Compiled and researched by Resoum Kidane 31.08.18
Two professional associations, the first known as the Asmara Teachers' Association following the strike the Teachers' Association was banned, its Club closed and its leaders (such as Issayas Tesfai, A bebe Yasin & Tsegai Negash) were briefly arrested, and the other was called Mah'ber Memheyash Hagarawi Limidi ( Association for the Development of National Culture M.M.H.L) was founded in 1957 when its 45 members staged several singing and drama productions in Mendefera and at the Cinema Impero in Asmara ( attended by 3,000. Amine Gebre-Kirstos a participant and worker at the Government Printing Press, along with two other M.M.H.L members were imprisoned and tortured for 3 months following the Asmara show.
In November 1959 the Eritrean flag was replaced by the Ehiopian tricolor, In May 1960 the Eritrean seal of government was abolished and in the same period the name of the Eritrean govenment was changed to that of "Eritrean adminstration" Another change, which also violated the Eritrean Constitutation, was the placement of the Eritrean Minstry of Education under the direct supervision of the Ethiopian Ministry of Education.Ethiopian teachers were transferred to Eritrea to teach Amharic. which had been imperially decreed as a requirment in the curriculum. Teachers wearing army uniforms (apparently to intimidate student) were met with open hostility, which led to the student strikes and demonstrations The impostion of Amharic was further evidence of the Ethiopia's violation of the authonomy granted to Eritreans to conduct their own internal affair.
Furthermore in the early 1960s all the school textbooks and other documents which had been written in Tigrigna were burnt , by the Ethiopian government. Yohannes Zeggai documented it as follows.
“A greater part of the books, together with other documents, were burned in 1963 in the industrial oven of the Matches Factory in Asmara. The same took place at the Ceramic Factory in Asmara. Private collections were also gathered and destroyed in similar fashion” (Negash , p10)
Student demonstrators were imprisoned for four months by the Eritrean Chief of Police,t. Police repression, incarceration and the torture of dissidents nurtured the informal resistance already evident in the main urban centers. In addition to the participation of students and workers, artists and musicians joined the underground conglomerate of radical nationalism.
The ELM politicized civil society through the clandestine production and distribution of literature written in the forbidden Eritrean official languages, which was “avidly sought;" the string of public debates; and the encouragement of songs and poems containing hidden political messages that were listened to in private homes as well as public spaces such as cafes and wedding (Habte Selassie 1989, p47 cited by Kibreab 2008 :150)
Role of The Mahber Teatre Asmara (MTA), a cultural association in the early 1960s
MATA – Asmara 1961
Iyob (1995: 102) also states that in addition to the participation of students and workers, artists and musicians joined the underground conglomerate of radical nationalism. The Mahber Teatre Asmara(MTA), a cultural association, was established in 1961 by singers, composers, poets, and university students returning from the Haile Selassie I university in Addis Ababa. Plays, singers, and stand-up comics satirized the federal scheme and warned against the evils of "alien" cultures. Shigey Habuni, a popular song of the mid-1960s, is an example of the creative nationalism resonanting within the population
The Mahber Teatre Asmara (MTA), a cultural association, was established in 1961, by singers, composers, poets, and unversity students returning from the Haile Selassie I University in Addis Abeba. MTA served as a recruitment center and fund-raise. It is also provided an outlet for the frustrated popopulation. Dismayed at the poor performance of its "formally elected" representatives, Eritreans flocked to the MTA's bi-monthly cultural shows. Plays, singers, and stand-up comics satirized the federal scheme and warned against"alien" cultures. Although the shows were censored by authorities camuflaged the political messages in the intricacies of traditional ballads. In the cultural arena both the news and traditional nationalists were united in their desire to combat Ethiopia hegemony. Shigey Habuni
Intay Gher'e Iye?
Give me my torch
How long can you deceive me
What have I done?
That you deny me my torch?
MTA performances also included traditional folk songs which appealed to the older generation. An excellent example was a new ballad entitled Aslamai'Kistanai, which called upon Moslem and Christian Eritreans to united. It echoed the ELM's program of unity between the two religious groups and reiterated the dangerous of outsite intervention.
Wesi Kola Dega
Moslem and Christian
Lowlander and highlander
To the enemy's counsel
Do not listen
Do not give it value
or you may find yourself [being sold] in the market.
“MaTA” Asmara Theater Association
MATA (Asmara Theatre Association) was created in 1961 until its end in 1974. With Haile Selassie attempting to keep Eritrea under close watch, he made sure all of the scripts were read by Ethiopian’s to make sure there were no hidden political agendas. This did not stop the Eritrean’s from pushing coded messages in support of Liberation and a free nation of Eritrea. When the Derg took over, their ruthless war tactics terrorized (then called) Cinema Asmara, at one point they stormed a play of 2,000 people and one playwright was said to have been shot 24 times and left for dead by Ethiopian soldiers as the Derg did not approve of what was going on in the Theatre in terms of catering to the Eritrean peop source http://www.qienit.com/mata-asmara-theater-association.
