Daniel Nebiat

World Music Foundation Podcast | Season 1, Episode 18

The music is like the water body, like Okavango”

About this Episode

World-renowned, Juno award-winning, Eritrian krar player, Daniel Nebiat joins John to talk about his journey playing the krar. From growing up in the midst of a war for independence to working with African legends, Daniel Nebiat shares the ways he had to persevere, adapt, and innovate to continue pursuing his passion for music. Currently based in Toronto, he is a founding member of the Okavango African Orchestra, where he and African musicians from six other countries create original music for traditional instruments that have historically had little or no interaction. Whether he’s talking about krar, family, or food, “Toronto’s Krar Star” does not disappoint!

(Intro Music Plays)

John Gardner:  Hello, hello! Welcome again to the World Music Foundation Podcast. I’m your host John Gardner , and today we have the great pleasure to speak with Krar master, vocalist, and member of the Juno-award winning Okavango African Orchestra Daniel Nebiat. So good to have you here.

Daniel Nebiat: Hello, how are you? Thanks for having me.

John Gardner: We’re excited to have the conversation. Thanks for making the time. So, we’ve interviewed artists from China, India, Femi Kuti from Nigeria, to Cote D’Ivoire, U.S., all over the world, and there’s always similarities for people like yourself who became great musicians. Obviously, you put in the time for practice. You, something had to get you in music, all these things that are on one level universal, music kind of manifests itself in a similar way all over the world, it seems like. But, that unique story of how you got started, what influenced you, it’s that unique story that I always, I love getting into. So, I like to start way back. We’ll talk about krar, we’ll talk about your music, what you’re up to nowadays. But can you take us way back? How would you answer, “Who is Daniel Nebiat?”

Daniel Nebiat:  I was born and raised in Eritrea in East Africa. Like, I don’t want to sound like a cliché here but basically every musician’s parents want their children to be something other than a musician.

John Gardner: Wow, I see.

Daneil Nebiat: So I went through that too. My mother wanted me to, you know, concentrate in my school and stuff. But I was, I was still concentrating in my school but I was in love with music since the day I remember. Before I even pick up my krar and start playing my instrument I was listening to music, everyday 24 hours. Like, if I’m up either I’m singing or I’m listening to music.

John Gardner: What kind of music were you listening to at that time?

Daniel Nebiat: It’s amazing how I was influenced because I was raised in an African country, like all the way in the East.

John Gardner: Yeah, yeah.

Daniel Nebiat: And my influences were—you may find this funny but—my influences were AC/DC, Guns and Roses, Jimi Hendrix.  I don’t know if you’ve heard about Eritrea. If you go to Eritrea today. Today, if you go to Eritrea you will listen to old school Country music like Don Williams, Kenny Rogers, and Dolly Parton.

John Gardner: That’s great. Wow.

Daniel Nebiat: And there are some places exclusively Blues.

John Gardner: Yeah.

Daniel Nebiat: Like Muddy Waters, B.B. King, and you know old stars.

John Gardner: Wow.

Daniel Nebiat: So, there are music stores that actually keep the original so they can copy them. Cause everyone comes in saying, “Hey I heard this music.” You Know? And still today, those music is still happening.

John Gardner: Look at that.

Daniel Nebiat: You know? So, growing up there was something called international pen pals.

John Gardner: Okay, yeah.

Daniel Nebiat: So what it does is you pay five local currency and you get to sign up and it sends you 3 penpals from whichever country you pick.

John Gardner: I see. 

Daniel Nebiat: So, to learn my English, I had a mentor and to learn my writing he advised me to be friends with people who are not English-speakers.

John Gardner: I see, yeah.

Daniel Nebiat: So I had friends from Poland, Italy, I had a friend from Jamaica.

John Gardner: okay.

Daniel Nebiat: So from Jamaica I was getting all my Jamaican music and from my Polish friend, I was getting all the hard rock, heavy metal music. So that’s why I was listening to those guys growing up. I actually was supposed to learn guitar, because I liked that music. I was so much into that music.

John Gardner: Yeah, yeah. That makes sense. 

Daniel Nebiat: But krar was always around me.

John Gardner: Wow, I see. So if it was available, you might not be the krar player that we know right now.

Daniel Nebiat: I would be playing guitar or something.

John Gardner: Look at that. When you say, I’m sorry, when you say that from those pen pals you got exposed to this music, were they literally sending these tapes in the mail?

Daniel Nebiat: Yeah well what happens is we write each other, right? They’re trying to learn English, I’m trying to learn English, and we talk about music and they send me music from whatever they’re listening, and I send them Eritrean music. 

John Gardner: ‘Cause you weren’t just going online and typing it in. So it had to be physically mailed, makes sense.

Daniel Nebiat: Because back then we had tapes. We didn’t have CDs. Whatever, right? Yeah, so they used to send me posters of musicians and you know the first time I heard the song “Highway to Hell” by AC/DC, I didn’t know exactly what it was.

John Gardner: Yeah

Daniel Nebiat: And I asked someone like what does this mean? And it was like a highway to hell. I was like, “Oh no, I don’t want to go there!” 

