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Portraits of Eritrea

I wrote “Youth Revolts” around the Eritrea experience because of all the children there who left a giant imprint on my heart. The song is about the playfulness of being young, falling in love and having your heart broken, just to look back on it tenderly as we get older. We met so many vibrant kids in Eritrea, their simple joy, and the relationship of family, I wanted to capture that joy in the song’s production.

Eritrea is a tapestry on the Horn of Africa- it reveals its colorful swathes among the dry highlands of Asmara and cascades down 2500 meters through sweltering desert and nomadic Rashaida tribes, ending at the Red Sea and bedfellow to the Middle East.

Our guides Alem and Joseph were definitely my long lost Eritrean uncles. Alem was one of the cleverest men I’ve met, and told us countless stories including his imprisonment by the Ethiopian government for crossing the border. Joseph asked me if I was a Christian or a Muslim (they practice both devoutly in Eritrea). He was fasting for Lent and missed every meal with us, which was too bad because the Berbere-spiced veggie stews are out of this world.

I fell into deep love with Tigrignan music, a mixture of Arabic, Afrobeat, and Sudanese blues that filled our car as we made the pilgrimage to weekly camel market in the city of Keren. Camels are a huge resource here (Eritrea notoriously rejects foreign aid, and basic amenities like cars and wifi are hard to come by… it is not unlike Cuba in its enigmaticness.) The camel is definitely my newest favorite animal. But you have to be careful around a camel, they can get surly!

We were lucky to partake in a coffee ceremony (Eritrea and Ethiopia are considered the birthplace of coffee) and I ate enough Injera that there’s no excuse… I need to learn how to make sourdough bread.

Eritrea was the last country to gain independence in Africa. It was embroiled in a 30-year war with Ethiopia which had left the country struggling to stand on its own and forge its path to self-determination. While the capital Asmara is metropolitan and showcases remnants of Italy’s colonial reign, the rest of the country is sweeping cliffs, scorching earth and mesmerizing faces etched into a lost world.

Here are photos of some of the people who snatched my heart. I can’t wait to go back.

Traveler's Songbook Release November 25th

"Youth Revolts" Music Video: Filmed in Eritrea