Ethiopian American Musician Meklit Hadero hosts an ongoing series at The World about stories of music and migration.

Movement

Ethiopian American musician Meklit Hadero: 'We use music to talk about the things that are hard to talk about'

As part of "Movement,” an ongoing series from The World about the lives and work of immigrant musicians, Ethiopian American musician Meklit Hadero recounts conversations with fellow musicians in Ethiopia about the unifying role of music and culture amid the conflict in Tigray.

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Ethiopian American musician Meklit Hadero hosts an ongoing series at The World about stories of music and migration. 

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Courtesy of Meklit Hadero

People in northern Ethiopia's Tigray region have been enduring a military conflict for four months that has caused nearly 60,000 people to flee the region to neighboring Sudan to escape violence.

While Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed proclaimed victory in November over the Tigray People's Liberation Front, the fighting continues in some areas of Tigray and aid organizations warn of an imminent humanitarian crisis.

As the conflict unfolds, some in the Ethiopian diaspora around the world try to make sense of it and their personal stories of migration and belonging to the country. Among them, Ethiopian American musician and cultural activist Meklit Hadero.

“It's a time of heartbreak for many Ethiopians,” Hadero told The World. “Hearing these stories of suffering is just absolutely tragic.”

Related: Four musicians grapple with the same question: What is home?

Hadero, who left Ethiopia for the US with her family when she was just under 2 years old, last visited Ethiopia in 2019 — before the conflict in Tigray broke out.

She spoke with Ethiopian saxophonist Jorga Mesfin about the sense of optimism and desire for political and economic reform with the government and yet, palpable risk of ethnic violence. 

As part of "Movement,” an ongoing series from The World about the lives and work of immigrant musicians, Hadero recounts her conversations with Mesfin and other fellow artists during that 2019 trip — and discusses the role of music and culture in the country amid the Tigray conflict. 

“Calls for unity can feel impossible when history has not been reconciled, but the cost of not looking each other in the eye also feels too heavy to bear. How do we move through this? Like George [Mesfin], I often find it easier to face these impossible questions as an artist with music rather than with words,” Meklit said. “We use music to talk about the things that are hard to talk about.”

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