“Patriotism is More than a Mere Allegiance to a Nation.”

Born and raised in the vibrant neighbourhoods of Addis Ketema and Kolfe in Addis Ababa, Zerubabbel Mola emerged as a spirited child with an independent streak. He despised being told what to do and marched to the beat of his drum. This rebellious nature ultimately led him down the path of becoming a musician. Zerubabbel’s musical journey began as he was captivated by the rich tapestry of sounds surrounding him and honed his vocal skills by joining a choir. However, his life took a significant turn when his father departed for the United States. Deeply missing his father and grappling with melancholy, Zerubabbel stumbled upon a guitar tucked away beneath his father’s bed.

Despite lacking formal training, he instinctively began strumming the strings and discovered a familiar melody—the song “Zekiyos Achir Sew Neber,” meaning Zekiyos was a short guy in Amharic, a song he used to play as a child. In that moment, the guitar became his solace and connection to his father, igniting an unwavering love for playing the instrument. After gaining experience and refining his skills, Zerubabbel embarked on a musical journey that would define his career. He spent five transformative years working alongside the talented Mehari Brothers, immersing himself in their creative energy. Building upon this foundation, he joined forces with the renowned Zemen Band, where he spent two exhilarating years.

Seeking new horizons, Zerubabbel set his sights on South Africa, where he joined yet another band. After these events, his musical talent blossomed to a new height, propelling him toward an unstoppable trajectory. His artistic growth culminated in a highly acclaimed album called “Enfalot,” which featured fifteen sensational songs that resonated deeply with audiences far and wide. He is also the owner of six singles that are loved by many. Zerubabbel’s story is one of passion, resilience, and an unwavering commitment to his craft. From his rebellious childhood to his heartfelt connection with music, he has emerged as a charismatic and beloved singer, captivating audiences with his powerful voice and magnetic stage presence. With each new chapter, Zerubabbel continues to enchant listeners, leaving an indelible mark on the music scene and solidifying his status as a true musical force to reckon with. EBR’s Eden Teshome had the chance to discuss with the singer for this exclusive.

Beyond entertainment, what cultural or emotional significance does music hold for you?

Music is not merely a form of entertainment; it is a potent language for the soul. Its rhythms whisper secrets, melodies paint emotions, and lyrics unveil the very core of our being. It becomes a conduit for the kaleidoscope of human feelings, allowing us to articulate joys, sorrows, hopes, and dreams with a universal resonance that transcends spoken words.

Within its embrace, we find solace. Whether navigating the turbulent seas of grief or basking in the golden glow of euphoria, music becomes our faithful companion, mirroring and amplifying the intensity of our sentiments. Each note, each chord, and each lyrical verse acts as a vessel for our innermost selves, offering a glimpse into the vast landscape of our souls. It is a profoundly personal experience, an intimate dialogue between our essence and the universe. Through music, we find not just solace but healing and liberation. It grants us the freedom to celebrate, grieve, reflect, and rejoice, encapsulating the essence of what it means to be alive. In the rhythm, melody, and poetry of music, we discover the entire symphony of our existence.

What career path might have been called to you if you hadn’t pursued music, and why?

Growing up in Kolfe [a bustling business neighborhood in Addis Ababa], my focus was primarily on sports, especially football. I would have excelled as a football player had I pursued that path. Additionally, I had an influential uncle who was a respected medical doctor and a former colonel during the Derg regime. His composed demeanour and success inspired me to aspire to be like him. While my family’s involvement in the church choir exposed me to gospel music, my uncle introduced me to the enchanting sounds of legends like Tilahun Gesese and Mahmood Ahmed. I vividly recall him listening to their timeless songs while playing card games. As my parents were devout Protestants, these moments became my rare opportunities to immerse myself in secular music. Had I not embarked on this musical journey, I often wonder what my alternate destiny would have been. Perhaps I would have pursued a football career, channelling my energy and talents onto the pitch. Or I would have followed in the footsteps of my esteemed uncle, dedicating my life to the medical profession. However, fate had different plans for me.

Do you have some people you consider role models who have influenced you through their music?

A constellation of inspiring figures paved my musical path, each leaving their mark. But it all began within the warm embrace of my family, where music was woven into the very fabric of our lives. Their enduring love for melodies and rhythms kindled a spark within me, setting the stage for the symphony of my passions.

However, one individual’s influence took on a genuinely profound dimension: Elias Melka. While I honed my voice in the Meqrez choir, Elias’s presence was a recurring source of awe. To witness an Ethiopian musician wield the guitar with such mastery, conjuring vibrant sonic tapestries, was a transformative experience. His talent was incandescent, his ability to weave emotions into melody an utter revelation.

But Elias wasn’t merely a distant star; he became a guiding light on my musical journey. He generously shared his passion, gifting me practice tapes that became treasured companions. With each note, my connection to music deepened, my creative fire fueled by his boundless generosity. Elias’s mentorship wasn’t confined to notes and chords; he taught me valuable lessons about dedication, passion, and the transformative power of music. He is a testament to the ripple effect of inspiration, and his influence continues to resonate within every melody I weave and every note I play.

Throughout your career, have you had the opportunity to collaborate with any artists you greatly admire? If so, what were some of the highlights of those experiences?

