Home / Negarit / Scent of Lemon: An Example Of Refined Eritrean Song

Scent of Lemon: An Example Of Refined Eritrean Song

My taste in music is unusual, not many songs please me. My aversion to saxophones is unmatched, but I love wooden instruments, the traditional flute, the Andean reed zambona, fisarmonica, Congo drums, rebaba, and the violin. The saxophone, however, scares me more than the sight of a Black Mamba snake. I wish Eritrean musicians introduce other instruments, the world has many of those and it’s okay to borrow.

I am into folk songs; that is why I tolerate country music, even those with awful lyrics, like “boiled potatoes burned my fingers…” Or the Eritrean version, “entay’eye zgebro n’msheto, karabata ‘ndidelu nay sembetu.”

In my childhood, I was caught listening to James Brown in my father’s shop when my father walked in with Ustaz Mahmoud Mohammed Ali, the famous school director who mocked the song: “James Brown stands on stage and when someone walks in, he asks them, where did you come from?” The person replies, “From California.” Then James Brown asks: “Hey, dib California zellim halet? (Is it raining in California?) The man replies, “yes, heavy rains.”

Then James Brown screams, “Yeah, rain’n in California, yeaaaaaah, yeah. Heavy rain in California. Yeeeeeeeah, baby.”

My father laughed and I was embarrassed to even more. But at the time, considering my limited knowledge of the English language and the difficulty one faced understanding the words of popular songs, such simple lyrics did it for me. Tom Jones sang  “She’s a lady…” but my generation heard it as “Sheeezeley.” And life was easy, and so was the English language.

I would have given up on modern Eritrean songs if not for the likes of Osman Abdulrahim, Ateweberhan Segid, Tekle Tesfazghi, Hussein Mohammed Ali, and of course, Wed Amir… and a few others. However, nothing beats the ease of strumming of the Rababa from Western Eritrea; I rarely find anything to enjoy from the screeching songs that come out of the PFDJ monopoly of the arts.

Then come Wedi Tikabo. I liked his songs, which unfortunately I listened to it in my seclusion. I didn’t like to be caught listening songs that promote the PFDJ regime, in any way. That is history. Yohannes Tikabo liberated me by openly rejecting tyranny. Now I can express my subdued love for his songs.

But before all the other singers, at least in North America, there was Dawit Ephrem, the only free singer who entertained the opposition camp’s functions. Those were the days when two or three dozen of us would sit in an almost empty hall listening to him. Those of you who have the urge to forget, remember that in the beginning there was Dawit Ephrem of Dallas. And I encourage icons like Wedi Tikabo to appreciate and recognize the relentless struggle those erstwhile artists waged single-handed–no financial rewards, no inspiring crowds, and very little recognition. Our nation’s artistic culture grows only by recognizing and encouraging those who sacrificed personal gains for public service. Remember Eyob, Osman and Hussein in Europe–and my “Hsas ldde” brother, Ahmed Abdulrahim!

Back to Wedi Tikabo.

The first time I saw him perform live was at the new year eve party organized by the pro-justice crowd in Oakland. He was an amazing artist. In that party, I really enjoyed myself and was assured that we have come a long way in salvaging our culture. However, there remained a critical distance we have to tread before we arrive at our destination: eradicating the parasitic PFDJ and its vulgar culture and screeching sponsored propaganda songs.

I drafted this Negarit on the first week of 2014 and decided to keep it on pending not to antagonize some people–in fact I deleted almost all the original draft; I do not need to annoy more people. But now, I think it’s time to say a few words about my observations at that “party” because it’s being duplicated elsewhere. I hope no one will be offended; this is supposed to be a call for reflection.

A function organized by the opposition to the PFDJ should not be a copy of the PFDJ culture and style–identical mannerism, colors, and songs. They say, “a few rotten potatoes spoil the soup,” and I am sure there are incidents of ugly sights elsewhere. Pick two-party video clips, one of the  PFDJ camp and another from the Justice seekers’ clips. Pretend you do not know the singers, the crowd or the event. Now see if you can tell them apart! That would only be annoying if it was not outrageous.