John Gardner: Yeah, right.

Daniel Nebiat: And even though I wasn’t speaking English but I was listening to that music, right? But what happens with the krar is for us East Africans, which is Ethiopians and Eritreans, for us krar is like a basketball. It’s cheap, it’s easy to make ,and it’s always available.

John Gardner: I see.

Daniel Nebiat: You know like if you go to any playground in North America, there’s a basketball somehow. Somebody will bring it.

John Gardner: Yeah.

Daniel Nebiat: So if you ask a kid, “oh, do you know how to dribble?” They’ll be like, “yeah.” There’s always a basketball around, right? With krar it’s the same thing for us; it’s always around. There’s somebody that has a krar closer to them.

John Gardner: Wow.

Daniel Nebiat: So either we know how to play it or we know how it sounds. So if you don’t play it, you know how to sing with it. So that was the reason why I was so attracted to it because it was always around me, right?

John Gardner: That makes sense.

Daniel Nebiat: My influence was that kind of music but I was geared to krar and there was so many amazing krar players back home that actually, that I wanted to be as good as. I think so. That’s how it started. You know how we have Halloween here and go door to door? 

John Gardner: Yeah, yeah.

Daniel Nebiat: Back home we have a similar kind of celebration that happens on New Years.

John Gardner: Okay.

Daniel Nebiat: Which is Sept. 7 for us. We call it Hoyena Hoye. So there’s a song in my first CD about that. So Hoyena Hoye is a torch. It’s a torch that you burn, okay? So slow burning. So you go in the street and you make people cross it three times so they wish,, “May the New Year be prosperous and may the New Year will be whatever wish,” right? Then instead of getting a treat, like a candy or something, they give us money.

John Gardner: Hello. Okay, I can get into that.

Daniel Nebiat: Yeah, so what happens is I used to do that and I used to sing the song that goes with that for my friends, I was the vocalist of the group, right? So we would go around and collect money so that’s how I bought my first krar. I collected money doing that. I had about 15 local money or whatever then I went and bought my krar and like I said in the beginning, mom had a different idea for me so next thing I know the krar was used to make lunch.

John Gardner: Oh no!

Daniel Nebiat: Yeah like, “nope, you’re not playing krar.” Boom boom boom boom. Next thing I know it’s in the oven.

John Gardner: Oh no, she was really against it. Wow. I’m sure it was all fun and games when you’re going around for New Years and you’re doing the celebration. She was probably happy and proud you were doing that. She probably got the feeling, “oh, wait, he’s thinking about doing this for real?” Then it stops being fun. 

Daniel Nebiat: She was not happy. She’d break it, but I was persistent, I went again and I bought another one and I kept buying one so she was like, okay.” She got tired of breaking it so.

John Gardner: Man. We’re thankful she did.

Daniel Nebiat: My brother, my older brother was the one who was taking care of the family business growing up. My mom owns a restaurant back home.

John Gardner: Oh, I see. Okay. 

Daniel Nebiat: Right, so he was helping around so like any Eritrean at that time, the war and everything that was happening, he had to leave the country. So she needed help in the restaurant so she asked me to work in the restaurant. And I gave her a deal. You let me play my music, you don’t touch my instruments,

John Gardner: Oh man.

Daniel Nebiat: I will work. Let me play my instrument, you know, let me play music, and work. She needed help so, she agreed.

John Gardner: Woah, you know, like you said there’s a lot of parents who might be against the thought of their kids going into music as a career but I think this might be the first time I heard of having to negotiate with your parents that way.

Daniel Nebiat: Yeah I had the upper hand so.

John Gardner: Yeah, you were serious about it, you had the leverage.

Daniel Nebiat: She never touched my instrument after that.

John Gardner: Look at that.

Daniel Nebiat: And luckily, you know she actually signed me up in a music school, but it didn’t go well because I was more in love with Krar than a guitar at that time.

John Gardner: At the music school, they were trying to teach you guitar?

Daniel Nebiat: They were only teaching guitar and piano

John Gardner: Really? Interesting.

Daniel Nebiat: Yeah, ‘cause krar, you don’t pay to learn krar, you just learn it.

John Gardner: I see, wow—man, and is that still from, I think you were there just not just long ago—is it still that same way in Eritrea? Is it?

Daniel Nebiat: No. no, no, no. Now, it’s completely, completely different. Krar is like taught in school. 

John Gardner: That’s usually the way it goes. They take it for granted long enough and then they come around and they’re like, “Oh yeah, I guess this is part of our values.” That festival, can you tell me about that festival again? 

Daniel Nebiat: The celebration is St. John, the Baptist. Okay? So, it happens around September 7, September 6 or something. Sept. 11 is the New Year.  So what we do is we do it on September 10 or 9. In Ethiopia they call it Enkutatash (20:26) or something. For us we just call it New Year. 

John Gardner: I see, because the track on your album Hoyena Hoye, you have a video to that. Watching that video, hearing the music, and seeing the photos, I was getting nostalgic from my childhood. I was like like, “That’s not even what my childhood looked like.

