Open-hearted harmony

The Hullegeb Israeli-Ethiopian Arts Festival is a hybrid of culture and creativity.

Open-hearted harmony (photo credit: ran biran)
Open-hearted harmony
(photo credit: ran biran)
In the traditional Ethiopian language of Amharic, hullegeb means “open to everyone.” That is the idea behind the third annual Hullegeb Israeli-Ethiopian Arts Festival, which will take place in Jerusalem later this month.
“The festival presents the Ethiopian creativity as emerging and developing in recent years through theater, music and dance,” says Effie Benaya, artistic director of Confederation House, the organization responsible for the multifaceted festival.
The event will shine a spotlight on the contemporary Ethiopian artistic community, one that has been “influenced by Israeli artists and, to a lesser degree, by modern Western influences and even contemporary and African influences,” he says..
The week-long festival will consist of six performances of theater, dance and music, each bringing something different to the stage, including a play performed by The Hullegeb Israeli-Ethiopian Theater, the festival’s main event.
Moshe Malka, artistic director of the Hullegeb Theater, says that theater is a great tool to discover both the beauty and the problems within the Ethiopian community. “Art has the ability to move the community forward,” says Malka.
Mandefro Feredeh (Who Would Dare Judge?) is a oneman- show starring Beyne Getahon and produced by the Hullegeb. The narrative performance, which will be the main event of the week’s festivities, follows a man who is removed from his home and incarcerated after being accused of domestic violence. Written and directed by Malka, the story follows the trial and his internal struggle.
The festival will also feature a different kind of struggle – one between man and nature. The opening performance, a collaboration of artists Din Din Aviv, Abate Berihun and Alon Yoffe, is a musical depiction of the atmosphere surrounding the life of desert nomads. Ethiopian folk songs and melodies, alongside songs by Aviv, will be performed in arrangements emphasizing the simplicity and cyclical nature of desert life. The musical journey will open the event on December 20 at the Beit Shmuel Theater.
Also bearing much anticipation is the premiere solo performance of Ethiopian emerging artist Ester Rada. Her funky music is soulful, her lyrics are powerful, and her voice is calm and soothing, but anything but boring. Young and beautiful, Rada has an engaging stage presence. Her debut solo album, Life Happens, was released on November 1. Her concert takes place on December 26 at Confederation House.
Another musical gem, saxophonist, vocalist and composer Abate Berihun recreates traditional Ethiopian songs hundreds of years old, along with works of contemporary vocalists such as Mahmoud Ahmed, Koko Sasaba and Aster Aweke (known as “the Ethiopian Aretha Franklin”). Also at Confederation House, this hybrid of Ethiopian folk and modern music takes place on December 25.
Produced by the Nephesh Theater company, the play One of a Kind follows an Ethiopian Jewish boy and his journey from Ethiopia, through Sudan, in pursuit of the holy city of Jerusalem. The play won first prize at the 2005 Haifa International Festival for Children’s Theater and received the Play of the Year award in 2006 presented by the Israeli Center for Children and Youth Theater. On December 24 at the Gerard Behar Center, the Nephesh Theater will take festivalgoers on the journey that is indeed one of a kind.
The word beta in Amharic means “house.” The only dance performance of the festival will be performed by the Beta Dance Company, which incorporates traditional Ethiopian movement and contemporary dance and expresses the Ethiopian perspective of combining traditional roots with modern Israeli society. Founder and artistic director Ruth Eshel has manifested a series of episodes combining calm restrained movement alongside contrasting aggressive dance techniques. The piece, entitled And (One), will debut at the Gerard Behar Center on December 23.
Confederation House, the masterminds behind the International Oud Festival and Indian Music Days, is an organization based in Jerusalem that aims at creating artistic harmony among the more than 100 ethnic groups that make up Jerusalem. The organization is a metaphorical meeting place for all heritages and traditions represented by the communities that reside in Jerusalem.
Malka explains that the biggest problem for Ethiopians involved in Israeli theater and other art is their inability to move past stereotypes. That is why this event is so important. Their community needs to have its own artistic outlet, he says.
The mission statement of Confederation House is to serve as a bridge between East and West, past and present, but above all, to connect people.
“The more popularity they gain as an artistic community, the more ability they have to change the stereotypes of the Ethiopian people,” says Malka.
A bridge always begins with two separate disconnected sides facing each other, and the Hullegeb Festival serves as a bridge as well, bringing together the Ethiopian community and Israel.
The Hullegeb Ethiopian-Israeli Arts Festival takes place December 20-27 in Jerusalem. For more information: