Interview with Tesfay “Fihira” Mehari

Posted: July 26, 2008 in Uncategorized

Tell us something about your childhood? How did you aspire to become a singer, and what was your ambition while young? 


My father was a policeman. My life was spent in modest style. I grew up with much contact with musicians and singers. I believe this helped to promote my hidden talents as a singer. I always wanted and prayed hard to be a musician. And thank God I realized my dream. 

What profession are you in besides singing? Are you married? Any children? 
I am a full time or professional singer. I make my living from it. I am happily married. I hope to continue so, too. And I have five children. 
People say that you have been married too many times? 
Artists are victims of gossip. But really I was married while in the field. I had a son form my former wife Temerxa, called Shiden. People know him because I sang about him. Unfortunately he died of illness. Later I was married to Adiam, but the marriage did not work out. Now I am married to Ms. Aster Fessaheye. We have five children and we are happy. 
Your children’s names and ages? 
The eldest, Haren, is aged 12. The rest four, are two years apart. Their names are; Danay, Elshadit, Delina, Sesina. 
What future career do you want for your children? 
I have many wishes for them. But I think I should leave that to their own desires and potentials, so as not to be a constraint for them. 
How do you think should a singer/musician behave? 
Fihira: My wife Aster, is here. She can answer you. 
Ms. Aster [Fihira’s Wife]:  Strange enough, I’m not a music lover. On this issue, we are opposites with Tesfay. I know all the nature and problems facing a singer’s life. So, I believe that mutual trust is the basic ingredient here. I trust my husband. But let me tell you we do have many problems. For example, somebody phones our home and says: “Please, let me talk to Tesfay. He had a date with me and did not keep it. ” I tell them, “OK, I’ll tell him and he’ll come.” Some girls slip letters into our home. Telephone calls are continuous. Nowadays they have stopped calling because they have given up hope. They used to disturb me through this and other means. So back to your question: If there’s trust and the wife understands the nature of the job, she can face the challenges and overcome. So all of us, wives of artists, must be steadfast and trustworthy. And the singers need to be strong and faithful to their marriage vows. They must face all the challenges that arise. 
Tesfay, what must be the role and nature of a singer’s wife? (In relation to his late working hours, trips, and the drinks offered him, etc.) 
I want to add to what Aster said. Because of the nature of their work, singers have direct relationship with the public. They work late hours, travel a lot and the public adores them. They are always surrounded by admirers. It may vary from one individual to the other, but mostly the singer is forced to drink in order to please the public (admirers) who invite him and buy him/her drinks. As everyone knows artists are the focus and get the attention of everyone. If an artist makes even a small mistake, it is magnified everyone talks abut it. 
Let me give you an example. Once, Habte Wedi-Shawl had a small accident on his leg around the Cathedral area, Asmara. While his foot was still being treated (dressed,) the news traveled around a lot. Some in May-temenay heard that Wedi-Shawl had hurt his foot. Then, when he heard the news, he said: “Oh, how fast gossip travels. While I haven’t still risen form the place I was hurt at, in the Cathedral area, people in May-temenay heard about my treatment! ” I bring this in order to show: how fast gossip concerning artists, travels about. I urge the public to protect and embrace the artists. 
Now to answer the question: The artist’s wife is his partner. She should understand the nature of his job. She needs to enhance her trust, be mature, defy all gossip and heresy, encourage and support him, in order to help her husband become a better artist and person. This helps not only the individual singer but the national art. On the other hand, we singers/artists, starting from myself, must not abuse alcohol. We must learn to entertain ourselves and socialize by avoiding hard alcoholic drinks. We must resist the temptation of trying to please the public which offers you alcoholic drinks at the cost of your health and sobriety. 
Tell us about your feeling in your first stage appearance? 
My first appearance where I realized my long-time dream was in a town called Korbaria. It was during the liberation struggle (Revolution or Gedli) era. I can’t express my feeling at that time. 
What musical instruments can you play? And how useful is this ability to a singer? 
I play the “Kirar.” And the drums, but I haven’t followed these skills regularly. I can also use the guitar and organ (key-board) for writing melodies or tunes. We all took lessons on music notes. But since we did not follow it up and deepen it we couldn’t continue writing music using musical notes. I hope and plan to continue my musical note studies. May God help me! Its usefulness to singer is very clear. It enables him/her to become a professional musician. 
What is your observation concerning the discipline and progress of our artists? 
There are many artists who are well-disciplined, respect their colleagues and who are modest. But these comprise only a tenth of the total. But in my view, most of the musicians are ill-disciplined, don’t evaluate themselves properly, don’t respect people, and proper working hours, are show-offs, talk too much, and don’t work to improve themselves. 
What is your opinion regarding the patriotic sensitization (promotion) conducted by artists in comparison with that done the past? And how should it be? 
When you see it in relation to the time and the situation, the patriotic sensitization conducted by artists in the past was very powerful. During the armed struggle, our Front did not use powerful cannons and advanced weapons to fight against those deployed by the enemy. The only asset of our revolution was political consciousness. This enabled us to face all those huge challenges and win. I think the role of the artist in enhancing this patriotic consciousness and expressing the reality artistically was commendable. 