Daniel Nebiat: Yeah, so you see that fire they had in their hands? That’s what we do.

John Gardner: So just through the sound, the tone of it, it really communicated that. It was childhood memories. That’s beautiful.

Daniel Nebiat: So, what happened with that song is I did that song for just a dedication for my childhood friends. It’s been forever and now I cannot remember every child’s name. But when we were doing that, every kid in Eritrea was doing that, so that song was made for every child in Eritrea that was doing that and still doing whatever now, right? 

Yeah, so that’s why I collected all those pictures. Those pictures are not mine. I collected them like from Google, or childrens’ page and stuff. And I just, yeah. It’s just a celebration for childhood and I did it with my very talented musician friend Waleed Abdulhamid When I gave him the idea, that track was supposed to be an outro for the album and when I told him, “Hey, there is this that we do when we were kids,” and he was so excited. Then I signed it for him and he was like, “Oh my god, let’s do it!” I was actually trying to get some vocals from children from back home.

John Gardner: Oh I see.

Daniel Nebiat: But I couldn’t get it at that time because the time was off. I needed someone to go and record it for me.

John Gardner: Makes sense.

Daniel Nebiat: Eventually when I go back home, I will make a proper video for it with children doing that.

John Gardner: Oh, great! Man, that would be awesome. I’ll stay tuned for that because that’s great. So seeing the photos and picturing going house to house, you have the torch, everyone’s wishing each other Happy New Year, prosperity and all this, but the time you’re describing, that was a tough time in Eritrea. This was during the war, right?

Daniel Nebiat: Yeah, this is during the war, but you have to remember one thing. As children, we’re not affected by war, unless it’s happening next to us. So the elders, our parents, were suffering, were so worried and everything, but we as children, as long as we’re doing whatever we’re doing, the whole world is perfect. So we were just doing our thing and nobody bothers us. At that time, the war was happening in the trenches. I grew up in the main city, in the capital city, so as long as you don’t venture closer to where the soldiers are or wherever it’s like closed and everything, nobody bothers.

John Gardner: I see.

Daniel Nebiat: You just stay in your neighborhood; it’s the same idea like Halloween. You don’t go far away from your neighborhood. Never. You just do it in your neighborhood. So my trick was this: my mom owns a restaurant, so it means instead of going around house to house, I used to do it in front of my mom’s restaurant. So whoever comes to the restaurant they have to give me extra money.

John Gardner: They came to you, you got your clients.

Daniel Nebiat: Yeah, if they want my mom to like them and make them nice food, they have to be nice to me.  I can make some extra money, right? Yeah, yeah so I used to do it around my mom’s house, I don’t go far. So security was not a problem; like I said we were children. We were doing whatever we want to do, right? 

John Gardner: So overall in Asmara, there wasn’t that much effect of the war? You didn’t feel it in your day-to-day life?

Daniel Nebiat: Yeah, I mean, there were places that you know blocked for pedestrians. Let’s say if there’s a government office on the left side of the street, they block it so everyone has to walk on the right side.

John Gardner: Got it, that makes sense.

Daniel Nebiat: Stuff like that. You know like when you watch the old WW2 movies, wherever the soldiers are, they put some fences and stuff, right? So whatever if fenced you don’t get close to. But on the other side, you could do whatever you want, so it was like that. But the war was there, was very, very, very, much present that people were jailed for no reason, tortured and everything. It’s like any other wartime, right?

John Gardner: Yeah.

Daniel Nebiat: But like I said, us being children and it’s New Years’ so everything was like getting in a good mood, right? Nobody bothers us as long as we don’t get close to whatever we’re not supposed to get close to.

John Gardner: Yeah, makes sense. So you kept saving your money, buying a krar, it gets busted by your mom, you go get another one, you finally make this deal where you’re helping out at the restaurant. So what age were you when you started helping out with the restaurant? And at some point you start playing around, you start gigging around. Is it right in the capital Asmara?

Daniel Nebiat: No, when I was in Asmara, I didn’t actually play music, like, professionally. I was just playing like for my friends, whatever and I was into more dancing and stuff  at that time being a young kid, and when you dance good I think you get girls, right? So I was trying to get a girlfriend.

John Gardner: The great motivator. 

Daniel Nebiat: Yeah. So you go to a club, you don’t play Krar, you dance. So I said, “You know what, I better learn how to dance if I want to get a girlfriend. So I was more into dancing and just playing the krar in the neighborhood with my friends and stuff so it was not like a serious, serious matter, then as any Eritrean kid, when I finish high school if I stay long in the capital city I was going to be drafted by the government to go to war. I had to get out like any other Eritrean kid, so I got out.

John Gardner: And what age was this?

Daniel Nebiat: I was 16 so I went to Addis- when I went to Addis Ababa, which is the capital city of Ethiopia, I had plenty of time, I was not doing anything, I was just bored, so I kept the krar with me, 24 hours. Every time I wake up, I have the krar in my hand. So I had more  time to practice, and there were guys around me that actually played the krar, so I was learning tricks from them and stuff like that. 

John Gardner: Oh ok. Great. 

