Ethiopia’s Pop Idol hits the right note

Anthony Mitchell in The Guardian:

E010632aEthiopia’s version of Pop Idol is a far cry from the glamour and glitz of its British and US inspirations.

Faded satin sheets and signs taped to the walls provide the backdrop. Frequent power cuts, feedback from poor sound equipment and the ringing of mobile phones compete with the singers. But despite the makeshift set, hastily constructed each week in a shabby hotel, Ethiopian Idols has fast won the highest ratings on otherwise dull state-run TV, and broken new ground.

The show even has it own Simon Cowell, the bad-guy judge on the British and US versions. The catchphrase of musician Feleke Hailu -“alta fakedem” or “you didn’t make it” in Amharic – may seem positively meek compared to Cowell’s acerbic reviews. But saxophonist Feleke, 46, has caused a sensation in this tradition-bound culture.

“Most of the time I tell [contestants] to go back to their old jobs, forget about a career in singing,” he said. “Or I tell them they sing like donkeys. Sometimes they get angry. The girls burst into tears, and a few weeks ago one singer threw a stick at me after I told him he had failed to get through to the next round.

More here.