BY BILLION TEMESGHEN
To the youth of the 90’s he is the utmost superstar. After a glamorous journey as a pop singer, he had fallen sick in mid 2000s and has been away in Europe for medical purposes. He returned home for the 26th Independence Day Anniversary; and wow, what an emotional and massive homecoming?! It made him “grateful for his life” in his own words.
With 9 CDs, and an estimated 200 songs, Kahsay is once again working to blow the minds of his fans. Although he won’t be healthy enough for a concert, he promises to put out a new CD.
This is probably one of my most preferred interviews of all times; I know I’ll gain points from the 90’s youth. After all, I am bringing their idol to our page! Due to his weak health, Kahsay had refused any media appearances, but agreed to be a guest on our page. – Thank you so much Kahsay, and… drum rolls please… The 90’s star is back! 90’s youth here is yours truly Kahsay Berhe!
Q : Welcome back home Kahsay
I have been away for 10 years! It feels… I don’t know. I have been dwelling with mixed feelings. But generally I feel grateful and overjoyed to be back home. I love the fact that I celebrated Independence Day with my people. I love my country. I had missed my family, friends and my people. It is good to be back. It feels right.
Q : The hit song of 26 year back
“Those are feelings of my people”. Back then my band Adulis had only been formed and we had just started to perform live in clubs. And then one special Friday in May, we heard gossips of ‘liberation’. It was unbelievable. At that time, I was with my wife, back then a beautiful young girl, also my girlfriend. I walked her home and on our way we saw Ethiopian soldiers running away cowardly and we really didn’t know how to react towards the fact that people who would normally intimidate us were actually running from us.
I am not saying that the people did not expect victory, we were very aware that the freedom wave was very close, but still, we did not rationalize how to accept it.
Anyways, then we saw the freedom fighters storm in the streets of Asmara. They overtook all the roads! And wow… it was a myth. Their afro hair, dirty and little clothes, their massive youthful presence, their speed and their big smiles. They were so young, you know. I don’t know how to explain but it was just epic.
People rushed out of their homes. For days no house was closed. The doors were open. Anyone could go in and fetch whatever you find and give it to the freedom fighters. They looked famished but they’d only eat little. I swear, we were momentarily insane by joy. We kept screaming and running after every freedom fighters. Nobody went home for days. We did not sleep for days. We danced, hugged each other and congratulated one another literally for days.
People would come up with folk songs and dance to them. And it simply went like “I am feeling joy thanks to my hero brother, thanks to my heroine sister” (singing). I decided to go home and turn it to a welcome song. I composed the full melody and put the words of the folk song ‘Yisimaani alo’ (I am feeling) to a full song.
I went to the Ethiopian radio station HQ down town and there I met freedom fighter Isaias Asfaha. Our Dimtsi Hafash had then took over the radio station and was being broadcasted from then. He recorded my song in the studio and immediately broadcasted it. It took the air by storm. It became the anthem of the people. And I adore it and cherish to this day. I consider it my masterpiece even though when viewed in technical aspects it very poor. But hey, that song is the song of my people and sang for days. It is theirs, all theirs. Hence I respect the emotions, joy, tears and cheers that the song holds. It is just extremely meaningful.
Q : Mic check 26 years later
I sang ‘Yisimanaani alo’ again after 26 years. I pretended I had problems with the mic. The microphone was working fine. It was my tears and sobs that chocked me from singing. Twenty six years back, I stood in front of thousands of overjoyed people in the venues of Asmara.
Here I was on the eve of the 24th May in the stage on Harnet Avenue, standing in front, avenue full of people who knew as a young pop start, when I was not more than 23 years old. Also I had stood there resonating heavy emotions of my people 26 years ago.
I held the mic and I didn’t know what to do next. The host introduced me and the cheers were more like roars. I sang the same song I sang 26 years back. My face was swallowing bit by bit. I told myself that it was good to be back home. It is good that year after year our independence attains more value. It is good that every new generation comprehends appreciates the essence of being Eritrea. And last but not least, it is good that I am one of you, one of us.
Towards midnight, fireworks lit the sky and I was standing amongst my people. Singing our anthem of freedom. The sky was so bright, it reminded me of the sky I saw growing up, only that then it was bombs and airstrikes lighting it up.
Q : Gratefulness of a star
“I have lived a meaningful life”. Back stage was a storm. I expected my fans from the 90s; I thought I’d only see people in their late 30s and early 40s. Those I didn’t think I would be that remarkable as an artist. After my emotional performance on the eve, backstage was overly crowded. The people who wanted to take picture with me were mostly young. I saw how they sang emotionally to ‘Yisimaani alo’.
I felt grateful for the fact that even youngsters apprehend and rejoice in its meaning. They were not born in my high-days nor did they live to undergo under the sufferance of suppression and yet they wanted my pictures. They accept me and my works. What more could I ask as an artist? I felt pride and gratitude. I have indeed lived a meaningful life thanks to my fans.
Q : Memoirs, young Kahsay
I was imprisoned when I was 14. An Ethiopian official Tsega Luull Kiros was assassinated. And because we used to come downtown to play football, the whole group was arrested. We were put in Mariam Ghibi and tortured. Because we were young and couldn’t handle the agony of all the beating, electrifying and torture, we all at the end said we actually killed him. What else to do? What could a bunch of junior school students possibly think of any way out?