Daniel Nebiat: Yeah so my first exposure as a musician was actually at a wedding in Ethiopia, and I asked whatever the guy who was singing if he wanted a break, I’m like ‘Yo, I can give you a break, let me play!’ Then I start playing. 

John Gardner: Yeah, there it is.

Daniel Nebiat: So that was my first exposure. Then from Addis, I went to Kenya. in 1994- No, 1995 I went to Kenya. When I went to Kenya there was a guy called Habtom, who was playing music in Kenya with his buddies. He had a band, so when I went there I told them I can sing, I played the krar for them, like “oh sure, you can play with us!” So my first stage performance was in Kenya in 1995, On Eritrea Independence Day

John Gardner: On Independence Day, wow. 

Daniel Nebiat: After that, I can’t remember a time where I don’t actually perform. Either I’m performing for the public or I’m performing for myself, sitting in front of a mirror and learning and practicing.

John Gardner: So it hasn’t stopped since 1995. Now it stands out to me, so- Eritrea is obviously in a war for Independence with Ethiopia-

Daniel Nebiat: Since 1961

John Gardner: Man, that’s amazing. But when you flee, you go to Ethiopia? It was safe for you there?

Daniel Nebiat: When you go to Ethiopia, you are basically in the enemy camp, right? So when you are in enemy camp, you become one of the enemies. 

John Gardner: Ooh. 

Daniel Nebiat: Right, so, nobody bothers you, they are looking for people over here. 

John Gardner: Oh man

Daniel Nebiat: That was a joke, but what happens is- the war was for independence, right? 

John Gardner: Uh-huh

Daniel Nebiat: We were fighting for our independence, and they would say like “you are not going no way” but when you go to Ethiopian they were drafting- when I say ‘they’ I mean the government at that time- was drafting Eritreans, Ethiopians, whatever. Like, whomever they can get to go fight the war. 

John Gardner: Mm. 

Daniel Nebiat: So if an Ethiopian was drafted and goes to war and fights, he’s fighting somebody that’s trying to separate from them. But if I got drafted and go to war, I would be fighting with my own brothers.

John Gardner: Yeah. 

Daniel Nebiat: So I need to run, because if I don’t run, I’ll become a soldier and fight my own brothers, right?

John Gardner: Yeah, of course.

Daniel Nebiat: If an Ethiopian fights with an Eritrean, he’s fighting to keep Eritrea with Ethiopia. If I fight against an Eritrean, I’m killing my own brother. Like, my father- my father is a martyr, he died in the war of independence So if I go to war, I will be fighting my own father. 

John Gardner: But then you run from Eritrea, into Ethiopia, and they’re not trying to draft you when you’re in there, or there’s still a chance that they might? 

Daniel Nebiat: Oh yeah, there’s a chance. Whenever they are drafting- We didn’t have social media at that time, we didn’t have no Facebook or whatever, but if they’re drafting, in the east side of town- within five minutes the whole city would know that they are drafting. So we would hide.

John Gardner: Yeah, wow.  

Daniel Nebiat: If it happened, let’s say, if you had too much to drink the previous night, and you didn’t know what was happening, and you get out and they catch you- *makes noise* 

John Gardner: Wow. Yeah so, when you moved to Kenya, you had to just- your mentality had to just to be so different, just the freedom, the- no fear.

Daniel Nebiat: Yeah, yeah, so I was like- from Asmara, Eritrea, I was like ‘okay, I don’t want to get drafted, so lemme get out of here.’ So I go to Ethiopia; I was a teenager, I was partying, I was having a good time, celebrating and everything. Then still there’s a probability of that, right? So I get out and I go to Kenya, and when you go to Kenya, then another challenge comes, you be like ‘Oh, I don’t wanna live here.’

John Gardner: Yeah

Daniel Nebiat: ‘I wanna get out of here.’ 

John Gardner: Totally different culture, different everything. 

Daniel Nebiat: Exactly. And my sister used to live here in Canada at that time. She sponsored me and everything, and every day I was thinking about Canada. “Let me go move to Canada, let me go move to Canada. Here, I’m not safe here, I’m not safe here”. Then in 1996, I end up in Pearson International Airport, in the middle of November 20-something, which was the coldest day of my life. 

John Gardner: Oh I bet, I bet. 

Daniel Nebiat: I tell people I got out of the oven and went to the freezer. 

John Gardner: There you go. As somebody who grew up in Texas and now lives in Chicago, I can somewhat relate to that. 

Daniel Nebiat: Exactly, yeah, so you came from the oven to the deep freezer. 

John Gardner: That’s right, I’m gonna steal that one from you, I’m gonna use that. So when you get to Canada, you said it was ‘96?

Daniel Nebiat: ‘96, yeah. 

John Gardner: So, you brought your own krar? ‘Cause, you’re probably not going to go down the street and pick one up. 

Daniel Nebiat: No, no. I got here and there was a little local cafe around my neighborhood. 

John Gardner: Ok

Daniel Nebiat: They had a krar there. 

John Gardner: Oh, really?

