Whom does Eritrea love? Amanuel Asrat or Yohannes Tiquabo

Generals and tyrants love to dance to the loud tunes of cowardice, oozing betrayal, in that circular formation of followers, until their heads loudly spin with inequity, with madness while wail, yes primal wail of utter silence descends and falls on the hills of ‘Eira-Iro.’ 

This installment is not so much about ‘romanticizing Amanuel Asrat’ as it is about ‘de-romanticizing Yohannes Tiquabo.’ Yes, I am young and disillusioned, in case you are wondering. I am disillusioned, very disillusioned about the Yohannes Tiquabo. Oh, it is more than that. 

Hagerey N’menom TefQri? N’Amanuel Asrat d’O weys N’Yohannes Tiquabo? 

I hate Wedi Tiquabo, Yohannes that is. Yes, I hate him and his songs. I didn’t and will not buy his albums. I never, ever danced to his songs since 2001. I never, ever danced to ‘Zemen,’ ‘Erey Kuhlo,’ ‘Ati Demetey’. On numerous occasions, I have abruptly left dance floors whenever one of his songs started to play. Though I am music enthusiast and buff by all accounts, I have not listened fully–or bring myself to listen—to ‘Ati Demetey/ xHdi Lidetey.’ Simply because it evokes in me painful memory, helplessness, seething anger. 

Ati Demetey’ also known as ‘Gaul Hagerey’ was not written by Yohannes Tiquabo. It was written, word by word, stanza by stanza, ‘NaEta N’ NaEta’ by Amanuel Asrat. 

The decorator of that Christmas tree is not the singer. The decorator is in Eira-Iro jail. He is a prisoner since late September 2001. 

Amanuel wrote ‘Ati Demetey.’ So did he write parts of ‘‘Hagerey N’menom Tefqri’, especially its title. I have no concrete evidence for or against ‘Zemen’ and other Wedi- Tiquabo songs but I wouldn’t conclude that they were written by the singer himself, at least in their entirety. 

I knew that Amanuel had known Wedi-Tiqabo since long and that he had given the budding singer a lot of poems for songs. I never met the singer himself until… 

June 1999. Bar Zewdi-China. I met Yohannes Tiquabo (wedi Tiquabo) one Friday evening after we dropped the final version of the next issue of Zemen at the Sabur printing press. At that time, he came to Asmara, slightly wounded in his bottom, from Ginabr Gemhalo after, KaLeay werar. Amanuel, I and Yohannes Wedi-Tiquabo. Obviously, they have not met for more than a year at the very least. It was summer 1999, and ‘Hagerey N’menom Tefqri’ was all the rage. We spent that evening chatting about arts, music, jokes. Yohannes openly confessed in front of me that he took the liberty of changing the lines of one of Amanuel’s poems by the name of ‘Hagerey N’menom Tefqri’ and singing it.  

Amanuel, always gracious (may be too gracious) and kind (may be too kind) was rather visibly flattered. Amanuel asked him what the singer did with the other poems, like ‘Ati Demetey.’ Wedi –Tiquabo answered he was working on them too.  

Later that evening, I complained to Amanuel Asrat that he let Wedi Tiquabo go easily about Hagerey N’menom TefQri. I reminded him that after all he was the original writer of the song. Really, I was very uncomfortable. Amanuel always, egoless, laid-back, generous person, with Bohemian shrug, said that something to this effect. “It is ok..ArkNa EnDyu YeAke!” How many times did I see him sacrifice needlessly at the altar of friendship! He continued he was satisfied just to see Wedi-Tiquabo keep the title, unblemished, untouched. Sensing my concern, he continued which I don’t forget at all. 

“I gave him a couple of others. Bflay ‘Ati Demetey/xHdi Lidetey’. I will wait what he is going to do with that.” He added, “You are going to like it. KitfetWa ika!” 

In 2008, Wedi-Tiquabo had a wild success with the single ‘Ati Demetey.’ He has not mentioned Amanuel Asrat. And I didn’t like it. At all. 

Enaty BeDiLa….Poor Man’s Lamb! 

I distinctly remember ‘Ati Demetey’ because I always liked Amanuel love poems; always a throwback to the old, traditional terms of endearments, ‘demetey’ ‘Brey’ ‘Wuba’ ‘Gamey’ etc. Classically, traditionally beautiful words and women. In free Eritrea, spot me at that conservative crowd of ‘MeshaYiq’ and ‘Abew’, lamenting the erosion of our language, our traditions, and blame it all on ‘Aye deki Lebzemen!’ I love old Tigrigna. Yes, I hate Wedi- Tiquabo.  

