Issayas : Would you tell us about yourself?
Luwam: My name is Luwam Thomas and I graduated with a BSc in Nursing Degree from Ryerson University. Currently I am working as a registered nurse in Canada. Along with my love for nursing, I have a passion for music, arts, and my country Eritrea. Music has been a part of my life since I was young, starting piano lessons at age five. I continued my lessons for 14 years and currently wish to pursue my studies at a university level, with a focus in music composition. My dream is to compose classical-cultural Eritrean music to then one day see the Toronto Symphony Orchestra play our music on stage.
At age 14, I began playing Eritrean music as solo piano shows at Eritrean local community events. In 2006, I produced an Eritrean Instrumental CD of which I played popular/cultural Eritrean music. The total proceeds of the sale of the CD was donated to the Eritrean Martyrs Children Fund. In my late teens I started a journey in search of young Eritrean artists in Toronto to create a band; 2007 Bahli Tesfa was formed. We performed at various Eritrean and non-Eritrean events for 3 years promoting our culture through music and dance. In promoting Eritrean culture, I participated in the Miss AfriCanada 2009 Pageant in which I was awarded 2nd Runner-up and best talent (http://missafricanada.ca/2009-pageant/). In addition, I wrote an essay for a university course titled, “The Role of Music in the Eritrean Struggle for Independence” (http://www.academia.edu/280600/The_Role_of_Music_In_the_Eritrean_Struggle_for_Independence). It was featured in a local ommunity newspaper,eritreancompass.com, and recently in shabait.com.
Recently, I have begun sharing my work to the cyber world through my YouTube channel Hade1Hade (www.youtube.com/hade1hade). In the channel you will find my work in Eritrean music, Eritrean cuisine cooking tutorials, how-to-play the kirar tutorials, and of course the Eritrean Mass Online Music Collaboration Project of 2013.
Issayas: When I first saw your solicitation for your project, I thought it was a brilliant idea. For people who didn't see the pledge, what was it that you wanted to accomplish and did you succeed in what you set out to do?
Luwam: As a young kid I remember watching the Eritrean cultural group, “Sbrit” perform a group song called “Hibue’ Werki”. For the first time I saw an Eritrean orchestra with several kirarists, wata players, flutists, and more. I said to myself, “I want to create an Eritrean orchestra here in Canada!” Looking back, I realized it was a kiddish wish.
Early this year, I watched a YouTube video called "Little Symphony" where 106 young artists from 30 different countries collaborated online to play a classical song, Canon in D Major. Rekindling my kiddish memories of an Eritrean orchestra, I thought to myself, "What if we did this in Eritrean music?" I brought it up in conversation with a fellow friend and multi-talented young artist Minasie Haile (who is the music producer in EMOMCP2013) and from there the idea blossomed. As I started to see the massive responses from Eritrean youth all over the world, the support, the encouragement, and the desire to participate, it started to become clear the objectives of the project: cultural awareness, youth empowerment, and most importantly unity.
Issayas: What did you learn from this experience about the Eritrean youth?
Luwam : Spirit of the youth.
We are “weresti hager”. Through this project I was able to see the desire and willingness of Eritrean youth to learn about their culture, the desire to connect with their brother’s and sisters all over the world, and to be in touch with their identity. The youth in this group, with enthusiasm and dedication, encouraged each other in the development of their talents, teaching each other what they know, communicating ideas, and helping each other to network. For example, the initiative of the organizers
taking ownership of parts of the project in the field of their talents.
Regardless of our differences, where we live, our political views, or our religions, this project has showed that together as Eritreans we can do great things. As a group we have come across some challenges including persons or audiences questioning or attempting to politicize the project. What really enlightened me was the maturity level and how progressive-minded these young smart Eritreans were; showing the world that we can set aside our differences and work together,
focusing on a common goal.
Issayas: What surprised you the most about this project?
Luwam: The magnitude of undiscovered Eritrean young talent in this world! Each application I went through, I felt like I found a pot of gold, or a gem. "I play kirar". "I can rap in English or Tigrigna". "I am a painter". "I can dance with the areki bottle on my head". It was a wonderful experience to go through these applications, to get to know these young artists, and finally to have the pleasure of working with them.
This project took 5 months to complete (which isn't a short time), starting from April to August. The second thing that moved me was that each and every single person involved in this project was extremely dedicated, committed, and passionate about the project from day one all the way to the final days of completion.
Issayas: What was the volume of the response? How about the demographics?
Luwam: We used various Internet outlets to share our project idea: Facebook, Email, Twitter, and YouTube. We released an information/advertisement video, which received 40,000 views. On Facebook we created a group called Eritrean Mass Online Music Collaboration Project. In a matter of weeks, the group grew to include 500 members consisting of supporters and participants from all around the world. The participants you see on the final video are living in countries Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,USA, Canada, Germany, Rwanda, UK, and Israel. The final video was released on YouTube on August 27, 2013 and in 3 days totaled over 10,000 views and endless positive feedback from YouTube users, Facebook users, and shared by many all over the Internet. It was featured on raimoq.com, dehai.org, paltalk forums, the Abraham Afewerki Facebook Fan Page, and others.
Issayas: The end product is beautiful. Did you have to select the finalists? What was the process?
Luwam: One of the goals of the project was to encourage and empower young Eritrean talents. Having said that, there wasn't any competition or any selection process of finalists. Everyone was welcome to share their talents as long as they performed it to the best of their ability. Being the first of its kind in Eritrean music, when we first released the idea of the project to the cyber-world, we did not know what to expect in terms of youth response. It ended up that we received a very large amount of interest from Eritrean youth all over the world wanting to participate. This made us decide it was best to begin an organizing process by creating an application form for interested youth, and asking to submit by a deadline. We then formed an organizing committee with representatives from different parts of the world to assist with each category of artists, advertising, and music and video editing. We received over 70 applications with various talents in less than 3 weeks. Each applicant was sent an
information package via email including a description of the objective/goals of the project, the instructions or steps they would need to take, and necessary tools they may need to complete their part (i.e. instrumental, lyrics). From then it was endless back and forth communicating with artists and organizers, sometimes assisting with the Tigrigna lyrics or pronunciation, assisting with tuning their instruments via Skype, helping them find creative ways to perform their art...etc. It was a group effort of Eritrean youth helping each other develop and fine-tune their talents in Eritrean music; all completely over the Internet.
Keep in mind that this project was completely voluntary. The majority of the participants took time out of their busy lives from school, work, many asking for extensions so that they can finish their exams (which of course we granted). Finally, we ended up with a total of 34 official participants (musicians, singers, painters, dancers, photographers, artists).
Issayas: Would you do it again? What would you change or not change?
Luwam: It was a memorable experience. Since the release date, to this day I still don't have words to express my happiness and appreciation to everyone that was involved either actively participating or supporting us. It took a lot of hard work, sacrifice of time, problem solving, learning new technologies, dedication, teamwork, and perseverance to complete this project. I really do believe this was a stepping-stone in the development of Eritrean music using technology as a vehicle. I learned nothing is impossible if we put our mind to it and have belief in what we are doing and trust in the people we are working with. At the moment, I am pursuing other pending projects but if the opportunity arises and if the youth are interested in an EMOMCP Part 2, I am more than happy and willing to do it again. This project has sparked a new network of young Eritrean artists, evident by some of the artists already working on mini-collaborations with each other online.
I must express my gratitude to my parents and the Eritrean community of Toronto whom since my early days supported me in my journey in arts and music. Thank you from the bottom of my heart to all those involved in EMOMCP2013. Lastly, thank you Issayas for inviting me to your blog.
Issayas: The pleasure is mine.