Tewodros Terefe is a comic, a poet, a musician and a bar manager all rolled into one. He keeps his customers laughing as the drinks flow, using nothing but a masinko and his razor-sharp wit.

By Jacey Fortin |

I am an azmari (singer and musician), so my job is to make people happy. I love it.  I usually work from 9pm until about 4am, depending on how long the customers stay, then I sleep until the afternoon

I perform songs all night, and they have to be funny and new. Sometimes I do a little preparation if I know who will be in the audience, but usually it’s all ad-libbed.

If there is a couple in the bar, I might tell the man his girlfriend is too good-looking for him. Or if there is a single man, I might make fun of him because he doesn’t have a wife.

Sometimes people get angry at my jokes, but I can always smooth it over by singing something a little nicer. It’s an important job because it’s got a lot of history and it’s central to our culture.

It goes back to Yared, a musician who lived in the sixth century and is now a saint in the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. But in the past, this wasn’t always considered an honorable profession.

I’m from the city of Gondar and my parents are farmers there. When I was young and working as a shepherd, my father taught me how to play the masinko, a traditional instrument. It’s like a violin with only one string. I used to make them myself out of wood and horsehair, but now I have them made by professionals. It’s a difficult instrument to play, but as I got better I started touring around the country.

I even went to play once in Juba, South Sudan. I toured for eight years before settling in the capital, Addis Ababa, and I’ve been in the city for a decade now.

My best night ever was when I played for the richest man in Ethiopia, Sheikh Mohammed Al Amoudi. I sang some funny songs about how valuable he is, and at the end he tipped us 60,000 birr ($2,965, current currency exchange), which we split between six performers.

The worst night I can remember was when I performed for a crowd of musicians. They were professionals who did modern music. At one point I was so nervous that I couldn’t come up with any lyrics. I froze and just stood there silently. I still get nervous sometimes, but mostly it’s easy.

Profit-share

Now I work seven nights a week at a bar called Elilta Azmari Mishit in a neighborhood called Haya Hulet in Addis. The other performers and I run the business, and we split the profits every month. This bar is profitable and the better we perform, the more money we make.

I’m working on other things too. I’ve recorded some songs for an album, and now I just need sponsors to promote it. It’s difficult to make money that way, but the more prominent I become, the easier it will be.

I’m 32, and I think about getting married. Plenty of women come to the bar, but it’s hard to find the right one. When I eventually have children, I wouldn’t want them to do the same work I do. Working through the night isn’t easy, so I hope they will be well educated and become professionals instead. ●

Source: The Africa Report
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