Respectable functions have codes that differentiate them from rowdy nightclubs. Our national functions are not occasions for pornographic dancing and a drinking binge, even if we need to have fun, and we need it more than any other people. However,  we need to remember that families avoid rowdy nightclubs not to mingle with social outcasts. Eritrean events should be a dignified family function, just like a wedding party, and the ambiance should be different from that of an alley nightclub, or a PFDJ function.

There are evident behavioral ethics that are observed in wedding parties, including the dress code and ambiance. People enjoy themselves and dance until they are exhausted and drop in their seats as dead bodies. They are elegantly dressed, in their best, maybe a cultural dress, and they show off their dancing skills and smile all night. Everyone is happy and all go home rejuvenated. Unfortunately, neither the parties of the justice seekers nor that of the PFDJ are anything like that.

What’s up with dressing like hookers and gangsters in a party that is supposed to be in support of a national cause? What is with the three-sizes smaller pieces of cloth, boobs hanging out and skirt hem hardly covering panties; and sagging pants that show greasy underwear? Maybe some people are convinced it is the way to look cool, to look modern and civilized. But I am sure there are many stores where one can buy decent clothes, and ways to be decently dressed. No? Maybe not. But I don’t think the parties of justice seekers should look like a scandalous scene from Babylon Square–for the young, Babylon Square was the Asmara version of a Red Light District.

The young might want to go to wild nightclubs, but that is not my concern. I am concerned with the manners of the cheap nightclubs being brought to supposedly “national functions.”

In the Oakland party, Tigisti, one of the MCs, stated, “tonight should be a turning point just like 1988 became a turning point after the defeat of the enemy at the battle of Afabet.”

Do you see anything wrong with that? I don’t. But a young tipsy boy with embarrassingly sagging pants had a different idea: “Kla Gdefenna, 88 ane kheman ayteweledkun nere!” Forget 1988, because he was not even born then! It was all about him. Eritrean history begins with his memory; what he doesn’t remember should be trashed. I was going to engage him, but a visibly intoxicated girl pulled him away to a corner before I could talk to him. I wished he stayed in Sawa or at least in Shimelba some more instead of getting further away without learning the significance of the battle of Afabet. But there is always mercy!

Luckily,  as if to ameliorate the scandal, Wedi Tikabo appeared on the stage to sing GuE Leminey (my lemon scent), an authentic country song, original, unadulterated, fresh flavored Eritrean song… as fresh as “Morning-Water.” What a contrast!

For those who do not understand Tigrinya, GuE Leminey is all about owning our heritage and being proud of it. To me, this song is a rejection and anti-thesis of the PFDJ that has corroded the Eritrean culture. It’s about reviving the pristine tradition that we are losing fast because of the PFDJ monopoly of the arts.

Not knowing the lyrics suck, and I am sure those who do not master the Tigrinya language would appreciate my translation–try to sing it along, you will learn a few words and feel good about your culture–can someone transcribe the lyrics in Tigrinya? Until then, here is the translation, though I have taken the liberty to alter the construction of some words to make it understandable in English. Corrections are welcome.

My Scent of Lemon (The Medicine of The Heart)

Wedi Haile, the pot breaker
I was afraid he will meet you in his rages of anger
I was on guard since down
Afraid he was lurking to get you.

By the meadows, by the grassy fields
Chatting all day long
You showed me what you can do
And you taught me the meaning of love
Oh my fresh barley kernel, while we devoured our passion
As the village girls watched
And they peeked and sang
Taunting me day and night.

Oh, my scent of lemon, take a walk
Come, stay with me by the meadows.
Oh, my scent of lemon, take a walk
Come, stay with me by the streams.