Memhr Asres Tessema
Memhr Asres Tessema was one of the founders of the Association of the Asmara Theatre. He composed and arranged many Eritrean songs - 18 songs for Tebereh 1960's-70's Tesfahuney scored her biggest hit in the mid-1960s with “Tegezana Abi Hedmo” – or “Our Lovely House” composed by Memhr Asres Tessema.
Tebereh said;- My most popular song was called "Big Hut". What baffled me was that the Ethiopian government forbid me to sing this song, as well as the song I had written for Letebirhan. We had gone all the way to Addis Ababa with our performances, but because of all the censorship and fear, we couldn't sing some of our songs. From Addis Ababa, we came back through Gonder and Axum, finally returning to Asmara. From there we went down to give a performance in Keren. There, an official named Shambil Ghebremariam gave me permission to sing "Big Hut", which went like this:
Our home, the big hut,
My love has guided me here and there,
Why have you shunned me, Lizbina my brother?
Your letter comes to me, my love, from the wilderness where you are,Written and signed by your pen, my love,
You do not miss me, you do not remember me, you are cruel, my love,I have no other love to wait for, besides you.
Additionally informormation contributed by Habte Teclemariam 15 February 2014
There was a blind guy known as wedi Barbuy who used to play an Italian phisarmonica and was mosltly accompanied by guitar playing ladies whose mother was from Keren. her name was Adey Ilen, and they used to play at a Bar Called Genet, close by the Idage police Station. All those houses around Inda Mariam were mostly owned by Jeberti, Eritreans, who were very active in the trading businesses. Inda Abera, Inda, Birhanu, inda Gonafer were some of the most well lnown businessmen of the time. Since the Bars in Campo di Stato were mostly owned by Italian, the native literati of the time frequented end Siwa, Enda Mes and to some extent in Bars. So every now and then there would be some form of entertainment around the weekends and special holyday occasions. From these backgrouds emerged the varios singers and music lovers of the time and formed MATA. The Municipality of Asmara also had a city Band where people trained to play the various instrments and joined Mata at one time or another. The first basement that they rented was at the Viale Anse Matienzo goin down to Kigane Mihrte opposite the Sedao Building. I remember passing by towars home and spending sometime listening to the musical exercise in early evenings. As an old Asmarino, I knew some of the guys and may have been allowed to stop by and enjoy some emlodies. That was about 60 years ago. ASo I am talking about the very beginnings of the musical enterprises. I reminded Berekhet Menghisteab, lately, that I remembered him workingat a barber shop befor he took to singing in Asmara for a full time enterprise before he moved to Addis Ababa. I also remember when he used to sing at Bars in Adiis Ababa, especially in Piazza in the 1960's.
Wedi Filipo. Girmai Kidane
excrept from Ghirmai Kidane (Wedi Filipo): A multi-talented artist and a political activist
In 1953, Wedi Filipo was the only Eritrean (black) is his batch who was studying in an Italian school. By 1959, he run errands for members of the Eritrean Liberation Movement (ELM)- Mahber Shewate- which he later joined and he participated on their initiative of forming the organization that promoted Eritrean culture and traditions. Some of the colleagues in the ELM, he worked with include Seid Beshir (Gesir), Gilay Girmai, Haile Woldemichael (Haile Gebha), Kiros Yacob (Kiros tzatze).
He indicates that by 1960, members of the ELM wanted to break the monopoly of foreigners in musical bands and to mobilize the people against Ethiopian occupation and so initiated a competition on Eritrean songs through a theater group called ‘Mahber Tewaseoo Degebat' and Tewolde Redda's song ‘Asmeretey' won the first prize. But the organization was later banned by followers of the Unionist Party. Among the persons he was acquainted with in that group were Tekle Adhanom (Tekle huwket), Yohannes Gebrekidan (Gozano) and the Tigrait singer, Jabir Mahmoud.
He states that the famous Eritrean Musical group, Asmara Theatrical Group, ‘Mahber Teater Asmra' was formed in 1961 in a meeting in ‘Piazza Mikele' in the tea shop of Idris and later of Kahsay Michael. He mentions that as he was involved with the ELM in mobilizing the members of the Police and the public and was to participate in the Police Orchestra, he did not participate in the formation of ‘Mahber Teater Asmra' but he contributed through song writing and by giving advice.
The other side of Tedla Ogbit and the Police Orchestra
Girmai recalls that when Brigadier General Tedla Ogbit, the Eritrean Police Chief, fell off with the Ethiopians he planned a coup d'etat. As the ELM was recruiting members of the Police, Tedla Ogbit was approached by Berhanu Ahmeddin and Haj Imam Musa. The importance of establishing the Police Orchestra was found to be important and so Tedla Ogbit formed the Police Orchestra on December 1962 to mobilize the people against Ethiopia and Wedi Filipo was one of those recruited in the Orchestra. Among those who were recruited were also Ali Mohmed (Ya Assina), Younis Ibrahim, Negash Tekie, Mohamed Burhan Atta, Kiflom Abbay and others. He recalls that Tedla Ogbit used to come regularly to Sembel to follow up the rehearsals of the band. Among the songs that were prepared for the agitation were the following:
Greetings from the Police Orchestra – group song
Adaliyuni (help me find…) - Younis Ibrahim
Yiaekel (enough is enough) - group song
Sesinu (flourish) - group song
Those songs started to be aired on radio ‘Voice of Asmara' that was owned by Cavalieri Mohamed. As the radio was broadcast through loud speakers at the grain market, ‘Idaga Ikhli', those songs were well received by the public.
