Jah Lude Awol, 36, is an Ethiopian singer-songwriter and musician. The reggae singer was born and raised in Addis Ababa. Jah Lude’s music is heavily influenced by the cultural and old plays which are almost forgotten by the new generation. The artist also celebrates his belongingness to his homeland in his music.
Ever since his album that contains 16 songs was released, some 15 thousand copies have been sold from the published 25 thousand CDs. Some 10 thousand tapes have been also published. Jah Lude wrote all of his songs and some of them took him six months while others only took him 10 minutes. The new artist, who is on the spotlight, spoke to Meiraef Berhane of The Reporter.
What does Jah Lude mean?
I cannot explain what Jah Lude means specifically. My name always has different meanings depending on the situations that I am in. However, my parents named me Jah Lude from the Qur’an. And people who know the historical meaning of the name have told me that people who are warriors used to be named Jah Lude.
When did you start your musical career?
I think I am an born musician. I was only eight years old when I wrote my first song.
What was your inspiration to become a musician?
I always listen to different rhythms made out of natural and artificial sounds in my surroundings. That’s what inspired me to be caught up in music. But one person to whom I should give credit in my life is Bob Marley. He has been a big inspiration and good role model to me to keep doing what I am doing regarding my musical career. I loved reggae because of him: and he always has a good place in my heart.
Is that why you have your dreadlocks?
Not really. I spend most of my time working on my music. I always wash my hair but never looked at it in the mirror. To that extent I just saw what my hair looks like recently, while pictures were taken for my album design. When I looked at my hair carefully, some of them are stuck together and look like a dread while some of them look fluffy. I have never been so concerned about my outer look; rather, I prefer spending much of my time talking with my inner self. I forgot to be concerned about my look and my focus was dedicated to cultivate my art potential and got impressed in a way. However, after seeing what my hair looks like in the pictures, I have started cutting my hair and my beard.
How long did it take you to finish your album?
It took me ten years. But ever since I was eight years old, I have always wanted to work on my album.
One of your songs, Fayamo, is mixed with Oromiffa. How did you come up with the idea of mixing Oromiffa with reggae?
People from the neighborhood where I grew up are Oromiffa speakers. My family speaks Oromiffa; but I can’t speak the language. However, an Oromiffa singer, Tadele Gemechu, brought up the idea and asked me if I can do it and I did it. But to sing the song I had to study the accent of Oromiffa and the language as well.
Most of your songs remind people about the cultural plays which are almost forgotten. And also there are songs that celebrate being an Ethiopian and the country itself. What made you do that?
I am not exactly sure. I have works that express my feelings which, of course, are beautiful pieces. I also have many other works that still express my feelings, which people might not easily understand. So I have selected the type of songs that people might easily understand and like. Renowned musicians like Ephrem Tamiru and Tadele Robba have helped me with my music selections. And we loved our choices as we listened to them again and again.
How much money did you spend on your album?
All I have spent is my knowledge and my musical work. My focus was on the art work. However, artist Tadele Roba has produced the album and he is the one who knows how much money was spent on the album. I am not into the financial details.
Which song do you prefer or like from your album?
I don’t know what to prefer and what not. But I think I like “Asha bel yaho” as it can represent all of the songs in the album and it is a song about freedom.
On your billboard, there is a term that shows where you are from. It says ‘I am a hillbilly’. Many try to hide where they are from or their origin but you put your background on the front. How did you do that?
All of us came from agrarian ancestors. Some 100 years ago Addis Ababa was a city center. So I am proud of the fact that I am from that background.
Your music is being played everywhere. Now you have come on the spotlight and are you ready for any criticism or admiration?
The inner peace that I have ordered me to do my songs. So I don’t think I will be facing that much criticism. What I know is I am doing my job right. What I did was just offering the type of music that I have.
Where have you spent your time abroad and how long has it been since you moved back here?
It has been almost five years since I moved back here. I have tried to settle here some six years ago but the country was not stable politically and there was no peace. Since I couldn’t live in that environment I went back to where I have been, Djibouti. It is impossible and difficult to work in an environment that is not peaceful. The songs that I have in my album are made in a peaceful environment. My songs literally preach identity and belongingness. For to that reason I am sure that children will be singing my songs five, six and seven years from now.
Though it is not literally mentioned in the music, one of your songs, which is titled “Yachin neger”, is about condom. The change of the title allowed people to listen and sing along. What made you change the title?
