The up and coming chanteuse
Inside her favorite café in Bole overlooking the magnificent Bole Medhanealem Cathedral, artist Chelina is in a jovial mood. She is sometimes philosophical but always reflective.
It has been five years since she became an instant star, as she belted out a perfect rendition of Aster Aweke’s iconic single, ‘Erasu Bedelo’ on YouTube under a beautiful Ethiopian blue sky that made her an instant star, as part of, Hasset, a local band along with Sami Dan, the reggae artist and others.
Her acoustic performance of that song was to be noted. Her youthful vigor, her style and her facial expression to every word that came out of her mouth, she was unique and one destined to be a star.
Instead, she became reclusive. Her live performances were rare. Like her contemporaries, she did not join the smoke filled clubs or bars to pay the price of stardom. Her few live performances were at the Rototam Sunsplash European Reggae festival in Benicassim, Spain, her only outing outside of Ethiopia, and a lone performance at a friend’s wedding where she sung the music of the legend, Mahmud Ahmed.
Everyone expected her to rush and release a full-length album and take advantage of that moment. She wanted to wait and take her time. She did not want to follow suit, but she wanted to create her own sound and style.
In her hiatus, many artists have come and gone but that single performance of hers, has sustained her stardom to only grow. There would be many producers approaching her to help her produce her music, but she felt she needed to wait, grow and experience life.
Holding a macchiato in her right hand overshadowed by the skyscrapers that have become the fixture of Bole, wearing faded jeans and a dark sweater that matches her boots and a necklace that is longer than her natural hair, its hard is to ignore the gigantic emerald ring that is on her promise finger as she reflects on life, music and what the future holds for her.
In the five years she has been away, she had become a mother to a daughter who is now four years old and has become engaged. These experiences have been transformational for her and are reflected in her music.
Her daughter seems to be her universe, often showing snapshots of her daughter’s face on her phone when not distracted by fans, who come her way to enquire about her album and where she has been for so long. This scene not far from young men selling her album which has been a hit since it was released a month ago.
“I wanted to create my own sound and not emulate the sound and style of others,” she told The Reporter. “That was important to me as an artist and it’s important to also have an array of diverse music out there and that is the direction I chose for myself. One with music that is as different and unique as our Ethiopian diversity and culture.”
Chelina, her full name Chelina Yeshiwondim was a product of parents who were both in the military. She was named after a city that is located in the Tigray Regional State, Ethiopia. While she was born in Hawassa, she left as a toddler for Addis Ababa.
Her beloved grandmother raised her; however, the influence of her own mother, a professional artist was passed on to her along with the music of Tilahun Gessesse, Menelik Wossenachew and of course, Aster Aweke. (She has yet to meet her musical idol in person)
She mimicked their sound, emulated them and saw her own ambition in their music as their timeless classics were preformed through the voice of her mother.
“My mother was in a band and that was why I loved music and wanted to follow in her footsteps,” she said. “Destiny led me to where I am and I am determined to pass on the legacy of others who have influenced me, to those that will come after me and I want them to know, they do not have to emulate others, but create a sound of their own.”
She was to study Law, but ended up at the prestigious Yared Music School, Addis Ababa University.
Since the release of her new single, ‘Sai bai’, which is on heavy rotation on the radio and the eventual release of her full CD, much opportunities have opened up to her. A New York-based production company has called, followed by a South African to inquire and potentially partner for future projects.
She is also looking at opportunities to tour, within Ethiopia and the world and use her fame for charitable advocacy. Since she released her album, she has made a rare appearance at Mama’s Kitchen Club in Wello Sefer a month ago and received a warm reception.
“I was delighted to have seen her performance and that has propelled me to purchase her CD,” a new fan told The Reporter. “She was wonderful, is a great talent and her style and sound is something to experience.”
Among the established and emerging designers, she prefers those of Mafi’s, one of Ethiopia’s established designers, as she has had a long association with her, even having her dress her for her lone international performance in Spain.
The 26-year old emerging artist is excited about the future. She wants her music to reach new ground and be accepted by all segments of society and is determined to grow as an artist and pave way for others along the way.
“I like the diversity of our society, in our people and our culture,” she concluded, as she sipped her last sip of macchiato that has chilled since ordered half-an hour ago. “We are like a rainbow of people that is the envy of other nations. Music is a powerful tool to motivate and inspire and to tell our story. That is what is on my mind when I create my own music.”