In the crowded tent-party in our village
You surpassed all the veiled dancers.
The youth of the village have seen it all
They enjoyed the night beating the drums.
But it was terrible for me, watching over you all night
I feared kidnappers might snatch you away
When I couldn’t find you in the party
I had a sleepless night searching for you
But as dawn broke
You soothed my heart with a smile
Though I was afraid, it would be detected
And your bright smile might invite jealousy
And other maybe inflicted with what I was
For I know in love caution is lost.

Oh, my scent of lemon, take a walk
Come, stay with me by the meadows.
Oh, my scent of lemon, take a walk
Come, stay with me by the streams.

Yes, by the Meadows…
What am I to do?
My love, what am I to do?
My love, what am I to do?
I’d rather end it believing love is compassion.

Wedi Haile the pot breaker
I was afraid he will meet you in his rages of anger
I was on guard since down
Afraid he was lurking to get you.

In the meadow, by the lash lawns
Chatting all day long
You showed me what you can do
And you taught me the meaning of love
Oh my fresh barley kernel, while we devoured our passion
He has become a hindrance in the middle of our village
Shall I hide and pull a sling on him
Whatever the village people may say.

Oh, my scent of lemon, take a walk
Come, stay with me by the meadows.

Oh, my scent of lemon, take a walk
Stay with me by the streams.

I have my limits and it’s not much
I live by the means I command
Your folks used to honey and butter
Might think I am after a fat dowry
Forty cows and forty young bulls
The lack of which stripes me of my courage
You should pity me
What does my house have but a bedding of hides?
And you know my skin bedding
It’s cold though you say it is cozy
You are what I wish for
Take my name, go ahead and own it
That’s not much of an offer for you
I may split my heart and give you its half.

Oh, my scent of lemon, take a walk
Come, stay with me by the meadows.
Oh, my scent of lemon, take a walk
Come, stay with me by the streams.

Yes, by the Meadows…
What am I to do?
My love, what am I to do?
My love, what am I to do?
I’d rather end it believing love is compassion.

Yohannes Tikabo is a  man who inherited the husky voice of Barry Water and he is a class of his own. He has also inherited the melancholic style of his father, an established artist of his time, and the romantic style of Marvin Gaye. If Jimmy Hendrix was an Eritrean, he would have earned his fame as a Krar player like Yohannes Tikabo, not the guitar. However, Wedi Tikabo is no one but Wedi Tikabo. He is a top-notch artist and he doesn’t need to be reduced to anyone else, not even to the level of Bob Marley.

I am not sure who writes his lyrics, but they are so original, so poetic, and genuinely Eritrean as he sings for his country, for the legacy of the struggle, always remaining true to the Eritrean heroes; I have a feeling they all shake their shoulders, dancing in their graves whenever he sings, and his voice relaxes them. Yes, certainly he moves the dead.

And who was dancing the night away, in Oakland? Peace-loving, justice-loving Eritreans. His supply of energy reached every nerve in the hall; bodies, limbs, heads moved and shook impulsively. His intro words for his next songs, “Gesha Ala ‘mber tet’hulu Ghedli” were so powerful, I could feel the roof of the hall shaking, announcing the presence of a majestic voice. Indeed, the struggle has taken an excursion, it spirit is away. But Wedi Tikabo was needed to give the justice seekers an impetus, and he still needs to give us more. His focus on unity (what we at awate.com call Reconciliation) is so powerful it instantly makes one remember what is at stake. In a traditionally delivered ode, he explained how a seed should not be divided. Of course, a broken seed is not a seed anymore. Divided Eritreans are Eritreans no more.

Wedi Tikabo joining the justice seekers camp heralded the end of the cold years where the opposition elements were in the minority. Not anymore. Free Eritreans will not be harassed, not anymore. The days of looking towards all directions only to find handful persons are gone, now one stands in the center and is overwhelmed by the crowd. The chilling loneliness of the opposition camp is now as warm as ever. This is a reward that we sometimes forget to celebrate. It is payback. I wish the new blood of strugglers would be endowed with wisdom and blessed with a national eye-glasses that see beyond the narrow circle of our comfort. It is time to think about diversity seriously, not in words, but in spirit coupled with deeds.