Anyways from there, we were sentenced to serve time in prison so we moved to Sembel Correctional Center. The prisoners were mostly political prisoners. We were put in cells and every day someone would go missing; every day the soldiers would burst in pick up someone and shot them not far from the cell. You know what’s disgustingly ironic? …
The fact that if you’re lucky, you’d be digging your own grave at noon, and later around 6 in the evening be shot in the head and fall there. Every day it was an agony.
In the cells most of us never really saw each other but we knew each other names as we used to speak laud to each other. I was young and I had nothing to tell; the only thing of heroism I ever did was listen to the radio of EPLF: Dimtsi Hafash.
However, there were a lot of clandestine units’ members, war detainees, people who actually worked with the freedom fighters and parents and families of wanted freedom fighters. And so after our daily torture towards the end of the day, one would have a story to tell. Some stories were of the fields and the freedom fighters’ days, some stories were from the streets of Asmara and all the associations and killings of officials but in general every story had a burning sense of patriotism and ardent desire of freedom. That is where I learned how to live to be an Eritrean.
By the way, I have always loved singing but I learned how to make music in prison. I thought of lyrics that best expressed our happy agony. I say this because although the torture was beyond explainable and most of us were half dead laying on the floor because of the vicious and atrocious beating, they were all happy to be there. They had nothing to regret. Guilty or not, for the simple fact that we are Eritreans, we accepted hell instinctively believing on a near heaven.
My mother came to the prison every day on foot. Indefatigably. For the reason that the main avenues were mostly not allowed for Eritreans to use, she would walk all the way though the periphery for hours to get to where I was. She would go back without seeing me. Visits were not allowed. I keep thinking I was the cause of her death.
I was waiting to be killed but then few of my friends from the soccer team were released. I was one of them.
Q : The local Beatles: Adulis
After I was released, I signed up for art school. I learned everything there is to know about music, how to compose and how to play several instruments. We studied for more than 8 hours a day. My first technically correct song was Adey. It means mom in Tigrigna. I dedicated it to the woman I loved so much but lost so early. The song is of a paramount importance. I met Korchach in London and he told me that every singer would dedicate a song for mothers but none of them has yet over shined my Adey. I was pleased to hear those compliments from a junior.
Back to Adulis. My band was formed after my graduation. Soon after our debut, Eritrea got liberated so we were the only young band in Asmara. Of course, there were many bands but some of them were from the fields and some from abroad.
So Adulis was left with the homework of welcoming the independence era. It was crazy because it was a long season of merry makings. Party all day and all night. Eritreans scattered all over the world were returning in big numbers. The freedom fighters were finally home. And it was just a time of celebrating.
Adulis was the busiest then. We had gigs in every venue 7 days in a week! We had many tours in every corner of the country. We were young and loved. We were on fire.
Q : Live like a rockstar
We were so famous. So much so when much later in time after independence our country was setting foot for National Development and Sawa was established we said that we too as young Eritreans had the duty to serve in the national service. We sang songs that had youthful theme such as that of the 90s youth’s new national venture to Sawa. And we were certain that we had to be part of it.
In December 1997, we enlisted for military service and our departure was scheduled in the Stadium of Asmara. Senior singers gathered for a surprise sendoff. We glad and honored to have them organize a small, homey concert. But guess what? Thousands and thousands of people flocked to the stadium and our farewell was not so humble anymore. It was a massive unplanned prolonged concert. Our fans made that day one of the most memorable. And many youngsters who had no plan of going to Sawa joined us right there on spot. Wow, it was crazy.
Another memory is of when Adulis went to Addis Abeba for a tour. We captured some pigeon outside of Addis and we got them to our concert. The venue was filled with thousands of fans. Ethiopians, Eritreans and whoever. In the middle of our show, we suddenly decided to put the two pigeons for auctions. We said they were feathered friends from the holy and free land of Eritrea. They were sold at 90,000 Birrs, meaning almost 13,000 Dollars! Can you believe it? And we also had regular wine. We said it was from Bologna and Bologna is a historic place, kind of the second home to Eritreans abroad. And again we sold the wine for 37,000 birrs; some 6,000 USD!!!
I don’t know… it was an incredible journey. My band shined every time we’d get on stage.
Q : With the legends
In 1995, I met all of my legends; Yemane Barya and all the starts included. My idols from the fields and senior artists. We all came together for an international tour it was called Hade Bahigina meaning ‘One Desire’. We trained for 40 days closed in resort outside of Asmara. And after heavy trainings, we toured the whole world: Europe, Arab countries, America and Africa. It was massive. Sometimes police of the countries we toured would step in and cut the line; the crowds were huge. Probably one of my grand experiences.
Q : Dear fans …
To young Eritrean artist, keep up the good work but please don’t underestimate your job. Art needs a lot of dedication and commitment. Last but not least, Dear fans, thank you for all of your support throughout all those years. And even my young fans, which have only seen me preform live on the eve of the Independence Day Anniversary, thank you for believing in me. Nothing is good when away from home. But now, I am back and feeling better so I will be working on my new CD.
Thanks, thanks and thanks for everything.