The Unexpressed Jemberu Demeke


A fire from Saliyon, lighting the path to self-expression...

Jemberu Demeke, also known as JD, saw his music career soar after collaborating with the father of Ethio-Jazz, Gash Mulatu Astatke, on the track "I Faram Gamme”. The rapper/singer rose to fame with this song and nine more from his debut album.  Building on this success, Jemberu recently released his second studio album titled “Esatu-Se(እሳቱ-ሰ).” In the Amharic language, "Esatu-Se'' corresponds to the alphabet character “ሰ”, which translates to "Fire Se." The album's title plays on the theme of fire, distinguishing it from another character, Nigusu se “ሠ”

Esatu Se: A character from Saliyon

The album opens with a beautiful poem recited by Poet Ephrem Seyum, which distinguishes between the two “Se” characters. This sets a profound tone before transitioning into the upbeat melodies of the first song. Here, Jemberu begins to sing, posing a question that sparks conversation and encourages others to express their emotions., creating an interactive atmosphere. As the song progresses, Jemberu mentions “Saliyon Mender,” adding an intriguing element to the narrative.

Jemberu stumbled on the Amharic word "Saliyon" rather randomly. He interprets "Saliyon" to mean both "perspective" and "attitude," and personally conceptualizes it as a village where an ensemble of characters that are yet to emerge dwell in. These characters each have their own distinct identities and attitudes, one of them being Esatu Se.

The character Esatu Se embodies an extroverted, outgoing, and confident persona. This is a sharp contrast to Jemberu, who identifies as an introvert. According to Jemberu though, Esatu Se is just one of the many characters residing in Saliyon Village, prompting the question: Are there more characters? The rapper/singer hints that there are, each sprouting from diverse perspectives. Jemberu reveals that the tracks from his recent album are entirely dedicated to the character Esatu Se, marking a new beginning for the Saliyon saga.

The persona of “Esatu Se” is perhaps best reflected on a track titled “RAS YE RAS/ ራስ የ ራስ,” which might initially come across as arrogant and conceited. However, the song celebrates personal achievements and appropriately boasts about one’s abilities. Jemberu clarifies that the song’s true intention is to give credit where credit is due, labeling this attitude as “Constructive ጉራ/pride.”  Jemberu believes that boasting is justified when it stems from hard work. He remarks, “Bragging can be pointless when you don’t have a foundation, but at this point in my life, I believe that I have established my base.” Because of these and other distinguishing qualities, Esatu Se is a figure that exudes confidence and grace, embodying the "fire" element.  

The Fire Warms Everyone

Jemberu views music as a "dream," open to interpretation. Although his intentions in his songs are explicit, he acknowledges his fans' varying perceptions of his recent album. He describes his creative process as a delicate balance between expressing his true self bluntly and selecting the language and tone that best conveys his message. 

Although JD’s music has strong lyrical meanings, his message could be overshadowed by the energetic rhythms. When asked about this, he asserts that both the lyrics and the upbeat melodies are intentional choices. Esatu Se's message is conveyed not just through the lyrics but also through the beat, rhythm, and other elements of the song. The message lies in the entirety of the song. 

Treading the Waters of Self-Expression

In a culture where expressing emotions, particularly for men, is often discouraged, one might assume that this would impede Jemberu's journey of self-expression. JD recalls how societal expectations once made him hesitant to express his emotions openly. Now, however, he sees it as an opportunity to take a step back and look for the appropriate time to express himself. For Jemberu, self-expression should still respect societal norms with a healthy dose of pushing the boundaries. Jemberu provides an analogy to further make his point: "If you wear clothes in a society where none are worn, you are perceived as wrong." He argues that the clothed individual isn't necessarily incorrect, but as long as they are in that village, they should respect its customs and be prepared for the risks of defying the norm.

As an example, the rapper acknowledges that society often encourages men to toughen up, noting that while strength is a valuable quality, it's also important to be aware of one's vulnerabilities. "You won’t find the remedy if you don’t know the source of your pain," he explains. Jemberu advocates for a more balanced approach to masculinity that allows for the recognition and acceptance of both strengths and weaknesses. 

Jemberu believes he pushed societal boundaries when he challenged himself to do an experimental performance on a busy street in Torhailoch. The response as expected was on two extremes, and for JD it served as a double-edged sword that shaped his confidence.“Society normalizes great Ideas, It’s just a matter of time. Take cinemas for example, our ancestors used to believe they were the house of the devil.” JD adds. 

While pushing the boundaries of self-expression can be rewarding, it also carries risks. Jemberu first seeks feedback from his close circle of family and friends to mitigate these risks.  "Identifying your target audience is crucial, but at the end of the day, you have to try" he emphasizes. Although Jemberu is dedicated to pushing the boundaries of self-expression, he acknowledges that there is an invisible barrier, unique to each culture, that should moderate it. "The barrier should be something we genuinely believe in, not just influenced by others," he asserts. For Jemberu, religion, and cultural norms play a significant role in defining these limits.

A Legacy of Authenticity

Jemberu expresses his deep respect for collaborating with the titan of Ethiopian Jazz crediting it as an experience that shaped his approach to music. However, he explains that while it was an immense privilege, it also fuels his desire to continue learning and growing as a musician. He claims that this achievement shouldn't feed his ego or make him stagnant as an artist. Instead, it should propel him further in his musical career.

Jemberu is currently focusing on pursuing his self-expression journey. He humbly expresses his desire to leave a legacy through his work that inspires and influences others rather than something that can be quantified in numbers. He wishes to be recognized as someone who is authentically himself. His growing success speaks for his generation’s eagerness to express themselves and value an artist’s message along with their music. 

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