Maranata Tegegne

By Besufekade Mulu

Picture by Nahom Mile

Film, music & soul food


Maranata Tegegne is a filmmaker, mostly known for his collaborations with Ethiopian rap sensation Kassmasse. He also runs a successful Afro-Caribbean, restaurant Shifta, and a recording /artist management label, Meedo Records. His story began with a curiosity for films, music and music videos. Which later evolved to a full-fledged success story.

Maranata did not get immediate approval from his family or people around him. Saying, “I want to be (insert creative dream)” will result in raised eyebrows and concerned looks. As you can imagine, pursuing a career in filmmaking here in Ethiopia, is not only challenging, it’s living life on hard mode. However, it’s not impossible.

As a first step, Maranata joined the Blue Nile film and television academy, a prominent film school in Addis, where he received a basic introduction to world of film. Film education in Ethiopia is a fairly recent introduction, with schools like Master film and production school, Tom photography and videography school (among others) pioneering in the field and more recently, the Addis Ababa University opening the first state-run film school given at a master’s level. These institutions are necessary for most not only because do they give them a comprehensive introduction to the field but also allow students to produce their first films and increase confidence in their skills. However, the education they receive is often not enough to give filmmakers the chance they need to advance properly.

Picture by Nahom Mile

The field is rapidly progressing and the material needed to upgrade and catch up is either unavailable or inaccessible. This doesn’t not mean that filmmakers are stuck, as thanks to the internet, YouTube, Skill Share and other platforms close this gap to a certain extent. In fact, it’s where many find their unique voice, a crucial element in filmmaking. For a filmmaker, his/her voice is that unique touch that separates his/her stories from others. Think of Edgar Wright’s fast paced well-time edits or Quentin Tarantino’s dialogue. Therein lies another problem. Selling that voice. Without financing or any other support, then all a filmmaker has is just a well written script. And in a country like Ethiopia, where there is virtually no support for creatives, developing that unique voice is often left up for chance. Maranata says “ The biggest challenge when I started was, I couldn’t confidently say I am a filmmaker, in a country where there is no support or even a proper creative industry”

To mitigate the lack of support, often times, filmmakers have the option to join the advertisement industry. It’s a popular option for most because it allows you to exercise your skills and build your portfolio while earning income. This is where Maranata first worked as a creative, “I worked on a lot of commercials when I was hired at an ad agency, I really got to experiment and try out different things, that’s where I believe I developed my style”

Picture by Yonas Tadesse

This industry is also responsible for innovation for the creative sector and building a bridge between businesses and artists. However, it can be a double-edged sword. Creative fulfillment is often what drives filmmaking as a business but in a market like Ethiopia, it can be a place where filmmakers are stuck between delivering what the client wants and pushing creative boundaries. More often than not, it’s safe to say that clients are not ready to invest in new ideas. For Maranata this wasn’t enough, “Sometimes it was all about pleasing clients or trying to sell something or making sad documentaries and I wanted to do more. Especially in film and music. I had to quit.”

A reason for this, is perhaps because they are fueled by foreign companies with their own interests and specific targets. Which can leave a lot to be desired. Ezana Gettu, founder of PARC, in an interview with us said “if you think about the businesses that are supporting musicians, like beer companies, they have too much influence. They sponsor events and sort of start to place dominance over certain aspects of an artist’s music, event and brand. It’s unheard of in other countries. The audience should do that, not beer companies.” This influence was painfully clear when a ban on alcohol advertisement on traditional media (posters, TV, Radio) was enforced. It was a huge loss for the industry and agencies had to make quick moves to digital alternatives. To have this much influence on an artist’s work, also limits what they can say and do. However, doing it on your own isn’t exactly a comfortable route. The industry barely provides support for artists.

Picture by Nahom Mile

Instead of seeing it as an obstacle, he decided to see it as a challenge. “You can say that there is no standard but also you can see this as an opportunity to set the standard and carve your own way” Which he eventually did through collaboration with various artists such as Kenny Allen and KassMasse.

Part of what gave Maranata an edge, is his way of representing Ethiopian identity on screen. His music videos are starkly different from what’s out there. He has this unique of highlighting a specific part of Ethiopian identity in his own unique way. For instance, Maleda is undeniably Ethiopian from the washint, that opens the video to the 90’s ETV style credits, the fashion is subtly nostalgic but also unique. Or the Negen Letizita video which featured prominent Ethiopian figures tastefully without overstating anything. “ I always try and do modern stuff but keep Ethiopian identity the heart of my work. I am also particular about the type of music I choose to make videos for because you need that connection with the artists and their work to make creatively fulfilling stuff” This combination is what earned him the recognition he has today.

Picture by Nahom Mile

Moreover, his success paints a picture of a possibility. The traction he received internationally through these videos, shows that there is an audience for this locally and what the creative industry brings to the table. Especially film. However, it is a tough sell. In a country that’s still developing economically, it’s hard to justify investing millions in a production. What clouds the idea is usually, the mistaken notion that these ventures are luxury. With over 65% of the population being under the age of 35 and rising unemployment rates, the creative sector can be a massive game changer because we are also the second largest African population. Meaning an untapped audience that is also starved for original content in their languages. Moreover, what film can do for representation and image building is also invaluable. Given the negative media representation we have received both locally and internationally, film is a medium that allows for the country to represent itself authentically without judgement. Mostly because people walk in to see films/stories, seeking engagement and divertissement. The cinema halls disarms audiences and allows for genuine connections to happen. It’s primarily why a kid from rural Ethiopia sees Iron Man as his/her hero and game of thrones was insanely popular globally than in its country of origin.

Picture by Nahom Mile

To achieve this level of success however, both artists and other players have to recognize the sector’s real value. Maranata says “You can’t expect to be successful in the field just because you chase the glamour, it takes a lot of hard work. I joined the industry 11 years ago and my voice started to come out only 2 years ago” He further adds “major players need to understand and recognize the power found within it [the creative sector] and empower it, especially the government, anything from a tax cut to opening a culture/arts sector to support the art community would help the industry to grow. Then, there is no financing systems for filmmakers, it’s entirely up to you, if you succeed, you’re lucky if not then you’re done. Even though this has improved, because of the internet, Ethiopia hasn’t caught up, it needs a big push from the government, financing companies and even patrons, I believe we still have a chance.”

Maranata ‘s story also tells an important element that is hardly discussed. Yes, the industry here is not the best, there are many hurdles and risks but these risks pay off and the payoff can be huge. If you take Nigeria for instance, Nollywood makes about 5 billion dollars from its box office collections. Nigerian music is as popular as it gets with artists like Burna Boy and Wizkid gaining worldwide recognition, this industry is projected to reach around 44 million dollars thanks to streaming. All this didn’t happen by accident. Artists are backed, according to a report published by Jobberman in 2021, it is the country’s second largest employer and by 2025 it is projected to produce 2.7 million jobs. Equally important, also is how the artists create meaningful connections with their audiences. For the artist, this means, according to Maranata, a real honest love for the art and having something say. If you connect with audiences then success is achievable.

Artist don’t have to starve, joining the industry isn’t a deep dive into misery. It just needs the right dedication from the artists’ side, proper support and structure and for audiences to actually back artists they like. At the end of the day, it’s not sorcery.


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