Where are Oromo Hip-Hop and Spoken Word Poetry Going?

by Maya Tessema

When I was younger, my best friend and I spent hours watching old videos of Oromo sirbaas, mostly because we wanted to watch the artists perform, and we wanted to learn how to dance as well as some of the party-goers.  We studied their moves, practice them with each other, and then went back to the videos.  As preteens, we’d have a blast giggling at those who were the most off-beat, with their off-kilter shagoyee dancing and misplaced foot-stomps. 

Among these videos, we came across a performer that I could not forget: he was a small, kind of katchacha, red-yellow-green-and-odaa clad man, and he was definitely rapping.  Before that, my friend I had never seen or heard Oromo hip-hop before.  Our initial reaction was to make fun of his total lack of awareness of the American hip-hop swagger: his buttoned-down odaa covered shirt was tucked in.  We were right to assume that he was from Finfinee and new to the States because, as we later found out, he was.

hiphopBut this was almost 15 years ago, and, as we know, there has been a large wave of emigration from Oromia to rest of the world during this time frame.  This movement coincides with other groups moving to the West, allowing it to become more culturally diverse. As a direct result, music, poetry and art of different cultures play against each other as a reflection of these demographic changes, and hip-hop and spoken word poetry are no exception. When considering this, we begin to ask: where is Oromo hip-hop today? What is it like in Diaspora? Who performs it? How do we listen to it? What elements of U.S. hip-hop culture have affected it? How similar are spoken word poetry performed in the West and gerersaa?

In this issue of Ogina, we ask some of those questions as well as explore different means to tell our stories.  We’ll have examples of hip-hop music with pieces by Boonaa Mohammed and his group Kings of Kush, as well as Epidemic the Virus along his collective, O’z Up, and a spoken word piece by Meymuna Hussein.  In our interview with Boonaa
artwork by Zakia Posey

and Epidemic, we discuss some of those questions as well as many others. And, finally, Qeerransoo Biyyaa’s essay analyses how the dissemination of hip hop creates a transnational Oromo youth. Finally, this issue also contains the visual art of Lennsa Yadata, poetry from Ayantu Gemeda and a photo-article about this summer’s MegaFest by Steven Thomas.


Maya Tessema is a legal assistant working and living in the Washington DC metropolitan area. She began participating in the creation of Ogina zine through work in the Arts and Culture Committee of the International Oromo Youth Association.