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Ethiopia by Rachel Unthank - Part 2

Mike Harding | 12:20 UK time, Friday, 26 February 2010

Rachel Unthank writes:

Another inspirational individual we met was a man called Melaku Belay. Melaku was a Sudanese refugee. His family was dispersed, and he ended up as an orphan and street kid in Addis Ababa. To survive he danced for tips at a music club, where he asked if he could sleep on floor. He managed to earn enough tips to eventually buy the club - an amazing feat! He is now a world famous dancer, performing with the Ethipiques, yet he always comes home to dance in his club and invest in the community. 
Fendika, his club, is the only place in Ethiopia to pay dancers and musicians, the rest earn a living from tips. We got to visit a school that Melaku supports, where over 900 underprivileged kids attend. They are children whose parents have sent them from the countryside thinking that they will have better lives, but unbeknown to their parents they become owned and are set to work. The school provides them with an education and health care, whilst also trying to prevent them ending up as street kids, trying to repatriate them with their families, and educating the people in the countryside of what is really happening to their children. We visited this school and when we arrived they sang to us, it was very moving. I taught them a couple of Geordie songs and some of the other musicians rocked out for them, which brought delight and giggles to their faces.

We also went to Malaku's club and his dancers made our eyes pop out of their heads with their shoulder popping, neck snapping audacious moves. The next day we were treated to a rare dance workshop with Malaku, where we discovered just how amazing he was as we struggled to get our limbs to move in unfamiliar ways, although we all came out feeling miraculously lighter and energised.

I could go on forever about all the people we met and amazing music we experienced.  Discovering   the music of a different culture sets the mind travelling in new creative directions and makes you want to learn more. I think you always learn a little bit about youself when you travel, and for me it confirmed my own pride in our own traditions.

Rachel Unthank


  • Comment number 1.

    Hey Rachel,

    Two things spring to mind reading of your great African experience. Firstly, that must be the first time you’ve been photographed in trousers! And secondly, I’ll be looking forward to hearing your rendition of the Sandgate Dangling Song. Maybe that can happen when you’re in Dublin later this month. That you perform the song that is and eh, not in the trousers!

    No, I really am looking forward to hearing a song from the English tradition in my first opportunity to see the band since discovering you through Jools and since hearing what is in my view, the most innovative album since the Rage Against the Machine debut in Here’s the Tender Coming.

    Continued success,

    Michael Reade.

  • Comment number 2.

    Nice to read about Melaku putting something into his community. Margaret Thatcher infamously said there was no such thing as society. Sadly a lot of people in this country seem to have followed her example instead of Melaku's, and where has it led us? Top bankers gambling with our money and then taking large bonuses.
    Could you arrange some sort of cultural visit for top bankers that might persuade them to do something socially useful and also put some money into the community?

    Sorry about the rant, I blame it on Show of Hands and their song Arrogance,Ignorance and Greed.

    Best Wishes.


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