Daniel Nebiat: Nobody was playing it, it was just sitting there. This is like ten days, fifteen days after I got here. I was going to the washroom and I saw it like somewhere. I’m like ‘hey, whose krar is that?’ They were like ‘oh, we just bought it one time, it’s just sitting there. I grabbed it, cleaned it, tuned it, and I played it for them, and from that day on, I became the official performer of that little cafe.  Without me knowing they already got me the job, and they’re like, every time I don’t go there they call me like ‘hey, where are you?’

John Gardner: ‘Hey, where you at?’ Now, was this a paying job, or this was-

Daniel Nebiat: No. No, it was just buddies, they were like, ‘hey, come, come, we got beer, and we got krar!”

John Gardner: You’re like ‘alright, I’ll be back down there.’ Wow, man that’s something. So you showed up without the instrument, you just happened to see it there and got sucked back into the world of it. 

Daniel Nebiat: Yeah, after fifteen days I found it, but my first krar- I just went to Home Depot and just bought some wood and just built my krar, the first krar. 

John Gardner: Come on, you made it? 

Daniel Nebiat: Yeah, it’s very simple to make! Whenever I perform I have a joke that I tell people. When I introduce my instrument, I tell them ‘Don’t think this is very hard, if you have a broken chair you can make this.’ It looks like a chair if you look at it. Look at it!

John Gardner: Lemme see- yeah.

Daniel Nebiat: See?

John Gardner: For those of you listening, we’ll have photos on wmfpodcast.org/18, but this is- it’s a beautiful instrument. 

Daniel Nebiat: Imagine what’s in here, this is where you sit. 

John Gardner: Yeah, oh man. 

Daniel Nebiat: It’s a chair!

John Gardner: It really- I can see it. Did you make this one? No.

Daniel Nebiat: No, this one was a gift for me. The guy who made this, Tewelde Redda, which is one of Eritrean legends. You can google him, he’s on Youtube and stuff like that. He’s a guitar player and a krar player, and he built these instruments and- few people have this krar of his. 

John Gardner: I see.

Daniel Nebiat:  I was given this instrument in 1998, as a gift, and I have never changed the krar ever since. 

John Gardner: Wow, look at that, that’s amazing. 

Daniel Nebiat: This is the only krar I use to perform, to practice, to do everything.

John Gardner: Really, all that time? Wow. 

Daniel Nebiat: When he built this krar for me, I don’t know if you can see here, it says “TRT 52+” 

John Gardner: Uh-huh

Daniel Nebiat: TRT means Tewelde Reda- whatever his last name is, we only know him as Tewelde Reda, we don’t use last names. We use first name and dad’s name, we don’t use last names. 

John Gardner: Oh, I see. 

Daniel Nebiat: So Tewelde Reda is his first and last name, and 52+ is when he built this krar, he was in the music life 52+ years. 

John Gardner: Wooow, look at that.

Daniel Nebiat: And this is in 1998, so we’re talking about another 22 years, so 74 years in music. 

John Gardner: That’s amazing. 

Daniel Nebiat: He’s one of the people that actually changed Eritrean music. He was one of the first people that actually recorded music. 

John Gardner: I see, wow. 

Daniel Nebiat: He was a real revolutionary.  His lyrics were very political, and very strong lyrics. 

*Tewelde Redda’s Memona plays*

Daniel Nebiat: Basically, he is the grandfather of Eritrean music. So, this krar was made by him.

John Gardner: Yeah, and you have one made by him, that’s amazing. And when you day his lyrics, Tigrinya Tzadabido? (Do you speak Tigrinya?)

Daniel Nebiat: I speak Tigrinya, yeah. 

John Gardner: And he speaks Tigrinya as well?

Daniel Nebiat: Yeah. He lives in Amsterdam now. He’s a senior citizen, he doesn’t play music anymore, but he’s still got his wisdoms. 

John Gardner: Yea, exactly. 

Daniel Nebiat: I don’t know if you know, there is a band that came from Holland a few years back; The Ex. They used to play with a lady from Eritrea called Tsehaytu. They are actually the guys who played her music professionally. That lady, this guy started her, Tewelde was the one who first recorded her music. 

John Gardner: I see, wow. And you said he changed Eritrean music,  he changed the way the lyrics were sung, or he changed the music?

Daniel Nebiat: No, no, no- not the lyrics. Before that- I’m talking about when they had like the discs and stuff, back then they didn’t have no tapes and stuff like that, right? And there was no recordings. So by changing what I meant is he gave structure, because we only used to play culturally, the way we feel like it. But he start making ‘ok, you have to play this many bars, you have to do this, you have to do the intro, the bridge,’ you know. Like, stuff like that. 

John Gardner: I see. Formalized it, gave it structure. 

Daniel Nebiat: Yes, yes. Even the feel, the guitar-playing styles of Tigrinya, of guayla. ‘Cause we have a style of music called guayla that is only Eritrean. Now that I’m exposed to a lot of music and to a lot of musicians in my Okavango band, I have people from Senegal. So when they hear my music that I used to think was only Eritrean, they’re like ‘Eh! We have this!’