Finally, I plead to all artists to provide music that would shake even the stone-hearted. To provide music that would motivate the justice seekers, not just dancing music–we have tons of those. And Yohannes Tikabo, I wish he will produce more powerful contemplative lyrics and fewer dance tunes. Music that would help us sharpen our minds and think clearer.

About Saleh "Gadi" Johar

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  • Nitricc

    Hi people. i just watched this clip and i can not help but get a kick out of it. at first, it is kind of boring but if keep watching, it gets interesting. and at 2 minutes mark; i sow something that i never seen before. i never know boobs can erect. wow!! nice!

    anyway; here it is watch it.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aa7IRRKnri8

  • tes

    Dear Awatawyan,

    I found this video clip worth to share.

    As we know the first translated version of Bible was done in Tigrait language in the 18th-19th C after Swedish missionaries reached Eritrea around Gheleb. A strong Christian community exists in Gheleb and Mihlab among the Tigrait speaking people. Gheleb is home for protestants and many early Eritrean intellectuals came from that area. And Mihlab is also equally home to Catholic adherants. The history is very strong but remained silenced because of war and later PFDJ anti free religious practices.

    But now, Eritreans are trying their best to preserve their language and beliefs. I am happy to watch this spiritual song prepared in Tigrait language.

    Parallel to that one of the ancient monastry owned by Orthodox Church is located in near by area. The place is called Debre-Sina Monastry.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?t=107&v=NmHDCGzqixo

    Dear Awatawyan, I am more delighted on the evolution of Tigrait language than the content and for those interested in religious thing, the content might also equally be important.

    @mahmud_saleh:disqus might be interessted on the language part???

    tes

    • Bayan Nagash

      Dear Tes,

      I can’t fathom your inability to see how this can down spiral into the realms of religious contention and proselytizing. Here is what one could do in the name of language. Please disregard the content, one would say and comes right back at you using your own words, Tes, “[Ethiopians] are trying their best to preserve their language and beliefs. I am happy to watch this spiritual song prepared in [Amharic] language.” I am condensing it to the last seven minutes, because the content is not the intent, but the idea of how Amharic language is reaching to a new height. Can you see how absurd my message sounds, and that’s precisely the intent here -:) My timing is impeccable, too, after all, Friday is a Holy Day for adherents of Islam.

      https://youtu.be/X2uWE-Euv9s?t=3269

      • tes

        Dear Bayan Nagash,

        Spending some yrs reading on world religions, I believe on mutual existence of all religions. Religion/belief is a way fo living and to discuss on ways of life is my favorite. And if it went spiral, let it be. There should not be topics that stay out of topic. Here at awate.com, we use the chance to effect what is almost a taboo to discuss. I am ready for all kinds of discussions. And your take is superbe. I love your take Bayan.

        I have this in my mind: religions that respect people’s values and cultures only strive and last longer.

        tes

        • Bayan Nagash

          Dear Tes,

          All I can say to that is: Amen!

          • Hayat Adem

            Tes,
            This guy is really something. Look how he presented colonialism in a funny and silly way poking the eyes of the inheritors without denying them the laughter!

  • Bayan Nagash

    Selam Amanuel Hidrat,

    Since, all underage Awatawyan are fast sleep by now. Tiny bit snippets of inappropriateness I might get away with, heck, even the moderator on the graveyard shift could as well be dozing off. So, let me wrap SGJ’s engaging piece aptly titled “Scent of Lemon…” with Freselam’s penetrating lyrical with the saxophone prominently taking the center stage. The voice, the lyrics, and the music, all combined give this sobering reminder of the fallibility of human condition. The arrangement of melody and the power of its lyrics are so seamless, one could easily conceive a number of remakes of the song barring the poor quality of the sound engineering here and there and the abrupt ending. It appears the song was made for a movie or something.

