Wegayehu Negatu was one of Ethiopia’s most celebrated figures in the creative arts & theatre industry, who also worked as a renowned radio broadcaster, newspaper columnist and at times as a comedian. He was born in June 1944 in Qebenna, Addis Ababa. Wegayehu attended the Swedish Evangelical Mission School and went on to complete his secondary education at Teferi Makonnen Secondary College.
In his high school years, he was known for his humor and comic portrayal of film characters, especially during the numerous outings of the Ethiopian Boy Scouts. After graduation in 1963, he joined the Haile Sellassie I University's Creative Arts & Theatre Program, where he studied the art of plays and stage production.
It was there where he first displayed his groundbreaking plays such as "Romeo and Juliet", Samuel Becket's "Waiting for God" and Menghistu Lemma's "Marriage among Unequals" and "Marirage by Abduction".
Wegayehu went to the Hungarian capital of Budapest for two years to study modern theatre, culminating in a well-received performance of Hungarian plays at the famous Madaç Theatre in Budapest. Years later, the President of Hungary, on hearing the death of Wegayehu, was to remark on the merits of this Ethiopian artist who had captivated the Hungarian people in 1967 while performing ‘Pantomim’ in their own language.
After a year of unsuccessful attempts back in Ethiopia at finding a job in the arts, Wegayehu went back to the Addis Ababa’s Creative Arts & Theatre Center, this time working as the centre’s director until 1970.
He subsequently worked as an actor in Hager Fikir Theatre in central Addis Ababa for a year, thereupon joining the radio and television department of the Ministry of Information. Tuners to the airwaves during those years are believed to have witnessed the highly creative performances of Wegayehu in advertisements and plays that were beginning to be prevalent and, with his help, popular. One also remembers his pioneering work in popularizing the art of miming on the national TV.
Wegayehu got married in 1970 to AmsaleGenet Yimer, an employee of the Press Ministry. They had three children, and were later to cooperate on several plays with AmsaleGenet as producer.
During the 1970s, Wegayehu acted in plays such as Tsegaye GebreMedhin's YeKermo Sew or Here to stay, Petros Yachin Saat or Petros at that hour and Yilma Manaye's Zerray Deresse.
From 1974 to the day of his untimely death in December of 1989, Wegayehu worked as an actor and an inspiring teacher at the National Theater. A majority of the total 30 theatrical plays he performed in his career were staged during these years. Among them were Berhanu Zerihun's Moresh and Tsegaye GebreMedhin’s Ha-hu be Sidist Wer or ABC in six months.
Ha-hu be Sidist Wer was to be among one of Wegayehu’s best performances, but, sadly, while on the set, he caught severe pneumonia, which led to his death after years of ill health.
A lot of his fellow artists, who are still alive, remember how dedicated and thorough Wegayehu was while preparing for a play. He would completely immerse into his character minutes before performance and while on stage, he had the wonderful ability to control the hearts of his audience.
Wegayehu was ever modest, downplaying his talent and always striving to give his best to the audience that had given him due honor.
In the last 10 years of his life, he played a vital role in immortalizing the written word by single handedly reaching out to a much wider audience of Ethiopians through his masterly narration of books such as Hadis Alemayehu’s Fikir Eske Mekabir or Love Unto Crypt and Berhanu Zerihun’s Ma’ibel or Storm. Listeners, to this day, remember being glued to the radio every week at 7 in the morning just to hear the characters being brought to life by this talented artist.
The great Ethiopian theatre performer, actor, teacher, artist and writer died in 1989 at the age of 45.
Below is a twelve-and-a-half minutes sample of Wegayehu’s very popular narration of Hadis Alemayehu’s Fikir Eske Mekabir.
|Fikir Eske Mekabir Narration
Befekir Kebede | Saturday, 19 October 2013