John Gardner: Yes, that’s wonderful. 

Daniel Nebiat: And you know, it’s a little bit different, but very close to that. And the other people that actually have connections to that are Morocco. Morocco have very close kinda rhythm to it. It’s not the same but it’s close. So when Tewelde was playing- he plays the guitar like the krar.

John Gardner: I see, so he’ll use those same types of rhythms, and same phrasings.

Daniel Nebiat: Yes, yes, he starts changing the music, the way it was played, recordings, writing lyrics, stuff like that. He was one of the biggest influences at that time. 

John Gardner: Clearly, yeah. So, as I listen to some of the music, traditional music, I hear like a five-strum pattern, like ‘Down, up, down down, up’, is there a name for that pattern? 

Daniel Nebiat: Yeah, like I said, the name of that, the specific style of music, is called guayla.

John Gardner: Oh so, that is that style

Daniel Nebiat: So the guayla is the one that was there so it goes like 

*Daniel Nebiat demonstrates on maraca* 

John Gardner: Would you mind playing some? Will we hear it?

Daniel Nebiat: yeah. 

John Gardner: Ah, that’d be great. 

Daniel Nebiat: So it’s like this-

*He proceeds to absolutely shred it on the krar* 

Daniel Nebiat: So, basically, krar is a family of the harp. The difference between the krar and a harp is krar is a small-scale harp, but the way we play harp and krar is like east and west. It’s completely different. With harp, you have to hit the string and let it vibrate, and you hit another string, and you let that vibrate. So, you build your music or your song by letting strings vibrate. 

John Gardner: Yeah, real open sound. 

Daniel Nebiat: *hums* They’re all open, right? Like, they vibrate different ways so they build the music. But with krar; *claps* I don’t know if you can see my hands?

John Gardner: Yup. 

Daniel Nebiat: Alright so right now, five of them are mute. 

John Gardner: Ok, yeah, I see. 

Daniel Nebiat: So with krar, you have to mute four and let one vibrate. 

John Gardner: Ooohhh, I see. 

Daniel Nebiat: So with the harp, you vibrate, with krar, you mute. That’s the difference. 

John Gardner: So right now you’re resting your fingers on the strings you’re not playing. 

Daniel Nebiat: Yeah, see? *strums a little* Four are mute, only one vibrating. 

*Daniel Nebiat shreds some more* 

Daniel Nebiat: So this one is muting, the other one is vibrating, that’s the only difference. 

John Gardner: Got it, wow.  Obviously now we’re going to have to post some of these videos. People gotta see this, this is great. But for those who are hearing only on the podcast, could you describe the krar? What does it look like?

Daniel Nebiat: Um… can I say it looks like a chair again?

John Gardner: *laughs* Yeah, that’d make sense. 

Daniel Nebiat: The krar is basically a box. So you have two hands and the neck, and it’s an open fret, there’s no fretting. It’s just whatever is attached to the strings makes the same sound. This particular one, it’s tuned as a C major, so whatever I play, wherever I touch the string, it’s always C. 

John Gardner: Pentatonic scale?

Daniel Nebiat: Yeah, so I have five strings on this one, so from the first- from the bottom, I’m counting from the bottom, ok? From my pinkie. So, that is C- C major, A, G, E, and the fifth one is D

John Gardner: Ok

Daniel Nebiat: C, A, G, ,E, D. 

John Gardner: Yeah, pentatonic. 

Daniel Nebiat: So wherever I touch the strings, whatever I do with the strings, up and down, whatever, they are always the same. 

John Gardner: Yeah, and it’s not fretted, it’s open there, so they’re tuned to what they’re tuned, but you make so much sound come from it. 

Daniel Nebiat: Yeah, so you have these five strings to work. Now, I just came from Eritrea- this new generation of kids that are playing the instrument are amazing. They are beyond my beliefs. Like, they play seven strings. Seven-string. It’s like- they make me rethink about my ability that I need to learn and practice more, ‘cause the stuff that they are doing was just amazing. 

John Gardner: That’s so exciting! There’s so many musicians that we speak with, and just from my own listening, it’s so easy to get discouraged about the next generation of musicians. I hear so many times, Indian classical music, or a lot of musicians in the U.S., and we think “oh, the next generation, they’re just taking the easy route.’ You’re saying they’re actually innovating, they’re taking it to the next level. 

Daniel Nebiat: They are- the stuff they’re doing with the krar is just amazing. I was blown away. Like, I get to the point where every time I want to record something, I just want to send it back home and let those kids play it. They are amazing. It’s like, when I record, I remember we used to have a track and you just strum your instrument. You make your melody. These guys, they harmonized a krar, they have three or four layers, tracks, of the krar. 

So one will play the lead melody- one krar track will go like this: *plays krar melody*, this is the leading melody. They will add a second track, they will be like *plays in short, rhythmic bursts* So, they are making the krar, like three-four tracks of krar,  the main instrument of that song, whereas music before used to be ‘Oh, a guitar, or here, or there,’ but now they’re like ‘hell, we have the krar, we can do all this.”