I’ve been fortunate to collaborate with many talented musicians throughout my career. Each brought their distinct voice and artistry to the table, contributing to the rich tapestry of sound we cultivated collectively. Among these remarkable individuals, one artist shines exceptionally bright: Tewodros Tadesse.

Sharing the stage with Tewodros was an electrifying experience unlike any other. His charisma and commanding presence instantly captivated audiences, while his effortless connection with listeners and profound artistry earned him my deepest admiration. While I have collaborated with several renowned musicians, Tewodros holds a unique place in my heart. His artistic mastery and unforgettable memories have left an indelible mark on my musical journey.

Furthermore, sharing the stage with Henok Mehari’s virtuosic keyboard work and Robel Mehari’s soulful guitar riffs was a masterclass in musical synergy. We wove a tapestry of vibrant Ethiopian rhythms, soaring vocals, and electrifying guitar solos.

What instruments, besides the guitar, have you mastered to play with?

My musical journey has been shaped by a deep exploration of two instruments: the guitar and the piano. Years of dedicated practice have allowed me to master their voices and unlock the creative potential they hold. I am proficient in both, wielding them to express my artistic vision and delve into the intricate world of musical composition. Recently, I’ve embarked on a new adventure – the mesmerizing melodies of the Kerar [a five-or-six stringed bowl-shaped lyre] have captivated me, and I’m committed to unraveling its secrets and refining my skills on this fascinating instrument.

Your album “Enfalot,” released five years ago, is known for its unique fusion of Ethiopian music with various other musical styles. Was creating a distinct and unconventional musical experience the intention of this album?

Absolutely!!! The conception of “Enfalot” was undoubtedly driven by a desire to sculpt a distinct and unconventional sonic journey. We poured significant time and meticulous effort into curating a collection of songs that vibrantly embodied our artistic vision. Infusing the album with a potent Ethiopian essence was paramount, ensuring each track resonated with a distinct identity. This dedication to our heritage served as the bedrock upon which we ventured into uncharted musical territories, forging a path infused with respect for tradition and audacious artistic exploration.

Your brother, Yamlu Mola, is also a renowned musician. Could you tell us more about the dynamic of your brotherly bond and the collaborative opportunities it presents?

My partnership with my brother, Yamlu Mola, defies the ordinary. It’s a vibrant tapestry woven from collaborative threads, a deep camaraderie, and the occasional knot of artistic dispute. Working within the intimate sphere of family fosters unrivalled honesty, where constructive criticism flows freely. While sparks may fly in these moments, the ultimate aim is to elevate our shared artistic vision. Trust and mutual respect are the cornerstones of our dynamic. We navigate each other’s strengths and weaknesses with unerring intuition, urging one another to reach new heights in our musical explorations. Fueled by a shared passion for sonic storytelling, we navigate the artistic rapids together, emerging on the other side with something that resonates with us and those who experience our work.

In one of your interviews, you mentioned facing numerous challenges during your one-year stay in South Africa, and you revealed that your music, specifically “Be Hager New,” was inspired by those experiences. Can you elaborate on the connection between your time in South Africa and the patriotic theme of your music?

My year in South Africa was a crucible of both hardship and self-discovery. A whirlwind of challenges shattered my preconceptions, testing my resilience and ultimately leading to a transformative rebirth. The experience was harsh, stripping away the veneer of naivety and forcing me to confront my priorities. While others thrived in the bustling, pragmatic environment, I found myself adrift from my artistic fire and haunted by a growing sense of alienation. The longing for my homeland became a siren song, pulling me back to the familiar shores of my identity.

Amidst this emotional tumult, the music of “Be Hager New” was born. Returning home, I found solace in the fertile ground of creative expression. The song became a heartfelt anthem, an embrace of my roots and a poignant declaration of my rekindled artistic spirit.

How do you personally define patriotism?

Patriotism is more than mere allegiance to a nation; it is an intrinsic connection to one’s roots, a profound love and pride for the land that shaped us. It is the deep-seated belief that our identity is intertwined with our country’s culture, traditions, and values.

As a young musician yourself, what is your advice to young people who wish to harness their potential to become influential members of the music industry?

As a young musician, I understand the burning desire to make waves and leave an indelible mark on society. Each of us has a unique path to traverse in life’s grand journey. There is no one-size-fits-all formula for success and impact. Instead, I encourage young minds to embark on a quest of self-discovery, a pilgrimage of the soul. The first step in this exhilarating odyssey is to recognize the inherent value in everything you do. Whether honing your musical prowess or exploring other creative avenues, imbuing your pursuits with a purpose will fuel your passion and propel you forward. See what ignites your soul and invest your time and energy into nurturing that flame.

Uncovering your true talent may take time, perseverance, and unwavering dedication. However, this ardent pursuit will set you apart from the masses and ultimately lead you to your destined place among the influential members of society. Remember, Rome wasn’t built in a day, nor were symphonies composed overnight. So, be patient, embrace the journey, relish the process, and trust that your persistence will yield rich rewards in due time. EBR

12th Year • January 16 2024 – February 15 2024 • No. 125

Eden Teshome

Editor-in-Chief of Ethiopian Business Review (EBR). She can be reached at eden.teshome@ethiopianbusinessreview.net

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