“My son was a hero like a lion, he roared about his people, but he was eaten by rats,” Gudetu Hora, Haacaaluu’s mother, tearfully declared to reporters standing in his white stone house with a paved floor in the Ethiopian town of Ambo, a poor region where homes are mostly constructed of wood and mud.
Haacaaluu, 36, was a member of the Oromo, Ethiopia’s largest ethnic group, and his songs were anthems for the young protesters who brought down one of Africa’s most repressive regimes.
His brutal assassination sparked protests in the capital in which 178 people were killed. Two people, including the suspected shooter, have been arrested over his murder.
Hundeessaa Bonsa, father to the slain Ethiopian political singer Haacaaluu Hundeessaa talks during a Reuters interview, as the singer's mother Gudetu Hora looks on, at their home in Ambo, Ethiopia. Image credit REUTERS/Dawit Endeshaw
“My heart won’t heal until the day I go and join him. My wound lives as it is, it won’t heal. Haacaalu was the shining sun of the house,” cried Hundeessaa Bonsa, the late musician’s father while standing next to the surrounding incomplete fence - a constant reminder to the elderly inhabitants of their most famous son, the political singer Haacaaluu Hundeessaa, shot dead by unknown gunmen in Addis Ababa last month.
Haacaaluu’s songs, recorded in the Oromo language, were the soundtrack to a generation of protesters whose three years of anti-government demonstrations finally forced the resignation of the prime minister in 2018 and his replacement by Abiy Ahmed, whose father is Oromo.
His first album was released in 2009, after he had served five years in prison, where he composed most of his songs, according to a profile in O Pride, an Oromo magazine.
A poster of the Ethiopian singer in Ambo. Image credit REUTERS/Dawit Endeshaw
His most famous single was “Maalan Jira?” – meaning What fate is mine? - which became a rallying cry following its release just before a wave of government-backed evictions began around the capital in 2015. The song has been viewed more than 3 million times on YouTube.
In his hometown of Ambo, where his wife and three daughters live, some 100 kilometres (62 miles) west of the capital he is buried, and Haacaaluu’s family choose to remember the simple, selfless acts of the late singer.
Yet, that incomplete fence surrounding his parents’ house will always remind people of Haacaaluu’s big-hearted spirit, as it was built there when Haacaaluu financed the construction of the home by selling a valuable necklace a fan gave him at a concert.