You better believe I found underground Ethiopia. I was hanging out with Nani, Teddy’s sister, and she ends up taking me to this WAPI festival. I couldn’t have been happier.
We walked through a mini fair, with food and drink companies giving out samples from little tents. You know how I feel about samples.
We eventually came to a large tent. Inside was a small exhibit of portraits done in charcoal. Past the portraits was a huge stage with a DJ, MC and two men rapping in a mix of Amharic and English. The crowd was cheering and yelling eshi, eshi! Yes, yes!
It was so great! I had just stumbled into an underground rap battle. Some of the artists did what appeared to me to be original work, while some mixed it up with some covers of American music.
Once the rapping finished, there was a fashion show. Nani knew the designer, and the crowd surged to get as close to the stage as possible.
Then came the best part of the show… a dance off. First, there were a few choreographed dances. All the dancers were men. And then came the Ethiopian B-boys. I was so happy. I couldn’t believe I was watching an Ethiopian break dancing battle. They were really good, too, flipping and spinning everywhere.
Eventually the show ended and we all piled out of the tent to see the traditional dancers on the outdoor stage. As I’m watching the dancers I notice out of the corner of my eye what appears to be an Ethiopian Uncle Sam. He was a tall old man with a large white beard, and a dark black fro that looked like Albert Einstein’s hair, and the fro my dad had when he was young. (Yeah, my dad had a fro… jealous?)
He was wearing a mismatched suit and carrying a small cane. He was just roaming around, selling lotto tickets for a Birr. He of course spots me in the crowd, as I stick out like a sore thumb – the black sheep, or rather the white sheep, of the group. So he comes over and says, “Oh, you must buy a lotto ticket!”
He tries to get me to buy something for a couple minutes, until finally I just say, “No thank you, I’m ok.” And he goes, “Oh! I love you! You are so nice, saying thank you . You are so young. You think I’m an old man but I’m a young man!”
He then proceeds to shake my hand and give me two pretend kisses on either cheek in the traditional Ethiopian fashion. I think I may have received some kind of parasite from his beard, but it was worth it – the man was hilarious.
By now a small crowd had gathered as he showed me why he was a young man. He took his hand and reached behind his back until he reached his long black fro. He then took both hands and twisted them and put then around his head. No doubt in my mind the man was young…
We decided to buy a lotto ticket, since he had just put on a show, so I scratch my ticket and I win 1 Birr! Conveniently just enough to buy ANOTHER TICKET. Lucky me.
I end up scratching and winning yet again. I’m handed another ticket, but this time there are children and adults alike leaning over me, trying to see if I’m going to win. The old Uncle Sam uses his cane to beat the children back. I unfortunately don’t win this time. So the old man gives me two parting kisses and does a little jig and says I love you!
A couple of minutes later I look to the stage and find the old man trying to get up to the dancers. He eventually makes his way to the stage and starts dancing with the traditional Ethiopian dancers. The crowd went wild as he again danced his hand up his back to meet his lovely fro.
Once he was done, a fire dancer went on stage. I watched as Uncle Sam stood near the stage, drinking a non-labeled bottle of homemade honey tej (Ethiopian beer), and shaking his head in disbelief at the fire dancer. Needless to say, the underground art scene was a hit.