A Web Site For The Young Ethiopian Professional. Volume II   Issue I    
Tuesday February 25 2020

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My Music Button…
by: Eskedar

I used to listen to opera at work. I picked up that habit in graduate school. Others pick up mono, I picked up opera. Not a bad deal, considering….

I used to listen to specific arias from my favorite operas when I studied for different classes:

Advanced Constitutional law… Carmen
Laws of War and Crime… Il Trovatore
Family Law… Aida
State and Government Law… Madama Butterfly
Corporate Law I and II… La Traviata


I would sit in the middle of the library steps and drown out New York City traffic with Leontyne Price belting away an aria from Aida. I'd close my eyes, and somehow court dates and litigants would be magically imbedded in my mind. When Pavarotti droned out Nessun Dorma, I immediately saw cases lined up in front of me, ready to be rattled off with precision.

Coincidentally, it was another Ethiopian who first turned me on to opera. He lived in Spanish Harlem in a dinky 5th floor walk up. He used to go to grad school and drive a cab part time. (How many cabbies do you know who could recite Pushkin? He actually did that once to a passenger who did not tip him. Loudly, too.)

Once you survive the drug dealers outside his building and make it safely to his place, you think you'd stepped into Tower Records. One corner of the room was stacked with CDs, all alphabetically shelved in labeled cubicles. He had "sound proofed" an area by the window… Sound proof, in this case, meant stapling sheets of foam mattresses to the ceiling and wall. It was charming, in a Woody Allen farce kind of way.

He knew each CD by heart, which was a little… scary, but we are talking about a guy who thinks bellowing Puskin at a cheap passenger is exacting revenge. We were both poor students, so we couldn't go anywhere near the Met unless one of his usher friends sneaked us in during the third act.

Ever since then, I found solace in operas. The story lines of almost all the major operas are almost always daft. Women burying themselves with lovers, prostitutes dying of consumption and looking for love, playboys being conquered by slave girls… ho hum. But there was something about opera, the sound, that gave me peace. No, wait. It would agitate me at first, but then it would reward me with peace.

The minute I discovered that the CD ROM in my computer was not a retractable cup holder, I carried over my favorite CDs to the office, and I'd lose myself in the voices of Maria Callas, Richard Tucker, Beverly Sills… I transported law school habits to my work place, and mentally assigned arias for specific tasks…

Dealing with Client A…  Interditi Con Dio
Dealing with Client B…   Granada
Client C…     T'Estimo

Etc.. etc…

And then, and then I found the Bati Music Page on the Internet.

It was a particularly tough day at work. I was preparing for a summation when I got an email from a dear friend with an "Oh, my God! Oh my God!" subject line, and only the URL for the Bati page in the text. My friend is easily excitable, so I didn't think much of it. I closed the email and went back to my pile of paper work. At about 7:30, my colleagues ordered Chinese, and we hunkered down for a night of grueling work.

About 9:00 p.m., desperate for distraction, I clicked on the Bati URL. Granted, my taste in Ethiopian music was very "pop gummy". (I think I would have been the equivalent of a Spice Girls groupie.) I quickly went through the standard favorites from back home… Ephrem, Kuku, Aster… Cute, cute, cute.

I think it was quite by accident (or out of morbid curiosity) that I clicked on Rahel Yohannes' Shemonmuanaye . I was in the middle of a mouthful of chicken lo mien, ready to make a phone call.

And then, …the moon, as they say in some circles, eclipsed!

I actually felt a rash spreading through my body. The soft sax introduction, the tender tap, tap, tap beat… and then her voice, clear above ringing phones and elevator "pings", fax machine whirrs and intercom buzzes… "Aiain, aiain, aiain… yene shemonmuwana…" As clear as she was singing live in my office.

Have you ever memorized a scene so well that you could paint it complete with even the most minor detail intact? That was me.

"Bemiwedut mefred, indet abesa new…." All I could see was Addis. I saw the smells. I saw the sights. I saw the sounds. I was fighting back tears in my office, desperate to make sense of something I was trying to rationalize. I saw my uncle's wedding from eons ago when I was a flower girl. I was about six. And this indescribable joy, an overwhelming sense of feeling … right took over my tiny figure when the band started playing music. That was the first time I felt that rash swarming over me.

I was wearing a white dress, speckled with fake pearls. One of the buttons on top of the lace bodice was missing. I remember looking for it underneath the bride and groom table, finding it, and putting it in the mini-pocket on my left side of my dress. Later, I looked in my pocket to give it to my mother, but it must have fallen because I couldn't find it. I started crying. My father put me on his lap and looked for it in both mini-pockets. I had been so careful to not stain my dress. When the qess dabbed us with Tsebel after the church ceremony, I had surreptitiously leaned my neck forward so that none of the Tsebel would touch my new dress. I knew I shouldn't, but I did it again. I sent out a quick prayer to God to forgive me. Now, I couldn't find that little fake pearl button, and the threads that had held it mocked me. I cried some more.

Years later, I was crying to "Inde Yerusalmem…". I had missed feeling… so right. It was the first time I had encountered that euphoria since I was six.

One after another, I clicked on each music link. And then… and then, I found Bati, sung scratchily by Kassa Tessema. I saw trips to Bahr Dar where my grandparents lived. I saw their house, and my grandmother's bedroom. I saw the smells of the kesel , right before she put eTan on it…I saw my third cousins playing with Bahr zaf barks. And I tasted the kiTel weT we used to make on rocks we pretended were stoves. I saw, and I kept seeing.

It was close to 1 a.m. when I left the office that night, after playing and re-playing memories. And now…

Client A…: Shegitu, Kassa Tessema
Client B…: Ende Amora, Alemayeu Eshete
Client C…: Addis FiQir, Bizunesh Bekele
Post staff meetings…: Meleyayet Mot, Tilahun Gessese
Depositions…: Alem Alemwea, Fasil Demoze
Drafting Briefs…: Ateremamesew, Meskerem Mamo
Motion to compel…: Yadema Tole, Abitow Kebede
Motion for summary judgement:   Gud Fella, Semahegne Belew

I think I finally found my lost button.

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