Every generation has a talent so prodigious that they define the essence of their era. Such is the melodic timbre of Zeritu Kebede who is to Ethiopian music what Lauryn Hill was to rhythm and blues. Of course I am biased, I have been listening to Zeritu for close to two decades now and throughout that time she has kept redefining herself in ways that challenges conventions and pushes all who followe her work to broaden our perspective.
I first started listening to her during my heartbreak phase; a song she sang titled “Sinibit”, which means goodbye in Amharic, was both my balm and my crucible. At times I would listen to her belt that ballad and I felt as though I was the one saying avoir while other times I would take in her croon and be choked up knowing that I was the one being dismissed. There are some songs that sing to your wounds, there are others that take you on a ride and give you multiple dimensions of hurts that purify you each time you press play.
An introduction to Zeritu’s music through crushing grief that led me on a journey of discovery; the more I listened to her, the more I felt enchanted by her soulful renditions. She transformed from my sorrowful anthem to my soundtrack of inspiration. I could tell by her presence and the persona she exuded on stage that her life was full of the bitter fruits peddled by hardship and consumed by artists who seek above all else to turn their anguish into meaning. The ones who are given the most adversity are the ones who have the ability to transform pain into paint strokes; with each distress, creative souls transmute their ennui into sinew that pushes them forward.
This resiliency borne out of the labor of travails is one that defines Zeritu’s trajectory. Born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia on February 19th, 1984, Zeritu grew up rooted in privilege yet entrenched in tribulation. Her father was an architect 30 years older than her mother, she came of age in a household that was very conservative and as a consequence felt isolated from others in her neighborhood. Zeritu’s saving grace were her grandparents whom she spent most of her summers with. It was during these moments of reprieve that Zeritu was able to bond with other children and expanded her horizon.
At a very young age, Zeritu became interested in music. During her fifth grade year, she went on stage and performed Michael Jackson’s “Will You Be There”. From that moment on, the music bug hit her and she started writing songs, performing in front of friends and family and slowly started to develop her range that would become evident in breathtaking fashion once she grasped the truth depth of the gifts that God had bestowed upon her. Her musical influencers are as diverse as they are radiant; Nat King Cole, Kassa Tessema, Whitney Houston, Tracy Chapman, these were the giants that fueled her love of music.
What I find to be truly profound about Zeritu is her dynamism and the spectrum of her stylings. She is as comfortable singing gospels as she is waxing about love. Her sound is truly alluring; like Sirens beckoning sailors with their voice, Zeritu draws all within earshot to the safe harbor of her aria. To listen to Zeritu is to find rest amid an arduous journey; the minute you hear her tune, you instantly forget about your misfortunes. Gone is the misery one might feel at the slings and arrows of life as teardrops are replaced by a netela of grace that defines her music.
I was fortunate enough to run into Zeritu’s newest single this morning and I have been listening to her music on repeat since then. My son Yohannes, who is only 20 months old, hijacked the remote control and started flipping through YouTube until he landed upon a song titled “Eza Alkerehum”. I instantly took back control and turned up the volume; my son and I sat transfixed for nearly seven minutes listening to Zeritu singing about renewal, forgiveness and the courage to rebound from mistakes instead of stewing in regret.
What Zeritu was signing was a redemption song the likes of which Bob Marley would have been awed by. The message mixed with the visuals were striking; I was awed by the way she weaved a narrative of restoration as the guitars plucked gently in the background. One part gospel of atonement and one part defiance, Zeritu’s song is one that is perfect in an age where cancel culture seeks to erase anyone who makes a mistake.
If you need a moment of uplift and if need a break from the woes of this world, I encourage you to listen to and follow Zeritu. Whether you understand Amharic or not is inconsequential; you see, music is universal and love is a language that is understood by all. There are rare talents that come around once in a few generations who are able to transcend boundaries and enter into our hearts irrespective of our location or identification. Such is the case with indelible @KebedeZeritu; it makes sense, her name means good seeds—she is planting her soul right into our spirits:: #SoulOfZeritu Click To Tweet
“Music is moonlight in the gloomy night of life.” ~ Jean Paul
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