    So, Aman this is meant a shout-out for those of us who wish to move on to the virtual next door, to the next article, which seems to have arrived in a nick of time for us to find a way out and a way forward in Eritrea’s perilous political condition:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RqiWxSW_dqw

    • Amanuel Hidrat

      Dear Beyan,

      I look forward all of us to exit from the current topic through the “virtual door” ( a way out) to deal on the critical and dangerous Eritrean politics before it becomes out of hand. Thank you for clip.

      regards,
      Amanuel Hidrat

      • Bayan Nagash

        Selamat Aman,

        I may have spoken too soon as the article was pulled from the scene, and I hope I was not hallucinating. I am sure we will find a space here soon to discuss what you and i have in mind.

  • Yoty Topy

    Hello Awate readers,

    Love our music but our jokes? so, so. Judge for yourself. I thought the man was a bit too forward with Trump joke.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vCzZ8hBWuCQ

    • አዲስ

      Hi Yoty,

      Yeah that was funny and getting a mention on the daily show is pretty cool to me 🙂

      Thanks,
      Addis

      • Ted

        Hi, Adis,

        Misplaced, contrived sucking up joke. Let’s hope Donald Trump not get elected;-)
        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kl-mtWVjYAM

        • አዲስ

          Hi Ted,

          Relax. Don’t be a buzz kill. Try to laugh sometimes 🙂 And we don’t hope for Donald Trump not to get elected. We know he’s not going to get elected.

          Thanks,
          Addis

        • Nitricc

          Hi Ted, I don’t think he will be elected; although, don’t undermine, the political IQ of the American people but even if he didn’t win, he will screw every republican candidate.

          • Saleh Johar

            Hi Nitricc,

            Yesterday I remembered you because I discovered the USA delivered 12 fighter planes to Egypt, F16 and I think there will be a second delivery to follow. You wondered why France sold fighters to Egypt. It is like wondering why Ford sells you cars. 🙂

          • Nitricc

            Hi SJ; if you many cares, luxury cars at that and you go out of your way to buy an expensive truck; i am sure, you are going use it to haul something; something like blowing up expensive dams. what else? there no other reason for the Egyptians to acquire Rafale.

          • Saleh Johar

            Nitricc,
            You believe that if you have a war gear you use it? You think the billions of war gear that all the world buys is used or useful? Most of them just rust away in military bases. Acquiring arms doesn’t mean it will be used. I forgot, the USA also gave Egypt Apache helicopters and tons of rocket launchers. I bet you none will be used on Ethiopia as you seem to believe–you eluded and insinuated that. Give that up Nitricc.

          • Ted

            Hi, Nitric, American politics has been on autodrive since the depression. Money makes policies. He won’t get elected but if he does, i won’t be shocked. It would been fun though if he runs against Hilary,then again Jon stewart leaving, it kills the fun and the ” “last hope for bringing some rationality to the 2016 Presidential field.” as New York times put it.

    • Bayan Nagash

      Hello Yoti & Addis,

      Stewart seldom disappoints, too bad he is leaving, if he hasn’t already, the late night show of which he certainly was the king. It might have been a little too forth coming with giving it to Donal Trump. But, there is precedence to this when DT was at the fore front of what they came to be known the “birthers”, who were incessantly badgering for Obama to produce his place of birth. The precedence I am thinking about is Bill Maher poking fun at DT as he compared him to Orangutan. If it weren’t for the profanity the host uses, I would’ve availed it here. So, kudos to the Ethiopian who took his chance at poking fun DT – well deserved one. Obama’s delivery on punchlines is spot on, the man is natural at this.

