Dibekulu, affectionately known by his fans as “Dibe”, is an Ethiopian artist who resides in the vibrant capital of Ethiopia, Addis Ababa. His melodic style, which is simultaneously playful and reflective, is influenced by his love of jazz, classical music, and improvised instrumental music stemming from his African roots. His passion for music was ignited by legendary Ethiopian artists such as Ketema Mekonnen, Tilahun Gessesse, Girma Beyene, Muluken Melesse, Aster Aweke, Asnakech Worku, and Bizunesh Bekele, who to this day serve as his role models and inspirations. In his own words, DibeKulu says: “These artists have had a huge impact on me both as a musician and human being, and I give them credit for having an influence on who I am as a person and musician”.
DibeKulu, the youngest of three children, was born in the city of Addis. His family is his compass and he attributes much of his musical passion to them. His grandfather, a strong man of faith, was a strong presence in his life, and gave him the name “DibeKulu”, which is a combination of two Ge’ez words meaning “Kehulu Belay” which loosely translates to “destined for greatness”. Early on, he recognized that he was born to be a musician who was put on earth to inspire generations with his gift of music.
DibeKulu started performing in the early 2000s in various nightclubs and other settings around Addis Ababa. A young and gifted artist like DibeKulu had plenty of options world ushered in a new millennium and a new decade.
Owing to his impressive live performances, DibeKulu gained prominence in the modern Ethiopian music scene. As a musician, he embodies the essence of African music, exhibiting a young man with an old soul. During his time with Jano Band, DibeKulu performed concerts in Addis Ababa, Arba Minch, Bahir Dar, Dessie, Jimma, and Mekelle cities. Internationally, he performed in Brazil, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Netherlands, New Zealand, Sweden, the United States, and the United Kingdom. As the young artist departed his former band and went solo, Haben Woldu sat down with him for an EBR exclusive.
What first introduced you to music? What led you to pursue a career in entertainment?
Music was my gift from God. I come from a musical family who encouraged me from an early age. I had an uncle by the name of Araya G, who was musically gifted and performed with some world’s most renowned artists and musicians. As a young child, watching him on TV pursuing his passion deeply planted the desire of wanting to be a singer and a performer in me.
What skills have you learned that will help you in your singing career?
Drumming: I started drumming at an early age, using my hands and the school desks, to create beats and sounds. I am a self-taught drummer and I think this skill has enabled me to understand rhythm and musical composition. It has helped me communicate effectively and clearly with other musicians during my performances.
Discipline: I was raised by a strict grandfather that instilled in me the values of discipline, focus, and respect for others. These early lessons have been pivotal in my career as they have helped me meet demanding and hard timelines, be on time for important rehearsals, and have a laser-sharp focus in a world that is constantly distracting. I think discipline is a very important skill to have in any career.
Music is an art and a business. How do you balance creativity and business?
It is important to learn how to strike a balance between the two, but understanding that creativity comes first. Money and business come as a result of the creativity you put out in the world. Not the other way around. You focus on the art and the creativity, then you work on giving it the value it deserves.
How would you describe the music that you typically create?
The music I create can be described as interesting and energetic. It is also emotionally touching, both with its lyrics and melody. I focus a lot on the musical arrangement or what is known as “Zema” in Ethiopia, and then the lyrics follow.
They say we live up to our name. You have a very unique name and what does it mean?
A person’s name is a very important part of a person. My grandfather gave me a very powerful Ge’ez name and I believe it has played a big, positive role on me as a musician and person. I try to live up to this name every day through my actions, and through sharing my gift of music with others, and hope it resonates with generations to come.
Where do you see yourself in 5 to 10 years?
In the next 5 to 10 years, I see myself producing several albums that are creatively eclectic and inspired. My next album is a fusion of R&B and soul, with an Ethiopian touch. In the future, I plan to explore different genres such as blues rock, and other different fusions. Eventually, I want to get into the international market and sing English songs too. I would love to make an impact on the Ethiopian music scene and take that to the international stage.
For a long time, you were part of a group and now you’re about to embark on a solo career. What are the challenges and benefits of going solo?
The music industry is the same whether you are a solo artist or in a group. There is really no difference there. Being in a group has its positives and negatives. Let’s start with the positive. Belonging to a group of people who you can share the good and the bad with is amazing as you go through it together. Sharing the pain and gain, and the work. That is beautiful. On the other hand, being part of a group means you have to split everything, including small earnings. The group mentality is new to Ethiopia and we are not well versed in it yet, so that brings its own challenges. As the saying goes- in Ethiopia “abro meblat enji mesrat ayechalem”- which is to mean people may dine together but they don’t work together. I’ve been very fortunate to be surrounded by amazing people who believe in me and support me unconditionally as I embark on my solo career. They are my greatest assets, along with my talent.
What impact has social media and the internet had on the music business?
The impact has been both positive and negative. On the positive side, it has leveled the playing field for everyone. Everyone is able to utilize different platforms to get their message across. The digital world made it easy for artists to reach out to audiences and fans. There are no CDs that need to be printed and handed out manually, no posters or flyers that need to be affixed to different places, and no running around to get your creativity out there. Now, with a single post on social media, you can reach your fans across borders, across countries, and across the globe. There are so many apps, platforms, and digital record companies that have made it easy for creative people to focus on their art and use these mediums to reach their audience. There is no limitation for artists. In fact, I don’t think we use social media to its full potential in Ethiopia.
On the negative side, social media doesn’t show the work behind the art and might assume the same effort goes into everyone’s work. Social media also can be destructive if the artist is not disciplined. Actually, social media is destructive no matter who you are if you are not mentally strong enough to handle the negative feedback that comes as a result of being in the public eye. Social media also presents a false sense of reality that people often try to attain without understanding what happens when the camera is off. That can be tough if you are not mentally prepared to handle it.
What is the one message you want to convey to your dedicated fans?
I got you. Don’t worry; I am going to blow you away with some amazing work and music.
What can fans expect from your much anticipated solo album?
I don’t want to give out too much but my first solo album will feature some amazing artists, two of whom are very well-known, and a third who is an up-and-coming artist. This is different in that it is not common in the Ethiopian music scene to feature artists like this. The music is also very dynamic with new sounds, blending R&B, Soul, and Ethiopian rhythms as well as beats. The fans will be treated to an elevated musical experience.
What do you think about streaming platforms? Tell me what you think about going to market on a platform like that.
Streaming platforms have taken the place of traditional record companies in some ways. It is a positive direction for creativity. Streaming platforms need to align themselves with the artist. After all, their success is dependent on the artist and the creativity he or she brings to the table. Music has the power to impact humans directly and indirectly. These platforms need to understand that music is so much more than profit and business. It is an art form that has the ability to change systems, impact society, and serve as a catalyst for change. The multimedia and advertising company I am working with is called Kinetic Dawn and is considering streaming my new album.
How do you want future generations to remember you?
I have a son so the future generation is very important to me. I think the future generation is a country’s biggest asset. Through my music, I hope to inspire future generations to carry on the strong values of our country, unity in spite of differences and serve as a positive role model for aspiring musicians. Just like I am inspired by previous generations of musicians such as Tesfaye Gebre, who was the James Brown of his time in Ethiopia, I hope future generations have role models and people they look up to. I hope I can be remembered as one. EBR
11th Year • Nov 2022 • No. 112