She was a baby when they arrived in Asmara. For a long time she thought she was born there, but it was only recently, on returning to Asmara in 1999, for the first time since her departure, that her sister Rishan explained to her otherwise. In Asmara Tsehatu lived in Abashawul neighbourhood.
She went to school first in Godaif at the Scuola Setta and later it moved near Saint Mary Church which later became a girl’s school. She went to the primary school until the fourth grade.
Tsehaytu Beraki – 1974
The first Krar;-
My aunt once told us that five krars had been made in Port Sudan; one stayed there, one was sent to Egypt and my aunt brought three to Asmara. One for the legend Ato Berhane Segid, one for Hollanda, the daughter of Halima Konti, and the third on my aunt kept for herself and stored it above the cupboard in our home. My niece Meeraf was very tall and we always asked her to get the krar down for us. So she would fetch the instrument and also she knew how to tune it and all the kids at home would play on it one by one.
I was about 8 years old. I had the gift for learning to play and so I continued. I began mainly for fun, but later I became a good player and started to play at weddings and other kind of parties. In our neighbourhood there were many women singing and playing the krar in their suwa-house, such as Tsehaytu Ghergish, Fana Etel. The woman whom I admired most was Tsehaytu Zennar. She was very beautiful and when she sang her nostrils began to move. She sang tender songs like “Annes Ay keremneye Wala Hankas Yekunye” (I need a man as soon as possible, even if he’s crippled). On my sixteenth birthday, I stopped going to school and started working with my Krar for uswa-house of Wuba, in Abashawel. Many people came and often asked permission to record for their car, the bus or tea-house.
Sometimes I got 30 or 40 birr which was lot money in those days, but I also sometimes did it for free. People even specially came from Adiss Abeba to record. I write my own music and lyrics. Some songs are about Eritrea and others are about love. Such as “Freweini” (Grape), “Kabacha Meflayey” (To separate from you) “Deki Bedama Abiden” (House maids gone crazy). From 1964/65 the songs became more political. Although the songs were never explicitly political, people were surprised that I dared to sing them. Our purpose was, to give, messages of political awareness and the fight for independence. In between the lines, the people understood it immediately. We were invited several times to play in places where important people came, often invited by those same people. Together with Ateweberhan Seghid, I was invited to the inauguration of the bus company Setayo.
In 1970 I went to Addis Abeba also other Eritrea musicians to record like, Beyene Fre, Amleset Abay. All quality artists, who should not have been forgotten, or shouldn’t have declined,. Before going to Addis Abeba I mostly played alone. Sometimes I played with Ateweberhan Seghid. We once played a duet at the American Consulate. We sang “Semay Indo Abtzehayo Gotenaka” (An afro hairdo reaching to heaven). We gave each other a lot of compliment.
But by 1973, the political situation got worse. People didn’t feel safe anymore, they felt uneasy and scared. These were difficult times in Asmara.
To the Front;-
In March 1977 I went to the front. Because of Mengistu’s coup in 1974 the situation was very bad. I couldn’t really work; no-one came to my place anymore. Many people I worked with went to the front. In the end the resistance said that it would be safer if I would join them as well. There were many musicians. Some of them became well-known because they played for the fighters and others where already famous musicians before they joined the liberation movement, like Hadgu Tewelde, Tewelde G/S (Saxophone) Bereket Beyene (Drums) Abdu Mahmoud (Guitar) Nerayo (Guitar) Giorgis Keleta( Drums). There were difficulties with the ELF, I distance myself from the group, and I had to go to Sudan and later came to Holland.
Many people know me, there are also those who have never seen me but would still like to. But I am proud of the role I played and still play in Eritrean music, when I went to Asmara, I heard that my songs are much respected and they announce me with love. When songs like “May Jah Jah” or “Aba Shawul” are presented, they say; Our Mother left us this legacy. I am very glad. I wish that ths musicians gave each other that respect and would collaborate. The fact that my songs are so well known and loved is a gift of God.
My favourite song is Freweini. It is a song about Eritrea, but it also tells about a mother. Love is always loved, one doesn’t forget it. But love for one country is incomparable. A mother and your own country is basically the same.
At the time Tsehaytu played music on her own, though she was a woman. On her own she was equal to any band. This has earned her a good name up to this moment. She was courageous and disliked slavishness and did not bow down to anyone. She sang many traditional, love and nationalist songs.
I admire Tsehaytu not only because of her songs but also for the important role she played in the national struggle. I am beyond words to describe the beauty of her voice in spite of her age.