On the morning of September 6, the streets of Addis Ababa’s Kazanchis neighborhood were abuzz in anticipation as the South Korean Embassy prepared to recognize the country’s top young K-pop talents inside the Radisson Blu International Hotel’s opulent ballroom.
With Ambassador Kang Seokhee, the distinguished envoy of South Korea to Ethiopia, gracing the occasion, the event exuded an air of sophistication and elegance.
The aim of this gathering was to honor and reward the rising stars of Ethiopian dance and music who have embraced the mesmerizing allure of Korean pop, popularly known as K-pop.
The gifted vocalists and dancers who stole the spotlight with their breathtaking performances left the audience in awe. Their flawless execution of South Korean songs and meticulously choreographed K-pop routines showcased an unrivaled level of talent and stage presence that captivated all in attendance.
Year after year, the South Korean embassy organizes this prestigious event, providing a platform for Ethiopian artists who have wholeheartedly embraced the vibrant world of K-pop. The winners of the national competition earn the opportunity to compete on the African stage, with the ultimate dream of making it to the global arena and collaborating with the illustrious figures of the South Korean K-pop industry.
One of the standout performances of the evening came from the dynamic dance duo, Adot, who claimed a well-deserved second place in the competition.
Esubalew Gashaw and Surafel Zewge, the talented members of Adot, impressed the audience with their electrifying moves and seamless coordination.
Esubalew Gashaw, a 21-year-old hailing from Addis Ababa, took a bold step towards a full-time career in dance, temporarily putting his college education at Royal College on hold.
Reflecting on his journey, he say his passion for dance ignited at a young age, enthusiastically participating in local events.
“It was in ninth grade that my love for dancing truly blossomed. Surafel, my fellow crew member, came from Debre Birhan to reside in my neighborhood, Bethel, with his sister. Surafel had already begun dancing in Debre Birhan, and when he expressed his desire to dance with me, I gladly accepted,” Esubalew says.
Surafel Zewge, also 21 years old and raised in Debre Birhan, echoed Esubalew’s sentiments.
“We were introduced to the mesmerizing world of K-pop music and videos by our friend Kaleb Behaylu, an avid K-pop enthusiast. We developed a fondness for the genre, compelling us to embark on rigorous training at the youth center.”
Their journey begun at the Bethel youth center, where they joined other dance groups, honing their skills over six arduous years. Today, they stand not only as accomplished performers but also as dedicated instructors, generously imparting their knowledge and expertise to aspiring dancers. Prior to venturing into K-pop dance, Adot primarily focused on the intricacies of hip-hop.
The opportunity to participate in the South Korean K-pop competition presented itself through a friend of theirs, an ardent K-pop aficionado. They were informed about the competition, prompting them to seize the chance and register at the embassy.
In 2022, they made their competition debut, securing an impressive third-place position and earning the privilege to perform at the illustrious 60th anniversary of the Ethio-Korea Friendship at the Hilton Hotel.
During their captivating performance, they had the rare honor of meeting Ha Oksun director of the Ethio-Korea Warrior Association, who extended an invitation for Adot to impart dance lessons to the children of warrior families.
Reminiscing about this unique experience, Esubalew said: “Our performance afforded us the opportunity to meet the Director, who graciously invited us to teach dance to the children of warrior families. Since then, we have been teaching them every Sunday.”
Despite initial expectations for academic excellence, Esubalew and Surafel clung to their unwavering passion for dance, forging ahead with unyielding determination. Their spectacular second-place finish on September 6, is a testament to their indomitable spirit.
Although they narrowly missed subsequent competition opportunities, Esubalew and Surafel remain resolute in their pursuit.
Esubalew firmly stated, “We will persevere until we emerge victorious and proudly represent our country on the global stage.”
In a vibrant city, the allure of K-Pop transcends a niche fascination, as dedicated establishments catering to this musical and fashion movement sprout across the urban landscape.
Haile Tesfaye, an enterprising individual, embarked on his K-Pop journey six years ago when he opened a captivating boutique at Bole Robel Plaza.
His vision was clear: to curate a diverse selection of Korean pop-style accessories, encompassing trendy garments, bags, bracelets, necklaces, and shoes. As time passed, Tesfaye observed that his clientele possessed not only a deep understanding but also an unwavering admiration for the multifaceted tapestry of Korean pop culture.
“Some are truly devoted, frequently visiting my shop,” Haile said, emphasizing the growing K-Pop culture.
“It is fascinating to witness how the Korean pop culture industry has gained worldwide recognition, with its influence now reaching Ethiopia. Its popularity, especially among teenagers, is evident as they enthusiastically follow K-Pop celebrities and strive to imitate their every move.”
Haile’s serendipitous encounter with a modest collection of K-Pop accessories during a visit through Asia, particularly Korea, served as a watershed moment.
“To my surprise, people showed great interest and urged me to bring more. That’s when I realized the potential for a thriving business. As the craze for Korean pop culture continues to spread, particularly among the youth in Ethiopia, my shop has become a hub for K-Pop enthusiasts,” he said.
Haile says that it is remarkable to witness how teenagers wholeheartedly immerse themselves in this vibrant cultural phenomenon, avidly consuming the performances and lifestyles of K-Pop luminaries. His establishment serves as a conduit, providing these eager devotees with coveted accessories that further ignite their fervor for all things K-Pop.
Going further, Esubalew and Surafel’s harbor ambitious plans to establish a pioneering K-Pop school called Dreamers, aimed at nurturing and promoting K-pop culture throughout Ethiopia.
“With the overwhelming interest expressed by numerous individuals, we are inspired to establish Dreamers, a K-pop-exclusive training center that will serve as a beacon for aspiring talents,” Surafel explained.
While dance schools have gained popularity, others argues protecting indigenous dance traditions should be the priority.
Melaku Belay, 47-year-old owner of Fendika Culture Center and experienced Ethiopian dancer, believes “opening these types of schools should not take precedence at this time.”
Melaku stresses that Ethiopia’s unique dance heritage “forms an integral part of our national identity.”
While appreciating other cultures is important, he says: “we must not let our own culture fade into history.” Instead of diluting Ethiopian influences, embracing modernity could help “showcase our traditions to the world.”
The richness of Ethiopian cultural dance should be cherished and nurtured, allowing it to thrive and evolve organically, Melaku says.
“Rather than solely focusing on adopting other countries’ dance styles, we should explore innovative ways to celebrate and promote our own cultural heritage. By doing so, we can ensure that future generations will continue to embrace and appreciate the beauty and significance of Ethiopian dance,” he explained.