John Gardner: ‘Let’s do it all with the krar.’

Daniel Nebiat: They’re doing amazing stuff. 

John Gardner: Do any artists come to mind, any new artists that we could share on the website or let people know about? 

Daniel Nebiat: Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah! There is a guy- the thing is, we use nicknames and first names, right? So when people ask me like ‘Okay, which artist?’ I’m like “what is that guy’s name?” because I only know them by their nicknames. There is a guy- this is what we use, like my name is Daniel Nebiat, right?

John Gardner: Yeah, mhm. 

Daniel Nebiat: Ok, so, people don’t call me Daniel Nebiat. They call me Wedi Nebiat, which means ‘Nebiat’s son’. So we use like Wedi Kusto, you know like- So you’re John Gardner, if you were in Asmara people would call you Wedi Gardner Like ‘Gardner’s son’, you know? 

John Gardner: Which could be hard for when you’re trying to google to find an artist. 

Daniel Nebiat: I can find it for you, just give me one second. He is right here. 

John Gardner: Ok, right on. 

Daniel Nebiat: We call him Wedi Zeku but I think Zekar is his last name. Ok, Mussie Zekarais

Daniel Nebiat: Ok, and another guy, which is amazing is Isaak Okbay. These two kids are like, amazing. 

John Gardner: Great, that’s exciting. So, so much, just there, in the world of krar, in your Eritrean music- and obviously you have your albums out, you make wonderful music on your own, you’re also a part of a collective, of a group of musicians, right? The Okavango African Orchestra. 

Daniel Nebiat: Yes.

John Gardner: Could you tell us a little bit about that? 

Daniel Nebiat: Okavango is a collective of African musicians. It’s like, 9 musicians from 8 African countries. We don’t speak each other’s language but we speak English and French. But, our music is what we use to communicate. And we have a guy from Senegal, Zimbabwe, Madagascar, Ethi- I mean, Eritrea, Somalia, Ghana, Burundi, and Rwanda.

John Gardner: Look at that wow,

Daniel Nebiat: So eight musicians. So, whenever we try to speak, for example, my Senegalese friends don’t speak English, they speak Senegalese, their language, and French. So if I want to say something to them, my Burundian or my Rwandese friend come in, and they become the translators. 

But when it comes to music, we don’t need to speak, we just play, and when I play, they would understand what I am trying to do, and they would just fit in. So what makes this group special, or what helped us win the Juno in 2017 for album of the year is the instruments that we play. For example, the krar was never mixed with any Zimbabwean music, or Madagascar music, or Senegalese music- the same thing with kora, kora was never mixed with Eritrean music, or the marimba, or the thumb piano, or the talking drum?

John Gardner: Yeah

Daniel Nebiat: So what happens is, when we all fuse the music together, even though it’s Eritrean music, when all those instruments come, that was never mixed in there, you have a different recipe. It’s completely different, it tastes different. It’s the same dish, but it tastes different. Right?

John Gardner: Mhm.

Daniel Nebiat: So, that’s the thing about the band, and unfortunately, may God rest his soul, our Somalian friend (Kooshin) died. 

John Gardner: Oh, wow. So sorry to hear that. 

Daniel Nebiat: He was an amazing, amazing artist. We used to call him Dr. Love. 

John laughs

Daniel Nebiat: ‘Cause every time he comes up with a song, you ask him ‘hey, what’s this song about?’ he’s like ‘Love’.

John Gardner: Yeah, that’s great. 

Daniel Nebiat: ‘What about love?’ He’s like ‘Love, it’s all you need.’ So we used to call him Dr. Love

John Gardner: Just- it’s just love, yeah. He’s the Paul McCartney of Okavango orchestra. Every song is just about love. 

Daniel Nebiat: I have another good news, that we got nominated for the second Juno. 

John Gardner: Come on! I was waiting for that, I was like ‘Come on, this album’s amazing, it’s gotta be-’ That’s great, congratulations man, that’s awesome. 

Daniel Nebiat: Yeah, so this second album is much more stronger than the first one, cause I think we got motivated by the Juno, so we are like okay?

John Gardner: Everyone’s watching now, set the bar higher. I’m sure with that many cultures and- it’s stronger than just styles, but with your musical traditions, right, so like if you’re playing an Eritrean song how do you keep that form, so it doesn’t just become something completely different. Does that make sense? Once you add in all these elements, how do you hold onto that defining element. 

Daniel Nebiat: Yeah, I understand what you say, but what I do, when it comes to mine in particular, I tell them like the music that I’m giving is the mannequin. You guys dress it the way you want to, but the shape is still the same. 

Daniel Nebiat: right?

John Garnder: uh-huh

Daniel Nebiat: So I give them the melody, the way it’s supposed to be sung. And I’m the one who’s gonna sing it.

John Gardner: Okay.

Daniel Nebiat: And I sing it the Eritrean way. So whatever they do underneath it, will just accompany whatever I’m singing. And if I were to let my Senegalese friends sing it, it would be completely different. 

John Gardner: yeah, that makes sense.

Daniel Nebiat: But because of my vocal lead, it is the reason why the music stays with its own identity. 

