Growing Up with Michael Jackson in Mercato

Originally posted on July 1, 2009

The first number we ever heard of Michael Jackson was not Thriller, it was  Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’. Incidentally that was the first track from the fateful Thriller album. It took me a decade or so  to realize Jacko was actually saying Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’. What we used to say was Comme se Kum sa Kuma. We also know now that  that line was borrowed from the Cameroonian Saxophonist Manu Dibango’s signature tune Mama-se, mama-sa, mama-koo-sa. Back then, we used to sing along not what the artist was actually saying , but according to what we generally thought as he said, not forgetting our rudimentary command of the language.

michael-jacksonThen comes Thriller, with Jacko’s famous red jacket. As colour TVs and Video Cassette Recorders (VCR) were just introduced to the country, we had to go places just to have a glimpse of that horror video clip. Video home owners also seized the opportunity to make more money. I remember a day when we paid a Birr just for the Thriller video clip, in a time when two movies and a selection of music videos were generally screened around town just for 50 cents.

But before we even heard Jackson’s songs or watched the video, huge posters of the King of Pop with Brooke Shields were adoring many an electronics store in the Mercato vicinity. We hardly knew the young attractive lady. But the assumption was she could be the girlfriend. Years later we realized Brook Shields was a model and an actress. Some of her shows were to be made part of the staples of ETV’s series of early nineties.

Then Billie Jean with the legendary moon walk move and Beat It! were to eclipse Thriller. FM radios were none existent then. The national radio could hardly play unpatriotic songs. The same was true with the only TV station in the country. Then again we could see Billie Jean on the TV once in a blue moon. Otherwise, it was the all pervasive video parlors who actually made a huge impact on spreading the word. None less important were the newspaper and magazine vendors in Mercato specifically the Mirab Hotel area who were selling posters and all kind of images of the King of Pop.

With that, of course, the style comes to the scene. Michael’s outfits and hair styles were to be followed by the youth. Though the trademark jacket was hard to come by, there were guys who did what it takes to get one. And guess what! One such guy- who at least in the Mercato area – was none other than Tadelle Roba of the Lafontaine fame. Tadelle and co. were trend setters. Most of all, they actually had that famous outfit with God knows how many zippers and a small motor bike. Boy, did they roam the Sebategna Mercato area with that loud noise! It was difficult not to notice those fellas. Tadelle never looked back.

With Lionel Richie, country stars Kenny Rogers and Don Williams also making their mark in the Addis (Western) music scene, Michael had to share some of that space but still remaining dominant. Then comes We Are The World. That was also a chance to see all the big stars of the time in one stage, of course Michael being at the center of it all. Just around that time, his brother Marlon Jackson actually paid a visit to Addis. Sure not to entertain the public. But with the rather infamous drought related activities.

Then, the rest – as they say – is history.

May the King rest in peace.


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