Several of my friends who don’t even know Afaan Oromo told me that they like Oromo music. I remember that some of my university classmates used to come to my dormitory to borrow Afaan Oromo cassettes. When I asked them what they liked about it, they gave me different answers: the voice of the singers, the dances, the melody, and etc. When it comes to the songs of Ali Birra, they liked almost everything. We too, like the voice of our singers, their dances, melody, and lyrics.
Above all, we like the message of our singers which is ours as well. Our artists challenge the status quo. They ask why Oromia is a hell for its own people while it is a heaven for cadres of the regime, Arabs, Turks, Chinese, Indians, etc. They challenge the minority rule over the majority. They ask why the Oromo are being displaced from their ancestral lands. They ask why Oromo people are robbed of everything they have. They ask why the logic of majority rule-minority right doesn’t work in Ethiopia. Our artists’ messages also remind us the historical injustices. The show us present agonies and warn us about the dark future as well.
Yes, the voices, dances, and lyrics of our artists’ songs are all beautiful for those who watch them or listen to them. But the beauty of their songs does not come from acting out. Oromo artists don’t act out because they are not trained to act out for there is no Yared Music School for them. Their Yared Music School is their life experiences. For a mom who lost her son to death, her cry cannot be acted out; it is her true uncontrollable emotional expression of the loss. Her eyes can’t even stop the flood of her tears. That is exactly why the Oromo say: Haadha dhala ishii dhabe booyicha hingaafatanii, booyicha hingaafatina.” The analogy perfectly describes Oromo artists and their work.
To call Oromo music “music” is understatement. The voices of our artists are a cry of agony. Their dances are a bodily response to their emotion; it is a means to shake off their stresses. Likewise, to call Oromo signers “singers” is also understatement. Yes, generally music falls under the category of “entertainment,” but our artists are not entertaining anybody. Entertainment is a profitable business—in terms of money, at least—but our artists do not sing for money. For them, a song is an emotional cry; a cry of agony.
In Ethiopia where freedom of expression in general is a political taboo, singing in Afaan Oromo (crying aloud) has been a punishable sin. As a result, many artists have been killed while others are suffering in jail. Those who are not in jail are denied the right to publish and sell their work. So, they are singing “for free.”
However, our artists have never stopped their cry. On the contrary, their number is multiplied and their determination is hardened more than ever. Thankfully, now they are also joined by Oromos from all walks of life and the cry is even growing stronger and stronger. That is what is terrorizing the regime in Ethiopia.