Given Haacaaluu’s size, it is easy to underestimate the fire in him. Smart, witty, jovial, defiant, and articulate, he is the consummate man of the people. He walks with the full dignity and weight of the nation, for whose suffering and yearning he is singing, on his outsized shoulders. And Haacaaluu is a genius when it comes to connecting with the Oromo, especially the youth, with his lyrics.
He is in a company of giants. Haacaaluu’s musical brilliance is part of a long and proud tradition of Oromo resistance songs. It is impossible to talk of Oromo nationalism or Oromummaa without the galvanising role of Oromo folk music. It helped unite disparate Oromo movements. It was instrumental to the collective Oromo awakening, particularly since the 1980s. When authorities cracked down on free expression, music provided a unique space for the artist and the public to engage in political dialogue — the artist as the leading agitator and provocative commentator, who channels the repressed voices and fears of the masses.
As we wrote in our 2016 profile of Haacaaluu’s Qubee Generation, “the Oromo singer is at once a provocateur, social critic and an inspiration and outlet to a generation suffocated by a deep state hell-bent on clinging to power through the barrel of the gun.”
Generations of folk singers have voiced and articulated the Oromo people’s long quest for freedom and justice in Ethiopia. As a result of their politically conscious music and determination to push the envelope and the boundaries as far out as humanly possible, dozens of Oromo singers have been killed, jailed, or exiled.
Yet Oromo artists continue to write, produce and sing rousing ballads about the enduring history of Oromo marginalization, the importance of unity, cultural revival, and the Oromo way of being. The list is too long to reproduce here but it includes such luminaries as Ali Birra, Ilfinesh Qano, Zerihun Wodajo, Wosanu Dido, Abitew Kebede, Yunus Abdullahi, Shabe Sheko, Abdullahi Jirma, Nuho Gobana, Ebisa Adunya, Yosef Gamachu, Marame Harqaksa, Halo Dawe, Umar Suleyman, Qamar Yusuf, Muktar Usman, Kadir Said, Dawite Mekonnen, Hirpha Ganfure, Usmayo, Mohamed Sheka, Adnan Mohammed, Elemo Ali, Ali Shabo, Afandi Siyo — and contemporary superstars like Jambo Jote, Caalaa Bultumee, Galana Garomsa, Ittiqaa Tafari, Fayyisa Furi, Habib Kamal, Hawi Tezera, Seenaa Solomon, Shukri Jamal, Kadir Martu, etc.