Friday, 20 July 2012


Hailee Araya performing in Sweden
The city of Lund in Sweden may seem an unusual place to launch a record titled “Diaspora Blues”, but that’s the town Hailee Araya calls home.

The young Swedish singer has another ancestral home, however - Ethiopia - and her second single is a tribute to Africa and to those of African descent living around the world.

Released this week, “Diaspora Blues” is a song about “love and respect” for Africa, Araya told SWAN.

“I wrote Diaspora Blues with my mother, and it was a way for me to express my passion for Africa,” Araya says. “It shows how much I respect what Africa has survived and gone through. When you grow up in Europe, sometimes it’s not the easiest thing to claim your heritage and show how much you’re proud of it, but I want to do that with my music.”

The 23-year-old singer says that there are so many distractions for people of her generation that it’s sometimes hard to cut through the noise.

“There’s a great deal of pressure to deliver and be quick for people of my age, but we’re still looking for meaningful things,” Araya says. “There’s a lot I want to say in my songs, and if I can give something that people can dance to as well, that is what makes me happy.”

She is already attracting an audience. As the opening act for Stephen Marley in Sweden, on his recent European tour (see article below), she was pleased that many of the spectators knew her songs and could sing along.

Stephen Marley and Hailee
Araya says she is drawn to reggae because she grew up listening to it, and the music does infuse what she has produced to date. But the album she is currently working on will include Ethio-jazz and R&B, with lyrics that relate stories of the African diaspora.

She grew up hearing these stories from her mother and manager Rahel Haile who fled to Sweden in 1980 after the overthrow of Emperor Haile Selassie. Rahel told SWAN that she, like many children, was detained at the age of 9 in a community prison just because she was part of a neighbourhood children's football team.

“Times were very turbulent because of the massive killing and terrorising of the Ethiopian people,” Rahel said. “So all who could send their children out did - most to the USA and other English-speaking countries but some to Europe, like me.”

Rahel adapted to Sweden and gave birth to Hailee in Lund on Ethiopian Christmas Eve in 1989, naming her daughter Deborah Araya. Hailee eventually assumed her current artist name by adding an additional “e” to her grandfather’s first name of Haile.

Opening at the Marley show
“I made sure that both my children can speak their language and understand their culture while they also respect and perform well in the country that they were born and raised in, which is Sweden,” Rahel told SWAN.

“I am myself a Pan Africanist and try to make sure that my children understand and respect what people of African descent have gone through and what our continent has gone trough and not be bitter and angry but engage in any way they can to uplift and work and contribute,” she added.

Rahel moved back to Ethiopia when Hailee was 6 years old, and they lived there for four years before returning to Europe. The experience helped Hailee to develop her Amharic language skills and also to gain an appreciation of her ancestral culture, which the singer says she draws on for her music.

“My background and my heritage form who I am as a singer,” she says. “My mother always told me and my brother that if you don’t know where you’re coming from, you can’t get to where you want to go.”