She is Selamawit Yohannes: Haftey with a Voice; Music That Moves Us All
“Where words fail; music speaks”. Truer words have rarely been said about music than this quote from Hans Christian Andersen. If I wrote a thousand books and a million words for a hundred years, I would still not be able to fully express the way music has impacted my life and how music has been my greatest of healers. I have noticed one thing over the years; when I stop listening to music, I am asking for trouble. I think this is the case with all of us; where music is nowhere to be found, what hell is made evident. Music is the universal language that stills turbulence and gives meaning to the meaningless.
I write these words inspired by the music of Selamawit Yohannes, an Ethiopian singer whose songs I bumped into on YouTube as it was running on continuous mode. The minute the song “Senay” came on with its catchy cadence and the rhythmic drum beats, I paused my writing and traced the arrow to the YouTube tab to see who was singing this music that was making my shoulders shimmy and my neck move side to side. What I was treated to was a video that was beautifully produced, a singer who was dripping with charisma and a voice that was through and through captivating.
I never heard of Selamawit Yohannes before this day. But from the moment I heard her music, I subscribed to her channel and I could not get enough of her voice. I admit, when it comes to music I am a zealot. Let me hear a song I like and I will play it out like Donald Trump wore out his welcome at the White House. However, I expect a lot from musicians. I do not abide mediocrity nor will I ever write about music that does not move me and inspires a deep emotion in my heart. This is exactly what Selamawit’s music did for me last week; through her song, I was embraced by happiness and wrapped in melodies as if her voice was a gabi (blanket) on a cold December night.
Here is the kicker though. The songs of Selamawit I kept listening to were in Tigrinia, a dialect spoken by Tigray people in Ethiopia. I don’t speak a lick of Tigrinia aside from four words I have picked up over the years. Hamushto, haftey, hawey, and mish–this is the extent of my knowledge of Tigrinia. Yet Selamawit’s music spoke to me because I could feel the essence of her soul through her voice. This is the magic of music; we don’t have to understand the language in order to love the music of a people. Music binds humanity in this way; I have met a lot of people who hate people from other tribes or nations, but rarely do I hear someone hate their music. Martin Luther King Jr. once said that church services are America’s most segregated hour; the inverse of this statement can be found at concerts. Music gathers the most ardent of foes under the umbrella of harmony; people who might otherwise detest one another let biases and preconceived notions go by the wayside the minute the music hits.
I write this next paragraph of Ethiopia but really I write this for the world. Just because we might disagree politically or philosophically does not mean we have to disparage each other or bludgeon each other rhetorically. What unites us as a people is a lot greater than the current regime in power or the ideologies of the powerful. We all have common hopes, common dreams and all of us want a better future for our children. I pray this for my nation and the world; please put away antipathy and let love be our music. “Black” and “white”, believer versus non-believer, man versus woman, there are endless ways we inflict wounds on each other. If only we saw each other not as labels which don’t describe us but as fellow humans who are all in the struggle together. Humanity is one big orchestra; we all have different instruments and different ways we play music, harmony is found when we leverage our unique gifts and find a common music through our differences.
Let me clarify this one thing, though my stance against the Ethiopian government is absolute, this should in no way be taken as a stand against my fellow Tigray people who are Ethiopian just like me. I love Tigray people as my own for they are my own. In my vein courses the blood and spirit of my grandfather four generations removed Ras Gebreyohanes who was the husband of Semeon Meshesha (family tree link). To hate Tigray people would be hating myself. The same can be said of all of us; not even the most rabid ethnic “purist” can say that they are not related to other tribes or ethnicities. Tribe is inconsequential when our blood comes from one. Demachin andinew. Let us remember that more than anything else; we are one people forged by one history. Though injustices are copious and past pains felt by many, we can only hope to heal from within when we treat each other as one family tied in by history and our common humanity.
Next time, when you encounter someone who thinks different than you, instead of reverting to anger or animus, listen to their music and let the the songs of love heal us all. We have enough rancor and discord in the world, take a pause from the cacophony that is bleeding our spirits and humanity in the process–let harmony fill our souls. Listen to the music of Selamawit below and you will understand why I’ve been listening to her songs the whole time I’ve been writing this article. Her catchy tunes, her voice that is melodic and the addictive beats will have you moving and dancing right where you are at.
Just now I met a woman named Angela who is a hairdresser here in Fort Collins. She asked me what I was working on and I told her that I’m writing an article about Selamawit Yohannes and the connective and healing power of music. Angela shared with me a story of how her mother, who was in a horrible car accident last January, has been ailing for a while and has not been too responsive. Yesterday, she visited her mom and decided to play John Denver’s album while giving her a foot massage. Her mom instantly became responsive and told Angela that she loved her. Angela was tearing up as she told me how she sobbed while hugging her mom. Music can heal us all in this way; music can give us peace in the midst of tribulation.
Music is my maestro and melodies my serendipity. I give thanks to God above all and thank HIM for the music that is all around us. Let me end it on poetry, Selamawit means “she is peace” and Yohannes was the name of a former king of Ethiopia (see artwork below) who was once a rival of my ancestor Emperor Tewodros II (read Quintessential Jegna of Ethiopia)–the music of peace heals past pains and delivers love in the end. I pay respects to Emperor Yohannes IV the same way my father Fikremariam Million (Father’s Wisdom) paid respects to Haile Selassie when he signed up in the Ethiopian Navy instead of being embittered by the way his father Fitawary Million Tedla was taken away from him by injustices after World War II ended and Haile Selassie returned to power. Past is past; we move forward and let love be the music that heals humanity and brings us together as one. #SheisPeaceMusic
“Music is a higher revelation than all wisdom and philosophy.” ~ Ludwig van Beethoven
If you appreciate the message behind this write up and love music regardless of genre or dialect, share this article on social media using #SheisPeaceMusic and make sure to like Selamawit’s page on Facebook (Selamawit Yohannes)