The self-made Canadian songwriter, singer and impresario for Toronto’s hottest musical import crashes an Ethiopian (or Eritrean) wedding for his latest banger “Habaesha.” Ramriddlz who gained notoriety after being plucked by Drake for his homemade song “Sweeterman” in 2015 has been ogling commercial success with an exploratory flavor of music. While Drake recalled his Toronto roots circa 2015, Ramriddlz’s mix of dancehall, sing-rap dribble, and international references is uniquely Toronto. Habaesha, an anagram of “Habesha” an ethno-linguistic peoples in East Africa and “Bae” , unfurls a tale of lust, good’ol fashion cuckholding, and the primary interest for this post; the exotification of Habesha girls.
The grunge (“artistically forward”) music video is set at an Ethiopian Mels, varnished with traditional props including a mesob and a play-model bride and groom adorned with ceremonial Kabas. As the wedding party surveys a seemingly sparse venue the improbably booked band led by Ramriddlz opens up the song with smooth and sensitive vocals to confesses his desire for this “East African girl” from the East End. Using Jaegen’s mesmerizing beats which stratify an up-beat pop tempo & carib instrumentals Ramriddlz effortlessly coasts to the coy Habesha bride. Flexing his avant-garde swagger, he pays homage to her skin, facial symmetry and *shocker* – her phat ass. In furtherance of his ill-placed/timed seranade he sprinkles lighthearted word play incl. the soon to be preferred #hashtag choice of my 15yr old sister “She my Habaesha Badbisha”. Right as Ramriddlz hits the sweet spot between Carly-rae and Tory Lanez, he cries “I TOLD HER YENE FIKER JUST TO DICK HER”. I can’t tell if it was the song’s Aston Martin V12 like dizzying thematic transition or the seamless fit of Yene Fiker and Dick her that derailed me but I fumble to rewind the track and before I could move a gel-nailed finger –“I told her Yene Fiker just to dick her”– yes, it’s the chorus.
With the sincerity of a Marrakesh magic lamp merchant Ramriddlz stretches his hand to our ditzy Habesha bride and she asta lavista’s the Adham to her Hewan the Abrham to her Sara. Ushering the runaway bride with further sexual innuendos to juxtapose his Amharic “Konjo/beautiful” “yene fiker/my love” –- she drops her Kaba– and they merrily shimmy (I suspect a struggle eskista) to the crowds delight.
As a cultural purveyor of dancehall, trap music and an array of obejectifying music- I am deeply perturbed. Full disclosure: I am addicted to this cringe-worthy/plothole riddled track! At face value, the song is about a young guy who tactically uses the mother tongue to swoon the girl he’s trying to bed. The problem here is not the premise of the song- it’s the invoking of my Ethiopian heritage to attract the male gaze. The purpose of the traditional backdrop is for affect. [We are different. We are mysterious. We’re not like those cheap Puerto Rican/Dominican girls.] To me and my niche group of Ethiopian & Eritrean girlfriends this track confirms an unpleasant reality; the ever prevalent Habesha diaspora who voluntary “exotify” and “otherize” themselves at the expense of our shared integrity. I want to be clear in stating that this is not a rebuke of sexuality and/or eroticism. The girls in the video should feel liberated to do as they please – but when incorporating cultural artifacts and ethno-linguisic attributes that are context specific then every Ethiopian and Eritrean is involuntarily dragged.
Personal note: At present, two men in my life have called me “Yene Fiker” my father and now an Egyptian-Canadian rapper who wants to dick me. Even without my intellectual lenses it’s creepy.
Reflecting on the community of Habesha girls I grew up with; I see near a many #Foreign Instagram screen names, donning meskels to accentuate their cleavage photos. This is not the “Habesha/Ethiopia” identity I want to be confined to. Skimming through twitter, youtube and Instagram, I see overwhelming outbursts of pride and glee in response to this song from my fellow Western born Habeshas. This is not empowering- dilutes us for our “innate” (Ramriddlz aint singing this for a Southern Ethiopian girl) physical features to garner a quick fuck.
As first generation Americans, we have a responsibility to set the precedence for how we will be defined as Ethiopian Americans. This Habaesha track should not be viewed and discarded as a seasonal novelty. Its catchy AF! If we recall the lesson we learned from middle school jabs in reference to South Park’s Starving Marvin episode, the West only has the capacity to view us in one-dimensional setting.