On June 6, 1963, around 4 pm, while he was in a café (in front of Bar Autisti) with Martyr Ibrahim Abdulrahman and Alamin Siraj Omer, two policemen approached him and told me to go to Sembel and deliver his police belongings to the Sembel police station. He left his friends and went to a place where he used to meet General Tedla Ogbit. Tedla told me it was his order. He told Wedi Filipo that the zero hour where the anti-Ethiopia plans would be executed was approaching and he did not want Girmai to bear any responsibility. Tedla told him if his plans failed, he was going to take responsibility for it alone. If the coup succeeded then they would meet again. ,
When the Ethiopians killed General Tedla Ogbit, Wedi Filipo was arrested on June 1963 and taken for interrogation at the police headquarters at AGIP. Present at his interrogation were: a new police chief who was promoted to Brigadier General after Tedla's death, Zere Mariam Azazi; the deputy of Zere Mariam, Colonel Erdatchew, Colonel Reta Demege (who according to Wedi Filipo led the special unit who came to kill Tedla Ogbit from Addis), and Colonel Mohamed Saleh. He was accused of being involved in the Tedla Ogbit revolt. Wedi Filipo recalls clarifying that he came regularly to Tedla's office to ask for the resignation. His explanation was supported by Zere Mariam Azazi and due to that he was not arrested. He was later told to go to Addis to join a musical group. Others from the police Orchestra who were accused to be involved with Tedla Ogbit and sent to Addis were: from the singers, Ali Mohmed (Ya Assina), Younis Ibrahim, Negash Tekie, Mohamed Burhan Atta, Kiflom Abbay and from the musicians Habtemichael Gebremichael, Figadu Andemichael, Yemane Yohannes, and Alto. When they arrived at Kolfe, they were told they were under arrest. They stayed there for six months. Gradually they were allowed to go to Addis for limited hours where he was able to meet some Eritrean political activists there, among them were Tekle Gebremichael (Tekle Eisenhower) who owned a hotel and Ibrahim Suleiman who was a gatekeeper of Football Club Zula and later of Red Sea (Morosso). When they were released in February 1964, he returned back to Asmara.
Being aware of the role of music in political agitation, he was encouraged in 1964 by Berhanu Ahmeddin and the then music teacher (who was blind), Umberto Barboy to recruit young singers to the service of the Eritrean revolution. They used the student scout shows at Comboni, Prince Mekonen school, Itige Memen School. Among the new singers were Tekle tesfazghi, Haile Gebru and Yemane Gebermichael (Baria). To cover up his political activities and to be able to gather information and to recruit young Eritreans, he served in the Naval Base Band (there were Eritrean recruits there) as well as in the 2nd Army's Musical Band. He also played with European musicians in Asmara and was a member of the musical band, ‘Boys'. He recalls it was difficult to be recruited to the Navy from Eritrea as one was checked thoroughly so he was advised to travel to Addis and to get recruited from as the headquarters of the navy was there. He was told to meet some Eritrean activists there who had good relations with the Commander of the Ethiopian navy then, Iskander Desta. Some of those who helped him with recruitment were Tekie Tesfay Kibrom and Biniam Kiflemariam Squar. As he was specifically recruited to form a musical band for the navy, the Massawa administration of the Navy accepted that and around March 1965, a musical band for the navy was established. He recalls that one day he was invited for lunch by Commander Mekonen Abraha (uncle of Isaias Afworki) and Commander Hailemelekot Gebrewold where he was introduced to martyr Ibrahim Affa and were since then friends. He states that his mission at the navy was to create awareness and recruit Eritreans to the national cause
Mata‘a in Addis Abeba In 1968
The famous band,MATAA (Mahber Theater Asmara) Came to Addis Ababa to perform musical shows. Some University students took over the responsibility to organize their lodging and programs for the duration of their stay in Addis Ababa. The band had
a show at the Haile Selassie 1st theatre for the public and another one at the University campus in Sidst Kilo for the University students.
Passing by the road to Piassa,Kidane and I met three University students with the announcement to be hanged (posted) on two poles across the street. One of The students reminded the others that they should first acquire permission from the Municipality before they hang the announcement. Kidane pulled the ladder and climbed to tie it. He did it on the other pole across the street too. We were all Waiting anxiously to hear What he will say.“In such Matters you don’t have to waste your time going through the bureaucracy of the municipality. How would passers by or Even the workers in The municipality know that We have not acquired permission”, he asked: and he was right
By the death of Kidane Kiflu, Eritrea has lost one of her great revolutionary fighters.Free Eritrea and all the true revolutionaries of the struggle salute this indomitable fighter. We shall respect the cause to which Kidane Kiflu devoted all his energies and ultimately
gave his life.
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