Youth Torn Between Two Worlds of Rap
Hundreds of Ethiopians filled the Amphi Duhl auditorium in South Tel Aviv on Sunday night two weeks ago to watch artists from the community performing song and dance acts – all in Hebrew. Bnot Shva, a group of five young women from Lod, shyly take the stage dressed in white shirts. They wait for the crowd’s cheers to subside and begin to rap: “Brothers, parents have to change / The reality here is different / We have to progress / Spending all day with friends in the streets / Confused, frustrated / A difficult language, a different culture / No communication, no understanding.”
The words, which express both distress and hope, are the product of an “educational rap” seminar the young women took with Jeremy Cool Habash, 25, a cultural hero among Ethiopian youth who defines himself as “the first Ethiopian rapper.” The girls met with Habash on a weekly basis and wrote songs based on their feelings and problems. Daniel Ababa also uses songs to express his feelings. But it is difficult to find hope in the words he writes: “Working like everyone else / A check comes at the end of the month / No cash / The sons of bitches send me straight to the bank / From there, I am sent away with nothing / Hands in pockets / Face dejected / I feel like trampling on everyone in anger.”
Where will the black music take the Ethiopian youth in the coming years, and where will they take it? On what kind of rap will they grow up, and with which texts will they identify – the educational music of Habash or the angry gangsta-style rap of Ababa? The answer, as far as Habash is concerned, is clear. He says that when he started out, he was “a protest-song rapper,” but this has changed now. He is putting his energy into activities for the Ethiopian youth and dreams of opening a record company of his own. “Today’s youth are torn between two worlds,” he says. “Most were born in Israel, but they don’t feel Israeli. The Ethiopians now are like a ticking time-bomb; it can’t be felt yet, but as the years go by, it becomes more and more difficult for us here. The children don’t have anyone to take an example from today; there is no role model at home. The father works in a factory; the mother cleans staircases. Who is there to tell the child to do his homework? So he hangs around in the streets all day. The parents don’t understand Hebrew; the children don’t know Amharic. They can’t speak to one another.”
Over the past two years, Habash has been working with youth from Ashdod, Sderot, Rehovot, Ramle, Lod and Netanya, guiding them through seminars in “educational rap.” A week before the show in Tel Aviv, the members of Bnot Shva met with Habash for a rehearsal in a bomb shelter in Lod. “You have a message to convey; you have to represent us with dignity,” Habash says to them sternly. The song is played back over and over again on a small tapedeck, and the girls – Raheli Saime, Israela Bitau, Etti Grama, Etti Damka and Holgar Ananiya – sing into plastic cups that substitute for microphones and try to put together a simple dance routine. “The song talks about the lack of communication between children and parents, and about our desire to be liberated and enjoy life,” explains Bitau.
“Many of the parents are primitive and don’t allow their children out the house, so the children escape from them and don’t tell them where they are going,” adds Damka. “For years, I have been waiting for something to change in Israeli society, for it to learn to accept the Ethiopians,” Habash says. “In history lessons, for example, they don’t teach about all the Ethiopians who died during Operation Moses, or about the people who were killed in Sudan. We are ignored. Now, through the music, I am trying to build an identity for the children, to work with them on music and Ethiopian poetry, so that they can get to know their roots and culture. “The Ethiopians are constantly being told that they have to change, and in the end, they aren’t accepted. I am trying to get them to believe in themselves and their identity,” he says. Ababa hasn’t undergone the process that Habash went through in recent years. Ababa remains a “non-educational rapper”; he is still angry.