Wedi-Tiquabo was and is a talented singer and song writer in himself. We knew he was talented way in mid 90s when he was singing ‘Entay BeDila Uf Meror.’ That was and is not the point. If any, that is a bad consolation. He used the talents of others who are not available when he had his own. Doesn’t that remind one of the slaughterer of his neighbor’s (poor man’s) lone lamb when he had hundreds of his own? David’s sin of greed and hubris. Yohannes’ avarice and betrayal. Yet, Amanuel had and would have multitudes of his own. Soldier Uriah, the Hittite’s martyrdom is not without honor, without future as Poet Amanuel’s life after 2001 is not without honor, without future. And yes… 

Yes, Bathsheba was not as beautiful as Demet. Not even remotely! 

Close friends still know that ‘Ati Demetey Nay wedi Asrat iya!’ I don’t think the signer would deny that categorically when asked point-blank. Then why doesn’t he acknowledge the truth? The most plausible explanation is that he wants to stay away from anything ‘Amanuel Asrat’.  He wouldn’t dare to acknowledge the authorship of that song because the author is ‘traitor’ who is languishing in PFDJ’s infamous Eira-Iro. And for an ambitious careerist, as Yohannes Tiquabo, his career, (sycophancy, for me) is not worth admitting his past personal friendship and work relationship with Amanuel Asrat. Not when, as we have learned, Eritrea’s ‘il capo, il Presidente’ himself has taken a personal liking, a knighthood of sorts to the young ‘Nay kinet deRafay.’ When you ingratiate yourself with Ali Abdus and the Eritrean Czar himself, Issayas Afewerki, old friends seems to have little appeal for you. Some of my friends, when we talked about this, would understand—even sound to sympathize—with Yohannes’ ‘dilemma’.  

My answer: Oh! Does he have to sing Amanuel’s poems/songs in the first place? Why doesn’t he slaughter one of his own fatted calves—after all the feast is all for the glory of ‘ReEsi MirAqs’ and wannabe ‘ReEsi Bihier’? Generals and tyrants love to dance to the loud tunes of cowardice, oozing betrayal, in that circular formation of followers, until their heads loudly spin with inequity, with madness while wail, yes primal wail of utter silence descends and falls on the hills of ‘Eira-Iro.’   

Whom does Eritrea love? Hagery! Ala Eretra! 

Few remember circular dances may also mean what goes around, comes around. ‘Zemen Teqeyari Wedi Seb haLafi Yikun Ember/ Tarik wedi-Seb iyu Z’nbeb zitseHaf Ab Geber’ Time passes. People too pas. People’s history lives on to be read. Whose history? Amanuel’s or Yohannes’s? 

There is no question about my feelings. For me there is something scandalous and outright criminal in Yohannes Tiquabo’s mischievousness especially, to ‘Ati Demetey.’   As an artist who knows what it takes to produce works of art, as a legally-trained person who understands the seriousness of copyright, as a friend of the wronged poet and most importantly, and most painfully, as one of the few witnesses to the truth behind Wedi-Tiqabo songs, I remain deeply unsettled, about the songs, especially ‘Ati Demetey.’  

It is nauseating for me to see people dance to this song, crediting and heaping a praise on wedi-Tiqabo, unbeknownst and completely oblivious of the true owner of the song writing. I feel like a lone witness in the cacophony of the ‘Gwyala-minded’ suckers! Whenever I tell them the truth, few believe me, I can tell. That saddens me; but doesn’t deter me. Oh, when I try to extrapolate the feelings of ELF fighters who knew Issayas was up to no good, say since 1967 and have been telling us for 40 years, I can’t begin to imagine where that extrapolation would take me.  

I, can at least, tell the readers of this article: that Amanuel Asrat wrote many songs for Wedi-Tiquabo. And that I can personally vouch him for ‘Demetey’ and as original writer of ‘Hagerey N’menom Tefqri?’    

Truth! How simple it is! How hard! One day…May be one day… 

Yigermena aLo….MaraS’ke! 

Truth be told, song theft and copyright issues have bedeviled Eritrea music scene for long. Osman’ complained and sung ‘Ayfalikin GirHinety’ they say after Alamin got away with ‘Tsebi Tsom.’ And Alamin apologized with ‘Selam Kibleki Selam Fikedly!’ I guess that went well. Both inspiring each other. Sami Berhane (vocally, the best in my opinion) swindled Osman (why is Osman always targeted by the way?) in ‘Sigir Bietna’ and apologized publicly only in an amazing feat, he, Sami, obfuscated, rewritten poems of Beyene Hailemariam. The later was a prisoner of ‘Alem Bekagn’ when he offered his poems to Sami. Sounds eerily familiar! How can one forget ‘Weynaye Weynay?’ In his interview with ‘Tsigenay’, Beyene had memorable quote about his poems, being altered and slaughtered by Sami. “When my daughter sings Sami’s songs, it hurts to see that she doesn’t even know her father actually wrote them.’       