When I was eight years old I wanted to write a lyric about love. However, the first thing that came into my mind is the first person that will read the lyric – that is my father. So I used to change the subject to country issues. Whenever I write a lyric, I always follow what my feelings tell me. If I have to write a lyric I want to be comfortable and free from any other negative feelings. My parents, whom I respect the most, listened to the “Yachin neger” lyric and they liked it. The lyric reminds people that it is a great decision to abstain. If not, sex should be had after marriage. However, if the person finds it impossible to take it that far, it is preferable to use the condom. And the way I used the words makes people to be comfortable and listen to it without any hesitation.
What made you write about the issue?
It just came out of my feelings. I felt it and I wrote it.
People who listened to your songs say your voice is good and the music is not loud. They say that it just flows simply through the ears. What do you say about that?
I think I got the math right. I was able to link the words that are coming out of my mouth with the tempo, but nothing else.
What meaning does music give you?
I don’t think I can be able to answer this question, just like I can’t define my name. If I ask you to define love, I don’t think you can. Music is the same thing to me is.
How does it feel to work with Kamuzu Kassa, the person who mixed and arranged your music?
Honestly speaking, Kamuzu is a special person to me. He always understands me when I connect with music. Working on my music, both of us share a similar spirit. I admire his talent and I appreciate the way he understands what the singer has.
Who designed your billboard?
The designer is called Senay. I was impressed by his view. He made people see what I did not expect. The scarf on my head and the round hat together with my mustache made me look like Emperor Menilik II. The green, yellow and red color that dominates the graphics and the fact that may name is Jah Lude gives a unique vibe and impression to the design. I just gave him my picture. And everything is his own creativity. After I have seen what he has done to the graphics I was convinced that there are a lot of professionals out there who can do many things.
Your picture looked like Emperor Menilik II. Was that on purpose?
Frankly speaking it was not on purpose. It just happened to look like that and it is accidental.
Before publishing your album, how many songs did you make?
I have composed music with Joseph, which is entitled “Gobeze”. I have also worked a song with Teddy Yo under that titled “Regga Tigile”. Next, I am planning to work with Tadele Roba on the remix of some songs. I also have a plan to work on songs that are almost forgotten and on the verge of falling or being washed out.
Can you tell us about your song that you have worked with the renowned Jamaican reggae star Mikey General that is entitled “Ethiopia”?
I have worked a piece in Kenny Aalen’s studio some three years ago. I have used the lyric in one of the songs in my album called “Hager Bet”. Mickey General and Raga Lox listened to the piece that I had in Kenny studio and they have used it to remix in the song they have made. They have introduced the song in Jamaica and it has a big hit. I also loved what they have done to that song.
Have you been to music school?
I did not go to any music school. I have learned music with my personal and natural interest. I just listened to a lot of reggae music and that is how I have learned its style. As a new person to the industry I have started testing the flow of music and the impression that I had for it together with my interest made me to be what I am today.
Do you play any instrument?
I play Bongo and Djembe drums.
To conduct this interview with you, I had to talk to Tadele Roba. I fixed the appointment with him and that is how I got to you. Why don’t you have a cell phone?
Whenever I am working on my music I don’t want my mobile to disturb me. That is why I don’t want to have one. However, I spend most of my time with common people that I am currently working with and hang out with. So if anyone needs to get in touch with me I can be reached through them. But in the near future I will be subscribing to a landline and I will be assigning someone who takes care of it. I won’t be engaged in receiving calls.
What do you do to relax?
I usually relax in my house by composing some music. But if my feelings exceed that, I will go out to other towns and hang out there.
Do you read books?
Yes. During fasting season I don’t do musical works and that would be the best platform for me to read books.
What makes you happy in life?
I am always a happy person. But I don’t exactly know what makes me happy. What I know is I am happy and I am grateful for that.
Are you married?
No I am not. But I have a plan to get married and have children, just like everybody else.
You seem like a person who is relaxed. Moreover, you seem that you kind of live your own world. Is that right?
Yes I am relaxed. I have my own world that is called Ethiopia. When I merge my identity with my inner love for music, Ethiopia is my world. Wherever I am and wherever I go Ethiopia is always with me. Ethiopia is the country to which I give the most values in my life. I belong to Ethiopia and that is my world.
Video: The Kassa Show – Interview with Jah Lude and Kamuzu Kassa