Even today, artists are working hard in this area. Many artists are rising and developing and producing much highly valuable artistic works. The difference, is today’s products are, unlike of the past, soon forgotten. The old products continue for a long time. So we must all work hard to produce works, like in the past that are universal and immortal. 
What in you opinion is the current role and contribution of our singers/artists in keeping up our cultural values? 
Before we speak about the singers/artists, first let us talk about the people in general. With all honesty our people have a great history of national liberation struggle. They have fought for justice and liberation and won. They are patriotic, honest and modest. They fought against all high odds for the sake of truth and justice. We artists are, naturally, the mirrors of the people. So, must not only march along side the public, but become its guiding force. We must play a leading role in enhancing, maintaining and passing along of the cultural values. 
But here arises the question: Are we up to this task? I’m not so sure. The challenges in today’s world are high. So we must work hard in order to face and overcome them? 
What do you have to say about the negative values or taboo that we have to combat as a nation? 
We need to avoid pretension, trying to be someone else, and looking down on others, to take yourself too seriously and show off. We need to respect professionalism and avoid disrespecting the profession. Others are gossiping, jealousy, instead of fighting them, following the negative values for personal gains. I believe everybody, including me, should avoid these bad traits. 
How do you define the cooperation among you, artists? 
There is a little cooperation. But I want to add to what Helen Melles said earlier in her interview with this magazine. I believe these traits like jealousy, pretension, trying to outdo others through gossip and defamation are becoming common. 
Do you have people helping you in writing music (lyrics and melody)? 
Up to now I have been writing my own material. But I have learned from experience that I need help from others and must help others. For example my work, “Ambasader” was sung by Estifanos Abraham (Zemach.) I did Yemane’s work, “Ferihelki,” and the result was good. So I believe that the change of style and cooperation is necessary. 
What is the role of musicians? And which musicians do you admire? Do you like traditional or modern music in your work? 
I believe that musicians should be trained in scientific means by professionals in their field. I respect those kind. I am not talking about those who sing in nightclubs and wedding ceremonies. We have some professionals who can teach us music. But these people, who can help the artists a lot, are currently only limited to teaching children to certain level. 
Recently a seminar workshop was conducted entitled, “Our music and its direction.” Many artists presented much constructive ideas during the seminar. I hope we may see the results. The role of properly trained musicians in the development of songs is clear and positive. 
I admire Luigi, Efrem, Abdella, Tesfamariam, Kaleb, Yemane Kidane and others that I did not mention here. I wish them great success and development, so they can improve our musical culture highly. 
I like all music, traditional and modern. I only need to work and continue my efforts to improve. 
When is your [next] album going to be released? I think you are late. 
Yes, you are right. I had already written and prepared a cassette. I sold the distribution rights to someone. They are late in distribution for some unknown technical reason. So I am just waiting for them. If they’re too tardy, I’ll just go ahead and prepare another cassette. The title is, “Desiet lebi” (island in the heart). It’s a love song. As for the rest of the songs, the content of the lyrics is half romance and half patriotic. 
How do you find the condition of music in the country? How do you see the lyrics (in songs)? Which is more important in a song, the melody or the words (lyric)? 
My ideas are similar to the evaluation given in the recent seminar concerning the situation of music in the country. Regarding our lyrics, except for those presented during the national holidays, most of the songs produced individually deal mostly with love/romance. Although singing about love is good, we should also focus on the other issues in our life and country, such as nation, identity, etc. I believe both sides of the song, the melody and the lyrics contribute to the song’s power and beauty. 
What is the meaning of music to you? And do practice for the dance part in your stage presentation? 
For me music is everything, love, happiness, struggle, success, steadfastness, etc. It is the reflection of life’s secret. In the past I used to practice for my stage appearances in front of the mirror. Not anymore. 
What type of character do you have? 
I feel uncomfortable talking about myself, because I am modest. I like truth and honesty, and do not like to annoy or harm others. I hate credit (loans), so if I owe somebody some money, I feel restless until I’ve returned that money. I feel very angry when someone harms or exploits me. I think that’s enough. 
Have you written songs based on your true life experiences? 
All my songs written during the revolution, war, struggle, the hardship, etc. are based on real experiences about the struggle. All my love songs are also based on my true life experiences. I hope to write my love experiences in a book in the future, because they area so many. We do not have the time to go into them. I have been very unlucky in love. 
How do you spend most of your time? 
I am a family man responsible for all my kids, wife and others. So, most of my time is taken by family affairs. Things like taking the kids to school and back, etc. I like reading newspapers, and Tigrinya novels. I also enjoy watching Eritrean (Tigrinya, etc.) films with my family over the week-ends regularly. When I get the time I prepare songs (lyrics, etc.). But when I travel abroad I have more time and privacy for my creative musical work. 
Any last advice to the youth concerning HIV/AIDS? 
Yes. We have to see and realize the times we are living in, is very challenging. The youth should avoid alcohol because it is misleading them to tragedy. They must also abstain from pre-marital sex. Please be careful. Even if those who have HIV, should not be demoralized but must carry on to lead a long life through care and support.

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