MUSIC AND MY LIFE
Music has always played an intrinsic part in my life. Ever since I first heard the tunes of Michael Jackson, Mahmoud Ahmed, Getachew Kassa, Beethoven I was forever changed by the sounds that graced my young ears. I found that listening to music could fill my soul with contentment or bring about a sense of calm. It made sense; it guided my moods, it also exposed me to different cultures.
I remember my Dad’s friend, teaching me how to moonwalk which my little chubby legs tried to emulate in class. In front of my 6 yrs old peers I tried the move and apparently delighted everyone with my attempts. It connected the adults (our teachers) and my fellow performers to partake in the fun of limb movement together . In hindsight, I marvel how those sounds organized in a specific arrangement could bring about changes in emotions across lands, cultures and people.
Subsequently in my teenage years, I got into the habit of recording songs in cassette recorders from either VOA’s World Music Charts or BBC’s Top Of the Pops which came in scratchy and painstakingly tuned AM station airwaves, happening at odd hours since I lived in Ethiopia and the stations were abroad.
I would get my local music fix from music played on local AM radio stations. I got good at recording different songs back to back in my often used cassette tapes, to the point that some of them became unreadable. I don’t know if the current generation would remember but to rewind your cassette tape to the desired position using a pencil was an art by itself.
My love and curiosity for music were stocked purely by the sounds and vibe that came from each song. For me, it was merely the crescendos and the beat, the rhythm and the tones that made music interesting, I was fascinated by the art of being able to move people in tandem to the beats of a specific tune. I was not yet interested in what the songs said.
I then graduated into actually buying good quality copies of albums and songs; original ones were far too expensive in Ethiopia in the mid to late 90s and early 2000s. So I would go to a tape shop named Dallas Music Shop which resided in Piassa, and I would be amazed at the amount of music the shop had. Although I didn’t know the shop owner’s name, I would always be in awe at the seriousness he employed on his business. He regarded everyone seriously, whether you were an avid music aficionado or as in my case a teenager who didn’t know anything but was curious to learn.
He had everything, from Eric Clapton to Bruce Springsteen from Madonna to Linkin Park from Sudanese hits to Soundtracks (which were impossible to get in my time in Addis back then) and if he didn’t have it, he would ask for the name and let you know when he has it. I got hooked on Blues and Jazz from the cassettes from that shop; I would use the sounds of Muddy Waters and BB King to get over my teenage heartbreaks. It is so interesting listening to Blues when you are down; the songs had a way of lightening the burden that you felt.
In the era of CDs there came the age of Napster, Winamp (oh Winamp we had some good times didn’t we) and Limewire. My song library got supplemented by Dallas Music and Irie Music and of course the web. I was into everything from Rock to Classical, from Tecno to Jazz. If it made a sound and I could get it, I listened to it. It was also a time where I started to create mega collections of music types and artists and used media players to craft playlists for them.
This era was also a time when I started to make an effort to go beyond the sound and understand what and why artists were making the music that I was hearing, that is a process that I am still going through after all these years.
I even did a small experiment of creating music and trying to craft an album in my bedroom. Bought a mic taped it on my clothes hanger with tape and used Cool Edit Pro (hacked version, remember this was Ethiopia and we couldn’t buy it online,…we still can’t) and got together with two talented friends to make an Album.
The process was quite interesting, frustrating (my old dog kept shouting, and it could be heard,…remember recording in my bedroom which is sans soundproofing. Had to ingest a lot of Tums tablets to calm my stomach) but it was eyeopening. For one I knew I couldn’t sing (my two friends could), but I also figured out that I like the process of making music. But life came, and a lot of things drove us to different paths, it’s alright …. we have a cringe-inducing but funny and exciting album out of it.
After all this I learned that by listening to music, wherever it came from I could open my mind to different thoughts and perspectives, it also allowed me to tell stories. Which is the one thing as mentioned above I haven’t concentrated much on. I continued on the path of mixing and making music, and I tried to create songs using FL Studio, but it took too much of my time. My time became overloaded by different things back then. So I had to pause this exercise.
After years I decided to once again plunge into making playlists and engaging with communities using a playlist that would feature music from different cultures and musical types which you usually wouldn’t get to hear in one platform. I decided to host this playlist online since it was too hard getting to do it in local stations. I found Mixcloud and started uploading playlists on it. The primary idea for starting the “podcast” was to create enough interest so that then I would be able to go local FM stations and put forward this perspective of how we are all one and how exposure is the critical component for better understanding and acceptance between different cultures using my program.
I tried to mix Ethiopian (which is where I am from), African (An inclusive term that encompasses Afrobeat and various African genres) and World (a selection of songs from across the world) music playlist. I also worked to interview people who were working to break the ceiling on their respective fields. Six years later, it is still a quirky and exciting journey.
I ported my podcast to a local FM station; I had been given an unsightly time slot (used to finish my shows at midnight and my way back home was through taxis) which made for some interesting journeys back home. I managed to score some wonderful interviews which were humbling and eye-opening. I then morphed my twice weekly uploads to a once a week program with a more focused approach. I moved to Sydney and changed the nature of the uploads to music collated on the road. Then changed my name from Mikmik (nickname given by my sister) Radio to Mikmik Express On The Road.
Music has been an integral part of my life, and the joy that I would get by exposing different sounds to myself and those around me is a fascinating journey to have. By exposing each other to other people’s cultures, perspectives and voices we can only raise ourselves to be better humans.
Music is that platform which can cut through imaginary and physical boundaries preventing this symbiosis. And funnily enough through this exchange its the one medium where your roots and the music that defines your culture could and will be altered but will never be erased. Thus you get to pass forward your essence for the next ear willing and ready to listen.
On the next article, I will be outlining my actual process of choosing songs for my weekly online podcast/playlist Mikmik Express On The Road and the see how I get to pick the 24 songs from the rest of my selections.
You can also check out my live list on Spotify here.
If you have any comments, dedications, collaborations that you would like to make don’t hesitate to drop me a line on my links.