close
Advertisement
Can't connect right now! retry

add The News to homescreen

tap to bring up your browser menu and select 'Add to homescreen' to pin the The News web app

Got it!

add The News to homescreen

tap to bring up your browser menu and select 'Add to homescreen' to pin the The News web app

Got it!

July 7, 2020

An Oromo icon

Opinion

July 7, 2020

There are not many artists in East Africa who get to witness their own stellar achievement in their lifetime. Haacaaluu Hundeessa, the undisputed king of contemporary Oromo music of resistance (also known as Geerarsa), did. Such was the explosive impact of Haacaaluu's songs that many within his Oromo community saw him as indispensable to their struggle for political emancipation.

Haacaaluu inspired the Qubee generation (ethnic Oromos born after Ethiopia was restructured along ethno-linguistic lines in 1991 and educated in their mother tongue) and his music served as a rallying anthem during the 2015-2018 Oromo protests and beyond. His intensely political lyrics both refined and clarified the enduring nature of state-sponsored Oromo marginalisation.

When Haacaaluu was assassinated by unidentified assailants on June 29 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia lost not just a strikingly talented musician, but also a political and cultural icon. His assassination sent shockwaves across the country, particularly in Oromia, the Oromo-majority region of Ethiopia, and triggered major protests in Addis Ababa and elsewhere. At least 160 people have been killed in the ensuing clashes and more than 1,000 arrested, including leading figures of the Oromo opposition parties, such as Jawar Mohammed, Bekele Gerba, Shigut Geleta, and others.

Amid the violence, millions of Ethiopians are mourning the death of a towering artistic figure who inspired a peaceful political struggle against repression and paved the way for major political change.

Born in 1986 in Ambo, a storied city in the Oromia state about 100km west of Addis Ababa, Haacaaluu was the fifth son of Hundeessa Bonsa, an electricity department employee, and Gudatu Hora, a stay-at-home mum. His father wanted him to study medicine, but Haacaaluu showed little interest in academic studies.

From early on, he had a passion for art and music. With the support of his mother, Haacaaluu honed his craft at a young age while looking after cattle on the outskirts of Ambo. He came of age at a time when the ruling elites saw the Oromo as a potential threat and Oromos from all walks of life were subjected to widespread repression based on actual or imputed opposition to the government. The state violence triggered growing resistance within the community

Haacaaluu attended school in Ambo, a city that came to symbolise and represent the tenacity and unyielding determination of the Oromo protest movement of 2015-2018. In high school, Haacaaluu joined a school club where he began singing and participating in a clandestine student movement at a time when high schools and colleges became dissident political spaces and came under intense government surveillance and policing. In 2003, at the age of 17, he was accused of supporting the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), an Oromo nationalist organisation which at that time was banned, and was sent to jail.

Prison did not break Haacaaluu's determination. It helped him understand the precarity and vulnerabilities associated with his identity, it gave him time to read Ethiopian history, it made him a revolutionary agent and a voice for change.

Excerpted from: ‘Haacaaluu Hundeessaa: A towering musician and an Oromo icon’. AlJazeera.com