Chatting with a Comedian By Sisay T.
Out of the handful entertainers our country has, the one who comes to mind first is undoubtedly Artist Tamagn Beyene. A lot has been said about his talent as a comedian, a host and even as player of musical instruments. Every comedian we know has his own style of presentation, but what separated Tamagn from others is his quick and witty repartee that captivates the audience every minute of the time. Still more than that, his jokes are not only funny; they are also fresh and current as well as suitable to the core message he has to his audience. Through bad and good times, he has molded his jokes to be worthy of telling. Naturally, unpopular ideas are safe for all comedians to crack good jokes about them. But for Tamagn, that was not an alternative. He has to live the lives of his fellow Ethiopians; he has to feel their pain and misery. Most of all he has to pay his due to save his country from total disintegration. Whatever he brings to the stage, it has to be popular and relevant. Here is where you find Tamagn taking a more heroic and humane tasks to listen and reflect the heart beat of the Ethiopian people. To my everlasting astonishment, Tamagn has realized that his comedy and his presence on the stage are serving him as a tool to advance the precious causes of freedom and social justice. He has dealt with topics that are touchy and morally sensitive and were interpreted as politically unacceptable by the government. As we all witnessed it, that did not make the authorities happy and as the result he was forced to live in exile.
Now see what Tamagn has been doing since he came to the US some 20 years ago. Have you ever questioned how this one man force has become a hell of a pain for the ruling party in Ethiopian even when he is thousands of miles away from them? Just remember how many protests he rallied against tyranny and human right abuses in Ethiopia. Just imagine how many pro-unity and pro-democracy meetings he has hosted. Time and again he has demonstrated his unwavering belief in the unity of the country and his passionate commitment for the well being of the people of Ethiopia. Any sane mind can tell that he indulges himself into those activities neither for the money nor for the glory. First of all there is no money to be made and second, nobody can tell us what more glory and fame Tamagn would have sought for. This gentleman has been a pro bono activist for long period of time. Few or none of us have the slightest idea about the driving force behind his activism. Well, in the last few months, in two separate but similar occasions, I have a chance to chat with this humble and charismatic person we all know as Artist Tamagn Beyene.
The first time I came across this great person was when he was in Dallas to lead the stage for Ethiopian Community Day event. Some friends I knew have arranged a dinner party in his honor and I was an invitee to that party. I was amazed by his humility to avail himself up close and personal. He levels himself down to everyone. He respects
others view. I learned that as much as he respects others he deservedly demands to be respected as well. He has high regards for his principles and his own personal attachment to his country, her flag and unity. This is the person who is arguably the top entertainer in the country of 80 million people. You should understand if I felt privileged to talk to him.
At the beginning of the discussion some of our friends were unhappy about the uncivilized message we were getting from the usual destructive forces in our city. I think some of them have issues with Tamagne because he, or they think he, has aligned his activism with the group that was open to talk and work with parties like OLF and ONLF. The others who rumored around the community were the pro-EPRDF elements.
Surprisingly, their message was the same. They have this archaic and feudalistic view that a comedian (in their parlance ‘Azmari’ –they meant it to be a derogatory term) cannot be up to the task of a ‘noble’ person’s deeds; the deeds being that of leading an organized group, becoming a political activist and understand the intricacies of politics. Well, some have moronic views that everything Tamagn does is somehow meant to make us laugh and could not measure up to be a serious matter. Although I disdain these unenlightened comments, it pains me to see such views still prevalent in our society. I wish they had seen him how thrilled he is in becoming a comedian and fervently loved to be named a comedian or an ‘Azmari’ for that matter. To my angry friends, Tamagn has simply quelled them by unashamedly calling himself an “Azmari’ whose agenda is to see a democratic and united Ethiopia.
His opponents and critics alike have thrown every name at him. They said he is uneducated and he has no business in politics. This is an absurd prejudice. These people have been propagating against Tamagn to intimidate and subdue him. I don’t know what kind of diplomas and degrees he has or which college he attended. I believe the level of education one has cannot be a standard to determine his ability to stand up for freedom and democracy. Let truth be told, however, I can confidently say that Tamagn is an autodidact whose general knowledge is in par with the class of political elites. I was mesmerized by his sharp memory and his skills in storytelling and putting narratives in perspective. He is for sure an ardent follower of current affairs. More than anything else, you can clearly see his strong social value system and a decent personal character. Did you remember how Tamagn had trounced his opponent on the debate he had with a certain EPRDF supporter on VOA? You can surely say that he knows about the Ethiopian Constitution more than most Members of Parliament in Ethiopian.
We all know that nobody has pushed him to do this very difficult job. Through times, he is the only unflinching activist who virtually spent his entire life in exile to fight against injustice. And that was not happening without cost and sacrifice. Can’t he promote and shoot further higher and higher to enrich himself. Can we imagine the emotional trauma this individual has been living to balance his personal and activist life? Do we know how it feels to be away from your dear wife and kids days in and days out and doing that for a number of years? That means he has to say no to his kids whenever they asks him to be with them. We all know that Tamagn can give his family and himself a better life if he uses his talent for money alone. For instance, the night he was in Dallas to promote his country’s cause, his much junior comedians, Meskerem Bekele and Kebebew Geda were performing in DC making a hefty sum of money.
Forget everything and think even after he left the country and become their enemy number one, wouldn’t EPRDF guys love to win him back by offering millions of dollars. We have seen some low rated activists awarded a whole lot of dollars for abandoning their opposition to the government. Ali Birra and Kemer Yosuf were reportedly awarded huge amounts of dollars just to go to Addis and perform. Even that buffoon, Solomon Tekalign was worth something to EPRDF. Let me digress a bit and say few words about Solomon. I know Tamagne would not want me to talk about this moron on the same breath I talked about him. Because, Tamagn and Solomon are on a very different scale, and from a different pedigree, I shall say. Any ways, I visit Aiga Forum once in a while and one day I saw a link to Solomon Tekalign’s radio station. That was one thing to be bemused. But sooner I was further bewildered when I learned that EPRDF heavyweights, like the Deputy PM and the former Minister for Foreign Affairs, were the guests for his show. I click on the link and started to listen but before going further I not only cringe on his gaffs and utter incompetence, I also felt deeply sadden by the fate of my country who has lost all of its talented and qualified broadcasters and journalists and now become a playground for bush-leagues. The Deputy Prime Minister giving a prime time interview to the most unskilled and untrained radio host. This says a lot about EPRDF, and its inept leaders. I thought the Aiga Forum boys were smarter than this. How low our county is going to go down? God has mercy on Ethiopia.