The visions of an Ethiopian dancer
Ambition is something that Melaku Belay, the driving force behind Fendika, certainly doesn’t lack. From earning a pittance by shining shoes on the street, he has climbed his way up to become a successful dancer in an azmari bet – the Ethiopian equivalent to the British folk club – and saved money for many years until he could take over the venue in 2008. He then adopted the name of the club, Fendika, for all his activities, including the ensemble based at the club and with which he tours internationally, putting Ethiopian culture on the world map.
Belay now has a second group, called Ethiocolor, and in 2016 he founded the Fendika Cultural Center as an exhibition gallery for visual art. All those efforts earned the Fendika organization the Prins Claus Prize in 2020, for revitalizing the traditional culture of Ethiopia and embracing experimentation in the process.
Belay is also a highly regarded dancer with his own ensembles. His spectacular mastery of the ekista (traditional dance from the Amhara Region) earned him the nickname ‘walking earthquake’ in his homeland. Fendika has worked in Ethiopia with such figures as Mahmoud Ahmed and Getatchew Mekuria, and since 2008 also in the Netherlands with The Ex.