at the 8th annual Hullegeb festival this December, we found five minutes in Barihun's busy schedule to catch up before the festival kicks off.
What makes you nostalgic for home?
My home is Israel. My dream was always to reach Jerusalem and now that I have arrived home, my dream has come true.
Where can you find a slice of Ethiopia in Israel?
I work in Israel with keisim and when I visit the synagogue, the prayers there make me feel like I am back in Ethiopia. If I close my eyes, I imagine the synagogue hut in our village.
How do you keep your Ethiopian roots alive?
For 8 years, I have been incorporating Ethiopian modes into Israeli music. I compose 'piyyutim' [Jewish liturgical poems] in these modes.
Tell us about your projects.
The Tezeta Ensemble, of which I am musical director, was established by the Confederation House. I also direct the Tesfa Ensemble, which travels to various locations. What is special about the ensembles I have mentioned is that young Ethiopians and Israelis play together and learn each others' cultures. This year, we're opening for the Hullegeb Festival, together with Getish Mamo.
Wow, exciting. How'd it all start?
I began at the Confederation House 15 years ago and they have enabled us to grow. We developed several projects and later established the Hullegeb Theater Ensemble and an entire festival, the Hullegeb Israeli-Ethiopian Cultural Festival, which presents Ethiopian culture in the fields of music, theater and dance.
The Eighth Hullegeb Israeli-Ethiopian Arts Festival takes place from Dec 7-13 at Jerusalem's Confederation House.