Born in Gamo Gofa in the southern part of Ethiopia, Asgegnew Ashko accidentally became a singer while presenting a poem in an event held in Wolaita. Soon after realizing his skills, he was lucky enough to win the hearts of many Ethiopians living in the country and abroad. He has been able to garner more than 12 million views from his eight songs listed on YouTube and present his works in more than 15 countries and three continents. EBR’s Kiya Ali sat down with the 28-year-old singer to learn what makes him unique.
Six years ago, Asgegnew Ashko, 28, was leading a regular life in Wolayata located 313km away from Addis Ababa. Working as an accountant in a pharmaceutical supplying firm and earning a salary of ETB700 (USD24), Asgegnew never thought for a second that he had the potential of a singer. But when he participated in an event, organized by several NGOs working on HIV/AIDS and family planning in 2013, his life changed.
While performing at the event, he caught the attention of Shewagegnew Samuel, a composer, who made him aware of his talent. Despite being made aware of it, he was hesitant to accept it as a reality. “No one had helped me find myself in the music industry before Shewagegnew,” he recalls.
It was five years ago that Asgegnew, also known for his constant lit smile, found his place in the music industry and is now one of the most celebrated singers from the southern part of Ethiopia. To date, he has released eight singles that have helped him garner more than 12 million views on YouTube and participate in internationally acclaimed events, including Coke Africa where he represented Ethiopia. His song, dubbed Yadisse, is one of the most popular Ethiopian songs on YouTube viewed more than four million times.
Born in Chiba Chamo town in Gamo Gofa Zone, Asgegnew is the fourth child in his family. He has had his fair share of tragedies during his childhood. He lost his father while he was a grade five student. “That is certainly the most shocking and difficult moment of my life,” he says. When his father, who was a truck driver and breadwinner of the family, passed away, his mother struggled to feed him and his six siblings.
“We were forced to move to another place in Welaita Sodo to get help from relative,” Asgegnew says.
Despite the situation, Asgegnew struggled to overcome poverty by using education as a critical key. In elementary school, he was a top-scoring student with very good results, but along with his education, he was required to generate an income to help his family. “I was expected to work part time as a shoeshine boy and sell sugarcane,” Asgegnew remembers.
Things got worse after completing elementary school. Forced to lead his life on the street since he did not want to be an additional burden to his family. This, however, did not break him and he continued to give attention to his education. His dedication paid off later as Asgegnew managed to complete his degree in accounting from Wolayita Technical and Vocation Training Center and got a job at a pharmaceutical supplying company soon after. He later quit the job to become a singer.
Before fully immersing in the music industry, Asgegnew initially made remakes of songs by globally renowned artists, such as Akon, P-Square, and May-D in a way that fit local audiences. But after engaging in the music industry fully, he chose to come up with original content. A decision that did not leave him disappointed.
Within a short period of time, Asgegnew’s first song, Dendasho, captured the hearts and souls of the public, slipping from the mouths of many Ethiopians with different backgrounds and age easily. After winning the hearts of many, he travelled to 15 different countries for concerts, which enabled him to earn between USD3500 and USD5000 per stage. Asgegnew also appeared on the fifth season of Coke Studio Africa in 2017 pairing with Ugandan popular singer and dancer, Sheebah Karungi.
He has a strong desire to promote authentic Ethiopian traditional music. He believes the music from the southern part of the country is similar to the music common in most African countries. Yet, unlike other African countries, this particular type of Ethiopian music has not been further developed.
For Asgegnew, lack of cooperation among musicians is the major problem that hinders the growth of Ethiopian music. “Mostly, popular musicians neither share experiences nor support junior artists. Sometimes, they even push back amateur artists who have great talent and potential,” he explains.
He is also disappointed by his generation. “Our generation is more attracted to western civilization than the indigenous tradition. They drop their own and struggle to pick up other’s culture,” he says. “Ethiopian youth must embrace indigenous songs rather than being attracted to the western style of songs.”
Yet, the most challenging problem for the music industry is the lack of investors’ interest, according to Asgegnew. “Although it is an industry that could potentially make the artist and investors wealthy, its benefits are overlooked, if not, abandoned.”
Copyright infringement is the other hindrance that limits the growth of the music industry according to Asgegnew. Even for a famous musician like him, this is a survival issue. Although he has 40 completed songs in hand, the release date of his album keeps on being postponed based on the fear of copyright infringement. “It is very irritating to see your work, which is produced with a lot of effort, stolen and appearing on everyone phones for free while you get zero benefits.”
However, it seems for the moment that Asgegnew has no choice but to face the reality. “I am going to release my album no matter what,” he says.
Meanwhile, Asgegnew opened a YouTube channel to upload his work and promote his future albums, which will contain songs based on different languages, including Amharic, Tigrigna, Oromifa, Sidama and Gamo.
Asgegnew also plans to be involved in investment, learning from experiences of many artists who fall into financial problems after retiring. His plan is to have his own business soon.
Beyond his professional life, the near future holds something different for Asgegnew. “I plan to get married to my fiancée very soon.”
8th Year • Sep.16 – Oct.15 2019 • No. 78