Amanuel has no kids. He has parents, family members and friends. Wedi Tiquabo’s theft is worse because he damn sure knows Amanuel is not amongst us to claim his property. It hurts to see that. That is why I hate Yohannes Tiquabo. And his songs. 

Actually ‘Ati Demetey’ is medium of the message. The message is graver, sadder, pernicious. I have the habit of arguing that few people of my generation, the younger one, have professed their love to PFDJ. We have tasted PFDJ’s rule and it was very bitter. Our generation despises and hates PFDJ. That, given leadership, inspiration, and organization, we will claim Eritrea back. We only need leaders, models, artists. Yohannes Tiquabo plainly embarrasses us. Oh! with distinction. YigermeNa Alo!   

Remember when it was rumored he asked asylum in Sweden, he came back roaring with platitudes, arrogant threats against the opposition websites. “B’Hgi KeHtetU iyom!” Sounds familiar? The powers-to-be of Eritrea routinely and absurdly flash the word ‘law, Higi’ when they don’t even realize how many laws (H’gitat) they have transgressed. Huh!..B’hgiHow about the copy right ‘Higi?’Misrepresentation? In the lap of PFDJ, I guess, the kid is a quick learner.   

Ame’na! Ame’na Bzuh iyu GebenKa! 

‘Talkin’ ‘Bout My generation: From Zur Qichin to Yimernalo!  

The greatest transgression of Wedi-Tiquabo was what he did and what he is doing to his own generation. At every occasion, he is shamelessly flirting with current Eritrea’s tormentors, conveniently forgetting the untold sorrow they inflicted on the nation and his generation, the Sawa generation. Instead of using his talents for the noble cause of justice, instead of becoming the chronicler of the intimate trials of this unlucky generation, Yohannes betrayed us. He chose to sing for the powerful, than find words and ‘ZieMa’ to the atrocities of Adi Abieto, Gelaelo, Sahara, Misrata and the Mediterranean. He chose Ali Abdu instead of Amanuel Asrat. He betrayed us. Ab Mintayu Haylu? Ab Tilmetu! 

No Eritrean generation has lost its way than my generation. From June 1994 to June 2009. From ‘Qedamay Zur’ to I don’t know what ‘Zur’ the last batch was. From ‘Zur Qichin’ to ‘Zur YimernaLo’. Burdened with the nearly impossible task of reconstituting an Eritrea from completely muddied waters, given little respect everywhere it turns, handicapped with its intrinsic lack of political maturity and weak sense of self, living in an era of globalized, individualized values, looking desperately for Che Gueveras and Yemane Barias, bedeviled with the sheer burden of history (and its poverty), Hurled into very crowded political sphere where locating its niche proves quite a daunting task, provided with the possibly the only option of saving Eritrea is through a barrel of a gun (this time against its own brothers), the Sawa generation more than anything needed guideposts, models, inspirations, Barias.  

Yohannes (who hailed from the famous ‘Qedmay zur’, ‘zur-Qichin’, as they fondly, solipsistic-ally call themselves) should have been the perfect spokesperson of our generation. He had talents, ambition, and he had enough experience to tell it all like it is. He had seen the ordeals of ‘Warsays,’ the fates of his close friends like Amanuel Asrat, and Zemenfes Haile. Yet… 

Yet…he became the antithesis of what we needed and the surprise lucky break for PFDJ. He signs hymn for the land when the people living in that land are perishing from hunger for food, worse for justice. He confuses, conflates, the state and the government as he is the poster boy of the warped PFDJ version of Eritrea. Blinded himself with undeserving adulation, he grows up to be the thorn for Eritrea and the young generation. Self- preservation, self-advancement superseding your historic call and responsibility! 

Ab Mintayu HayLu M’s BeLuni…Ab Kihdetu ILeyom Mesiluni! MesiluNi Aykonen Haqey Neyre Kihdetu Endyu geneRalat zeserasere! 

I can’t help but refer to a bit of a precedent here. His father, Ato Tiquabo Weldemariam after his memorable songs of the old, had few glitches. During the Dergue, he had sung  ‘IsePa Enbaba’ in praise of the then powers-to-be. Did that fig fruit (no, no, no, it is not an apple, the shame- the ‘hinket’– is fig,) fall far from the tree?  

Finally, I would like to go back to the query of both, Amanuel and Yohannes, and now mine too: ‘Hagerey N’menom TefQri?’ According to Yohannes Tiquabo, the answer is Eritrea loves most the patriot. ‘Jigna Iya tefqir SemiE’ because he fought and died for its existence. I beg to disagree. Eritrea is our nation, our mother. She loves its citizens equally.  

The question is not whom does Eritrea love but who loves Eritrea most?  Hagerey N’menom TefQri?’ZeyKones Hagerey MeniOm AfQiruqi?  

Yes, who loved Eritrea most? 

The singer Yohannes Tiquabo or the jailed journalist Amanuel Asrat?


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