The Masinqo Rockstar
Haddis Alemayehu, better known as Hadinqo, is part of an elite group of masinqo players who have become popular amongst urbanites. With his unique style, Hadinqo has pushed the frontiers of the masinqo further by fusing the traditional with modern music. Hadinqo started playing the traditional single string instrument played by a bow attached on its ends by another string when he was 17. It took him, however, more than a decade of consistent hard work to enjoy the level of recognition he has today. Nowadays, Hadinqo graces the concerts of internationally known Ethiopian musicians such as Mulatu Astatke and Teddy Afro. EBR’s Kiya Ali profiles the 29-year-old Artist.
A popular masinqo player who recently performed at the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize ceremony held to celebrate Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s (PhD.) win, the internationalization of the masinqo is among the top items on Haddis Alemayehu a.k.a Hadinqo’s bucket list. His nick name Hadinqo is a cross between his name Haddis and the musical instrument. “In 2050, the whole world will play the masinqo, just like the guitar,” he remarked.
Named after the most famous Ethiopian author, Haddis was born in Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa where traditional instruments are unfashionable. Despite being one of the most abandoned traditional music instruments in urban areas, the instrument remains popular in some rural parts of Ethiopia and Eritrea. “Although I was familiar with the masinqo since childhood, I never considered it for a career until my brother brought me one from a trip,” he remembers.
Growing up around Qebena, Hadinqo attended his primary and secondary education at Kokebe Tsibah primary and secondary school. Upon completing his 10th grade education, Hadinqo was given the opportunity to enroll in a technical and vocational training school. He did not however want to do so.
Later on, he enrolled at the Kotebe College of Teachers’ Education and joined the aesthetics and physical education department. After graduation, he taught at public-owned schools in Addis for a couple of years. Despite working in diverse environments and embarking on a new career, Hadinqo kept working on learning the skills of playing the masinqo in the meantime. “Ever since I got a masinqo as a gift from my brother when I was 17, I fell in love with the strings,” he enthused.
When he realized that he could not make ends meet through teaching, he went to Gondar and Bahir Dar for two years to study the masinqo further as these are the places that produce some of the most renowned players in the country. His time there helped him shape his knowledge of the instrument as he learned how to fabricate the instrument and tap into the centuries-old craft of playing it. “Ethiopia should look back to the past and understand the wisdom of our fathers and mothers,” Hadinqo advises. As the masinqo is part of this wisdom, he recommends that his countrymen capitalize on the instrument that has been passed down through generations.
Upon his return to Addis, Hadinqo started to play the instrument for a living. He remembers that being a full-time player was not easy. “Although there is an improvement from the past, it is still hard to survive as a full-time artist,” he assesses.
What started out as a fascination with a gift has nowadays pushed the frontiers of masinqo play, gradually making room for the masinqo in modern Ethiopian music. With the distinct, yet arguable, classification of Ethiopian music as traditional and modern, local musical instruments are stacked under traditional music. Modern music, in its Ethiopian sense, customarily refers to the kind that uses music instruments adopted from abroad. Hadinqo’s unique style of playing has, however, crossed that divide setting the traditional instrument its own place in Ethiopian modern music.
The recent revitalization of the masinqo in Ethiopian modern music has in the process propelled Hadinqo to the pinnacle of fame in his genre. His masinqo version of Ed Sheeran’s hit song “Shape of You” has introduced locals and foreigners alike to the potential of the instrument as a unique sound in modern music. His recognition as a rising star has provided him with the opportunity to play along some of Ethiopia’s legendary artists such as Mulatu Astatke. He, however, picks his part in Teddy Afro’s millennium hall concert as the break that helped him showcase the power of the masinqo to the public.
The trend of incorporating the instrument has spread so fast that DJs and renowned singers have joined in by mixing songs and creating new ones using it. The new texture that the incorporation of the masinqo has given to modern Ethiopian music has grabbed the attention of listeners, surging the popularity level of such music within a short period of time.
Masinqo players in Addis Ababa usually come from northern Ethiopia in search of opportunities to play in ‘Azmari Bet’, bars with traditional singers. A huge number of these masinqo players are left disappointed by the unpopularity of the art among the current generation. Few of them play in traditional restaurants that feature their own cultural music bands while the rest look for weddings. A part in Ethiopia’s modern music has become another opportunity for these masinqo players who would definitely assume a more centralized role as a result of the new trend.
Hadinqo believes that the classification of Ethiopian music as traditional and modern is not accurate; he insists that he is neither a traditional nor a modern musician. There was a tendency to consider playing the masinqo as old-fashioned. I have proved that wrong by playing Celine Dion, Michael Jackson and Ed Sheeran,” he notes.
Hadinqo started a traditional music band called ‘Moseb’ along with his friends. Their first album did not live up to their financial expectations. However, they refuse to give up on that front as they have recently released a second album called “Haile Gize”, which roughly translates to “The Power of Time.” “We are always eager to do something new that disrupts the status quo,” Hadinqo proudly remarks.
Hadinqo and his fellow band members work with amateur and experienced artists throughout the country, besides showcasing their music abroad. As someone who has gone through a lot to learn the instrument, Hadinqo wants to ease the burden that comes up on following that path. He has, accordingly, created a YouTube channel that provides masinqo lessons for free. “More will follow till the whole world knows about the masinqo and it becomes fashion that everyone embraces,” he passionately enthuses.EBR
9th Year • Mar.16 – Apr.15 2020 • No. 84