Afran Qallo band marks 50 years of making music and history
Opride | June 29, 2012
by Mohammed Ademo
On Jun. 30, 2012, the opening night of the annual Oromo convention , slated to run from Jun. 30 to Jul. 7, in Toronto, Canada, the Afran Qallo band will mark its golden jubilee – the 50th year anniversary of the birth of a movement that produced such star talents as Dr. Ali Birra, the undisputed king of Oromo music.
In 1962, when it was still illegal to sing in the Oromo language, one of the most widely spoken languages in all of Africa, a small group of activists risked persecution by forming the first-ever Oromo music band, in Dire Dawa, a bustling city in eastern Oromia, Ethiopia.
Afran Qallo, whose historical name derives from the collective reference to four of Qallo’s sons –Alaa, Babile, Daga and Oborra – soon struck the chord with locals when the troupe began performing cultural songs at weddings and holidays, often hidden from the watchful eyes of government officials.
At the time, in the city of Dire Dawa, the Somalis, Amharas and Hararis had their own music bands – but the Oromo did not. “Whenever there was a need for wedding celebration, Oromo families had to either pay for the Somali or Harari musical bands because generally, in those days, the Amhara bands did not deal well with the Oromo and did not have any respect for our people,” said Dr. Mohamed Hassan, a professor of history at Georgia State University. “It was the absence of any cultural space for the Oromo which inspired Oromo individuals to form an organization and create a musical space for themselves.”
Initially, four musical bands emerged almost simultaneously in different neighborhoods of Dire Dawa, namely: Mascob Tokkumma Jaalala, Hiriyaa Jaalala, Biftu Ganama and Urji Bakkalcha, which was later renamed Afran Qallo, according to Ismail Mummad Adam, one of the founding members of Urji Bakkalcha.
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