Ethiopian zerefe kebde Like millions of his peers in Ethiopia, Abdi Nuressa grew up playing soccer, a habit that followed him thousands of miles across the Atlantic when he moved to the United States in his late teens. It was in 2001 and Abdi was living in Washington DC; he had a team called Lencha (spelled in his native Afaan Oromo as ‘Leenccaa’) with his buddies and they had a match to play in Minneapolis. As luck would have it, their match coincided with a fund raising event held by the tsar of Oromo music, Dr. Ali Birra, for his ‘Birra Foundation’.
“We went there to support and at some point we were sitting in circles and telling jokes,” recalls Abdi. “Then I started singing. That is when Ali heard me and told me I had a good voice. ‘If you love to sing,’ Ali said, ‘use it.’”
Abdi, indeed, always loved to sing. In fact, before he left for the US he auditioned in the oldest theatre in the country, Hagar Fiqir theatre, located in Piasa, the oldest part of Addis Abeba. “I sang and I danced,” he tells this magazine. Abdi got a job as a singer but what he couldn’t get was his father’s approval, without which he couldn’t have pursued the profession.
Abdi left Ethiopia without performing much of the career that would later on define him.
Now, energized by the thumbs up he acquired from a legend he admired, at a place far from home, Abdi decided to revive his career. He began giving out gigs, usually performing cover versions of old Oromo songs. People who have seen him perform at gigs would approach Abdi and encourage him to do a cover album. A request he often declined because, “as much as I loved those distinguished artists, I wanted to put my own signature in the history of Oromo music.”
That signature was engraved in 2009 when his debut album Irree Adda came out. The album, which is subtitled in English The Power of Culture, “[is my testament] on the power culture has in a society and I wanted to express that in my music.”