Honouring Legends

Honouring Legends

Culture Centre Pays Homage to Alganesh Tariku

If you are familiar with the recent history of Ethiopia’s artistic community, then you have probably heard of the actress and dancer Alganesh Tariku. The renowned artist is regarded for her time as a dancer and stage performer at Ethiopia’s National Theatre and can now be seen on the TV show Wazema. Her decades-long career was recently honoured at the Ethiopian Cultural Centre. The Centre is one among a few institutions that are actively working to preserve the history of Ethiopia’s rich artistic tradition through commemorating prolific individuals. EBR’s Meseret Mamo attended the ceremony and sheds more light on the work being done to give credit to the country’s most respected artists.

On the morning of Thursday, October 22, 2015, Alganesh Tariku entered the hall of the Ethiopian Cultural Centre – wearing traditional Ethiopian clothes – to meet the invited guests gathered there to commemorate her decades-long career in the arts.
The ceremony featured several honourable guests from Ethiopia’s artistic community who were there to honour and express gratitude for Alganesh’s accomplishments and contributions to the arts.
Looking at her career trajectory will shed light on why the Ethiopian Cultural Centre, which is established under the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, commemorated her career.
Alganesh, 65, was first employed at the National Theatre at the age of 16 as a traditional dancer and served there until 1997. Up until 2009, she worked as a stage actress at various theatres in Ethiopia. She has also played lead characters in various movies and television dramas. Alganesh has even enjoyed international notoriety, as she’s travelled the world performing traditional Ethiopian dances.
The renowned actress still enjoys a robust career: she’s currently participating in a TV drama called Wazema and a play called Ye Qake Werdwet at the National Theatre. Alganesh says that the growing trend of movie making and TV dramas has helped older artists stay active in the arts.
During the ceremony, Alganesh’s family, friends and colleagues shared their personal experiences with the artist, which came as a surprise to the multi-faceted performer, as it wasn’t mentioned to her before the programme. There were tears and laughter as actors commemorated her career and life in the arts on stage.
Such a display of appreciation and honour was too much for Alganesh to handle. “This is the day I was born again,” she told the participants during her speech.
Nevertheless, the road wasn’t always so easy for Alganesh, especially in her early years. Her mother used to be a big opponent of her career, as working in the arts was not regarded as a decent job during that period. However, once her mother observed her daughter present a flower to Emperor Haile Selassie I, when his majesty visited the National Theater, her opinion changed.
Alganesh says she intentionally invited her mother to witness the event – and says that after that moment her mother was supportive of her career. She says that her mother thought if the profession is worthy in the eyes of the Emperor, she should accept it as well.
Beyond her career in the performing arts, her personal life stories were also told. According to those close to her, Alganesh is a person with a great heart. People consistently mentioned her passion for the arts and said she is a woman who took on many responsibilities in the artistic community at an early age.
Her leadership in the arts didn’t wane, even when it was dangerous to take on such a visible role. Alganesh told EBR that she was especially active during the Dergue regime, when she advocated that artists receive pension rights. She remembers one year she organised a rally that was legally permitted. However, when the protesters gathered in Arat Killo, in front of the National Palace, the police came and attacked them. One protestor died, many were injured and several were arrested. Though they finally succeed in securing their pension rights, Alganesh says that is a horrible memory when thinking of the challenges she’s faced as an artist.
However, professional challenges aren’t the only things that Alganesh has dealt with during her long career trajectory. A document prepared by the Centre reveals that she brought all her family from Gojjam, in the northwestern part of Ethiopia, to live in Addis Ababa and even helped her brothers and sisters finish their educations. Now all of them have completed their higher education. She is also a mother of three and a grandmother.
Her colleagues, while telling their stories of Alganesh, all described her as a strong as the olive tree, and someone whose talents extend beyond the arts.
Moreover, all stressed that she deserves the appreciation bestowed upon her that day because of her unique contributions to Ethiopia’s artistic and cultural traditions. “While hearing Tizita and Ambasel, I always remember Alganesh; it is her and Tadele Tamirat who made these [genres] great,” said Dawit Yifru, a renowned Ethiopian keyboardist and now president of the Ethiopian Musicians Association, about the importance of commemorating such artists.
“This is the fifth time the Centre has commemorated artists from the past generation who have contributed a great deal to the arts,” Birihan Mekonen, senior expert at the Ethiopian Cultural Centre, said at the ceremony.
The Centre was opened five years ago with the objective of researching, documenting and promoting the diverse cultures of Ethiopia.
To that end, the Centre hopes to commemorate more artists through tribute ceremonies like the one held in honour of Alganesh. “We commemorate those who have contributed to art to preserve their legacy,” said Brihane. “Alganesh was chosen because she is among the few that worked to promote traditional Ethiopian dances, which is one of the art works that was given less attention in the past.”
Eshetu Tiruneh, a the renowned visual artist and founder of the Enlightenment Fine Art School, also supports the idea of commemorating individuals that have contributed to the promotion of art. “The current generation can take a good lesson from artists like Alganesh,” said Eshetu.
Alganesh herself was extremely happy by the honour she was given. Still, the evening was bittersweet for her. “I am both happy and sad,’’ she told EBR. “I wish those who were with me in along my career path were alive today because they are the ones who deserve the commemoration.”
Before Alganesh, the Centre commemorated Mereawi Sitot, a pioneer artist who was among the first musicians employed upon the establishment of the Ethiopian National Theatre and worked with the National Theatre’s Orchestra for 27 years in key positions.
Other luminaries who have been honoured by the Centre include the late Desta Gebre, who is often regarded as the queen of the Eskista (a type of Ethiopian traditional dance); Tesfaye Abebe, a playwright and theatre producer; and Mulatu Astatke, a musician and music arranger who is known as the architect of Ethio-Jazz.
Different individuals and governmental institutions have been organising events to commemorate well-respected Ethiopian artists. Recently, the Honourable Doctor Dawit Yifiru was commemorated by Selam Ethiopia, an organisation known for preparing art events. An informal group including journalist Abraham Gizaw, and Daniel Tegegn and Tewodros Tesfaye, both actors, also commemorated the 80th birthday of Merawi Sitot and the 60th birthday of actor Fikadu Teklemariam last month.
At the end of Alganesh’s ceremony, Elfinesh Haile, (PhD), director of the Centre, urged the public to help them in their endeavour to preserve the legacies of Ethiopia’s most cherished artists. “We know there are many more artists that deserve to be honoured,” she told participants. “In order to commemorate them appropriately, we need the cooperation of the art community and the general public.” EBR


4th Year • November 16 – December 15 2015 • No. 33

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