Neither Here Nor There: Perspectives on Identity by the Young Eritrean and Ethiopian Diaspora in America

November 8, 2010

Music and Culture

Filed under: Uncategorized — Habesha Diaspora @ 11:00 am


 The violin is known for being one of the more challenging instruments to master. This is just one of the many reasons I chose her to be my musical companion. Pianos have keys. Guitars have frets. There is a promise that if you hit this one key, the same note will always sound out. A fret works in much the same way. But, if you have ever looked closely at the finger board of a violin, you see that it is fretless. This means that music is no longer limited to a set number of notes- it becomes a spectrum and limitless opportunities to hear a violin laugh, flirt and even wail just like a police siren. Yet another reason I chose her. Finally, she is small and delicate, but do not underestimate her power and strength. We are alike in that way and that is why she chose me. She knew that once she lured me in, allowed my small fingers to feel the wood of her neck under their tips, allowed the cool of her chin rest to send vibrations through the underbelly of my chin- our intimacy would not be breached. I picked up my first violin in the second grade when I learned how to play open strings, Twinkle Twinkle Little Star and Hot Cross Buns. I began training intensely in the 5th grade at the age of 11.  At the end of the first year, I made it to second chair- meaning the only person who played the music with more precision than me was a girl who had been taking private lessons since the age if eight. When I matriculated to junior high, I was placed in the most advanced of 4 levels offered. I was nowhere near the front where the 8th graders sat with their prestigious titles, but I was just out of 6th grade and still very happy with my progress.

                Our move to Atlanta put a halt on my accelerated advancements in technique and music. All of a sudden I was in an environment where I sounded better than the teacher. Even though, I did not quit and earned the best musician of the year award. Then another move to Watkinsville, Georgia yielded a school that did not have an orchestra program at all and I promised my father I would quit school if I could not continue playing my instrument. He spoke to the band director and they all agreed to let me play the oboe part in the band. That year, the marching band even played songs from The Fiddler on the Roof, which gave me an opportunity to prance on the field wearing white stockings, black Capri pants, a hand woven vest and a cango hat.

                I did not major in music like I wanted to, but I never gave up my violin. As you can imagine, I am not the most proficient player having only had real guidance for the first two years I played. However, I knew I had a gift-  others call it my ear. The slightest movement on the fingerboard yields a change in pitch that most people can not pick up. I do. I know when she is feeling flat or sharp in the slightest way. When I hear a song on the radio, it doesn’t take too much work to pick up the melody and anticipate the next notes. It is as though she guides my fingers the exact distance to find the note that sounds the best next; a concerted effort. I finally purchased my first electric violin a couple of months ago and I had my first performance. I still need some time to learn the levels and pedals and so forth but it was one of the most meaningful moments of my life. I loved every second of it and the thrill I got reminded me that sometimes, it is worth it to defy our parents who would tell us not to follow particular dreams because their experiences had not afforded them the opportunity to do so. However, they struggled and fought and sacrificed to put us in a position where we can, actually, pursue some of our more non-traditional talents. I knew that one day, they would see me on stage and realize that my investment in this instrument is not, in fact, superfluous, but instead it is an investment in a God given talent. Perhaps they would go as far as to realize that these  gifts, meted out in small portions, are to be honored and cultivated, not put on a shelf to collect dust. Anyway, you can judge for yourself. Just follow this link to see a portion of the act I performed.

 I hope you love it as much as I do!



  1. This is Liya’s passion, what’s yours?

    Comment by Habesha Diaspora — November 8, 2010 @ 1:35 pm | Reply

  2. that was a great performance Liya…………I started cursing at the people in the audience to shut up so I can hear the violin at some point…LOL.

    You got skills.

    Comment by Henock — November 8, 2010 @ 2:12 pm | Reply

  3. While I was in college I took an intro to music class as a general ed (probably because it fits my schedule) and It turned out to be one of the best thing that ever happened to me. It introduced me to classical music. Since then, I have been listening to it on a regular basis specially I find it to be good companionship while driving long distances alone, as a relaxation method when stressed out or as a background soothing sound that helps me focus when studying. When it comes to violin, Vivaldi is my favorite composer.
    Having said that, I personally find violin’s sound appealing in the context of orchestra, symphony etc. but not what you have in rap, even in Dave Matthew’s band, nor Irish Celtic songs.

    Comment by Vivaldi-Bumblebee — December 5, 2010 @ 9:07 am | Reply

  4. Hey Liya, that’s great! I am just curious why there are very few blacks taking on such a beautiful instrument like Violin?

    Comment by Tariku — December 9, 2010 @ 9:22 pm | Reply

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