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r2ww6WJS7Sw

      • Yoty Topy

        Hi Bayan,
        I definitely agree with you that JS is truly once in a generation great comedian. I was thinking of the Ethiopian who seemed a little bit overeager with the comment; ‘We all came from Lucy’ [amounts almost to saying the sun is the center of the solar system] and then followed by the punch line ‘Even DT!’ May be I am just an uptight dude but a joke with the president seems a bit riskAY.:)

        • Hayat Adem

          Hi Yoty Topy,
          The Ethiopian paleontologist you are talking about has a bone of himself on the map of fame. He is not a dude who just walked out of the woods. He, aka, ZerSenai Alemseged, is a worldly celebrated scientist. He may not be as burdened by the presence of the president as you may sound to assume. If you recall, Lucy was touring in the US a while ago. You may also remember the controversyaround her coming here that major museums in the US like the Smithsonian rejected to host Lucy on the principle of treasured original world artifacts should not be exposed to damage or theft when moved out of their original places. I had a chance to watch ZerSenay being interviewed by CNN on the return trip of Lucy. The journalist asked him pointing to the locked briefcase he was chained to, “how do you know this is the original Lucy after years of touring in the US cities considering the sophistication of Americans?”. His answer was, “well, at least, I’m as sophisticated as them!”, So obviously, we are talking about a scientist who hits the upper ceiling in non-political path.

          • Bayan Nagash

            Dear Hayat,

            You stole my sunder. Yoty might be looking at the whole episode through the American racial lens and sensibility in that there are topics that are off limits in the presence of any president of the U.S.and showing a bit more of “overeager[ness]” is quiet normal. The seven billion humans tracing their ancestry to Lucy was an apt characterization that speaks volumes as a counterpoise to the silliness of human beings like Donald Trump who still trumpet bigotry and wear it like it was a badge of honor. Now, in DT’s world it is the Mexican nationals who are on the receiving end of his silly stick, if you will.

            The republicans in general and DT in particular have shown no regard to the executive office once a black president sat on that powerful chair, and they had shown their senseless diatribes, and Donald Trump just epitomizes it; he is a buffoon with a lot of money to burn and one might add he is also a baboon – I do not mean the latter in its literal sense, I mean it in this aspect of its dictionary definition: “a coarse, ridiculous, or brutish person, especially one of low intelligence.” DT is that and more, unfortunately.”

            At any rate, Dr. Asgedom has shown not only his awareness of the global world of politics, his humor was concise and was done with precise acumen and the selection of his punching bag was someone that majority of people would not sympathize with, because anything short of DT would’ve backfired and it would’ve embarrassed President Obama as well. How often does one get this kind of once in a lifetime opportunity to interact with the president of the most powerful country on earth and through that to the world. I think Dr. Asgedom understood that and used it wisely by conveying a larger message to the world about the silliness of racism when we all have come from one source…

          • Yoty Topy

            Hi Hayat & Bayan,

            I have to admit I didn’t know who he was , needless to say great resume! I am probably making way too much of a big fuss about this but even for a man of his caliber, initiating a joke seemed a bit inappropriate. I don’t have a problem with the quality of the joke itself per se.I think the joke was , as Bayan indicated,clean and given the context of election cycle , let’s just say no feelings were hurt during making of this movie. It is rather the issue of STATUS that cought my attention. Is he not elevating himself to the president’s level by doing so ? After all jokes tell a lot about the level of rapport among individuals. I understand it if one responds to a President initiated joke,but even then one is expected to laugh and node:)

            This got to be the weirdest topic ever talked on this forum:)

      • Hayat Adem

        Bayan,

        What you said below in reply to me is so true. How tragic for a human being to cherish the discovery of difference ore than recognizing the oneness. On your sadness about the retirement of Jon, the feeling is well shared, But I have a comforting news and all might be well. The young African guy, Trevor Noah who is rumored to be replacing him has a potential to be as intellectually acute and as humorous.
        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=icLxzQyL_ic

        • Bayan Nagash

          Yes indeed, Hayat.

          TN is quite a talent. I have heard some of his shticks and they have resonating power. Here is one, by far my favorite, where he just nails it down, the timing of delivery, the mimicking of various accents, from English to Indian and from American accent to various African ones; and above all, the messages beneath his comedic acts exhibit depth, zest, and sophistication.

          https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2LQw_J-sbeU