BY BEREKET KIDANE
Eritrea’s living legend musician, the one and only Bereket Mengisteab (my namesake – hey, if one Bereket is good two is even better right ?;) who has been churning out patriotic songs for nearly half a century has one of its songs from fifteen years ago “Cobra” become a new hit again and a YouTube sensation among Eritreans.
The ageless wonder is still turning out catchy tunes well in his seventies and has the energy of a young man that is still in his prime when performing on stage. He is simply amazing.
In the Sixties and Seventies, Bereket’s patriotic songs about Eritrea were written in coded words that only a native Eritrean could understand. His reference to Eritrea in coded words was done to avoid arrest and torture by the colonial Ethiopian government that had made any reference to Eritrean nationalism in songs or books illegal.
For instance, in his hit song “Meley” that debuted in the early 70s, it is widely known that Bereket was referring to Eritrea when he says, “Tirayeni gobo tekewila…nifas bereka meley sedidela…ata dehandola?” Translated in English, “I can see her from far away, my love, how is she doing? Hey, passerby please say hello to her for me if you happen to see her.”
I have always loved that song Meley. In fact, I have that song on my phone. You can now buy some of Bereket Mengisteab’s oldies from the iTunes store for the low price of 99 cents per song.
Bereket was not the only popular artist of the 60s and early 70s that sang about his love for Eritrea in code words. Most popular artists in Eritrea, in fact, did that. Although that era predates me, I can name several artists who sang about that just from what my parents and uncles have told me over the years. Those artists camouflaged their songs so well that it even went above Tigrayans’ head. During the fight for Eritrea’s independence, tens of thousands of Tigrayans were settled in Eritrea by the Ethiopian government and became informers and guides for the Haile Selassie and Dergue regimes.
It’s my understanding that Bereket later went to the field to join the Eritrean Liberation Front (ELF) and fought for a few years before moving on to live in Saudi Arabia. He immediately returned to Eritrea after it became independent in 1991 and has lived there ever since.
In his song Cobra, however, Bereket doesn’t bother to make any veiled references . He rips into the TPLF, which he calls “Malelit.” Malelit is a Tigrigna acronym for Marxist Leninist League of Tigray. He just lays it on them by telling them, “to go ahead and drink the bitter poison you concocted for Eritrea.” It is a must listen. It’s an obvious reference to TPLF’s hatred and ill will toward the State of Eritrea.
If you are naïve enough to ask what Bereket is referring to when he tells TPLF to go ahead and drink its bitter poisonous concoction for Eritrea, well…where shall we start? As if it wasn’t escorted all the way to Menelik Palace by EPLF tank commanders, Weyane stuck the knife in Eritrea’s back.
Who could forget TPLF’s naked invasion of Eritrea under the pretext of a “border war” and the brutality with which it treated Eritreans living in Ethiopia because it didn’t like the color of their eyes. They were separated from their spouses and children in order to inflict maximum psychological pain and ensure that the families they left behind become destitute and end up on the streets after the loss of their bread winners. They were then made to cross the border into Eritrea by walking through landmines. Some 19,000 young Eritreans from the Warsay generation later died in defense of Eritrea’s sovereignty.
Drunk with the Western aid it received, TPLF openly vowed to break Eritrea’s spinal cord and talked about its desire to turn Eritrea into a Somalia that it can control at will by first passing sanctions to weaken Eritrea’s ability to defend itself and then controlling it militarily. Its ultimate goal was to introduce Ethiopian-style ethnic federalism to break-up Eritrea along ethno-religious lines and make its impossible dream of Greater Tigray with stolen fertile land and access to the sea a reality.
Well, who is in trouble now? What goes around comes around. Just as TPLF brutally mistreated Eritreans living in Ethiopia and illegally stole their homes and businesses, Tigrayans are being hunted down all over Ethiopia with their houses and businesses being burnt to the ground.
Karma is a bitch, as that country song by Brandy Clark has it. Bereket just simply tells the TPLF, “Go ahead and drink your own bitter poisonous concoction. Don’t hesitate. Don’t get cold feet. Drink it.”