Ethiopian music is hip in Israel, partly thanks to Ethiopian-born Gili Yalo, who with his family fled Ethiopia in 1984 to come home. Gili remembers that emotional day. As part of Operation Moses, an airlift that rescued 8,000 Jews from famine war-torn Ethiopia, the five-year-old arrived on his father’s shoulders, singing his heart out.
Music was part of Gili from that moment on. He went on to sing in a choir for religious boys, and even toured Europe with the group as a soloist. Upon leaving school he served in one of the army’s musical bands and after completing his mandatory service became the lead singer for the Israeli reggae group, Zvuloon Dub System. Just a few years ago, he launched his solo career from which he has never looked back.
For Gili, music is a tool he has used to channel his all-too familiar difficulties as part of the Ethiopian community which has not had an easy absorption into Israel.
In the late-‘80s, the economy was rough and the mood low. Amharic was strange, unfamiliar and almost unheard of. Young Gili wanted to discard everything that connected him to the Ethiopian culture. In doing so, he felt he would be an accepted easier into society.
But this young man who so wanted to fit into Israeli culture, soon realized that Israeli culture is not homogenous at all. Understanding that the country is a nation of immigrants with one of the biggest varieties in the world of music and cuisine, he began to see his own music and culture as an integral part of Israel. Embracing his roots, opened up the gateway for an authentic identity and journey of self-discovery.
Gili poured his thoughts and feelings into his music. The result is authentic and exotic songs which he sings in Hebrew and Amharic. Self confidence did not come easy. He had a fear of failure. He never saw himself as talented. He found it hard to believe that anyone would be interested in music. It was only when he was about 30 that he began to understand that because other people were taking his talent seriously, he should do too. He incorporated the “tezeta,” a scale dominant in Ethiopian music. The word itself is Amharic for “memory.” His songs convey memories of his parents and his African village.
His music that catapulted him into the public domain when he uploaded a song on YouTube which caught the ear of an Israeli mainstream radio station. They played the song on their show. Due to the enthusiastic response from the listeners, the host invited him on. And Gili never looked back.
First published here