Salambo discovering Ethiopia
As I discovered since moving here, Ethiopia has a unique dance culture…..Dance is everywhere. A dinner in a traditional restaurant is always accompanied by live singers and musicians known as azmari. Throughout the evening, customers spontaneously stand up and shoulder dance with them. Of all such places in Addis, one is very special: Fendika in the Kasanchis area in the centre of town. Fendika is what is called an azmari bet , or “house of singers and musicians”, and it is where the great contemporary Ethiopian dancer Melaku Belay gives performances every other Friday.
Fendika is nothing like a grand performance stage. It is a tiny makeshift house where people are packed in together to watch the dancers and drink tej. There is no stage as such, the audience almost merges with the musicians and dancers and that’s the way they like it. In that context, Melaku Belay is amazing to watch. He is almost in trance when he dances, moving his small-built but strong body with amazing skills and flexibility, often with a great open smile on his face. While dancing, he communicates his deep passion to his audience. In the interviews I read about him, he always insists on how important it is for him to continue dancing at Fendika. He already has a name on the international dance scene having performed in Paris, London and elsewhere but he wants to keep close to his roots. After having seen him at Fendika, I can understand why. There, he can be physically and mentally close to his public and genuinely share his dancing, without compromising the quality of his performance. In Ethiopia, dancers and their audience want to enjoy their time together, with no distance or pretention. Everybody is uplifted together, momentarily rising above mundane worries and concerns. The human side takes over. It feels very different from a European stage where dancers, placed about two metres above and away from the public, are extremely serious and distant. Maybe it is time to revisit the way, we Europeans view art and art performances…It is time to reintroduce the fun into our lives.