John Gardner: That makes sense. And I’m sure that’s the same way when you’re playing the Madagascar piece.

Daniel Nebiat: Yeah! So when we play the Madagascar music, we don’t say ‘Aye, it should be like this or should be like that.’ We just get whatever he brings and we just work to fit in, not to change.

John Gardner: And that’s just a good way of being, right? Not trying to fit everybody in your box, you just gotta fit in.

Daniel Nebiat: Exactly because if you try to change, then it becomes completely different right?

John Gardner: Mhm.

Daniel Nebiat: Unless that’s your purpose. If you’re trying to make it completely different than something. But with this one, the idea with Okavango is our manager, Nadine McNulty (1:01:00), when she came up with this idea. What happens is she works with all of us in different times. She used to be the director for Afrofest here in Toronto, and she worked with all of us in different times. I performed for her, everyone performed for her, somebody worked with her or something, so she knows all of us. When she comes up with the idea, she’ll say ‘okay, I wanna make an orchestra of African musicians that play instruments and can write their own songs. 

John Gardner: Yeah.

Daniel Nebiat: So that is what makes it special. We all play instruments, native instruments. We write our own songs, our own lyrics. So it’s like that then, you know, you can’t really go off track.

John Gardner: Yeah, each musician is strong enough to bring their piece fully developed and then add the others on top of it, I see.

Daniel Nebiat: Like for example, On this new album, I have a song called “Muziqa”. It’s music but in Tigrinya we say ‘muzica’ right? So what I did for that song is, I wanna bring an Eritrean tradition and I wanna blend it with the rest of Africa. So half of the song is the traditional Eritrean way of playing music, of singing. 

John Gardner: Okay.

Daniel Nebiat: And at two minutes and something, it changes to basically like Soca(1:03:29). So it’s a big shift from the traditional Eritrean. Like I just came back from Asmara (1:03:42), from Eritrea, and I was making people – like musicians, friends of mine – I was letting them listen to me. They were like, ‘Oh my gosh I love it!’

John Gardner: I bet, yeah!

Daniel Nebiat: ‘You know, you should play. You should bring the band here you know?’ They love it. It’s like, when I try to change stuff like that, it works. But if I don’t wanna change and if I wanted to be Eritrean way, they guys can match anything for me. All they do is they just, whatever idea I bring they just make it beautiful.

John Gardner: That makes sense, and that itself is beautiful. That’s great! So for this group, how long have y’all been together?

Daniel Nebiat: This group that is active right now. Well, the Okavango have been for almost ten years now. 

John Gardner: Okay, about ten years. 

Daniel Nebiat: I think this particular one maybe, I would say, from 2015. 

John Gardner: Okay I see. Cause some of the members have changed off and on, makes sense.

Daniel Nebiat: Yeah, have changed, you know?

John Gardner: Mhm yeah. And what does Okavango mean?

Daniel Nebiat: Okavango Delta. The name Okavango is a water body in Africa where all the animals come and drink. They walk far. They come and drink water there. So all the animals when they come to drink there, they don’t fight because they are thirsty. 

John Gardner: Ahhh.

Daniel Nebiat: They come for the water. Maybe after they drink their water and the rest, maybe they wanna eat each other.

John Gardner: Haha yeah 

Daniel Nebiat: But at that moment, they’re all peaceful and just drinking water. So it’s the Okavango Delta in Africa. And the reason why we were chosen for this band is we are like all the animals that come from far away to that water body. From every country, they come to the music. So the music is like the water body, like Okavango. So we are out there and we are so peaceful. We are musically thirsty. 

John Gardner: Hmm, that’s beautiful. Real great.

Daniel Nebiat: I don’t know if that makes sense, but that’s how it is.

John Gardner: Makes perfect sense. I think it’s beautiful, really beautiful. I wonder growing up, going back to, cause now since I think 2018 it’s been pretty peaceful between Eritrea and Ethiopia. A lot’s changed in the last few years but growing up when there was that tension, not a strong enough word obviously, it was a war. It was terrible. Did you ever have experiences where music was that water where you could, you and an Ethiopian, could come together through music? Or was it still just, it was too turbulent of a time?

Daniel Nebiat: No, it’s like…I played with a lot of Ethiopian musicians, right? Even though there was war and everything in Eritrea. Still, the people are living everyday life. So since I came here to Canada, I’ve been performing at a lot of Ethiopian clubs.

John Gardner: I see.

Daniel Nebiat: There was a song that I actually wrote lyrics to, which is an Amharic song. So we used to play in a club here in Toronto. And me and my buddy Hermias, his name is Hermias, we used to sing together. And whenever I hear him sing that song, it takes me back to my childhood because I used to listen to that song when I was in 3rd grade, 4th grade. So I remember, like every time I hear him sing, I remember my classroom. My 3rd grade and 4th grade classroom because we used to have radio classrooms. Radio education classrooms. We used to learn radio for the whole country, right?

John Gardner: Uh-huh.

Daniel Nebiat: You know, what subjects are given and stuff like that. So before the class starts, or after the class was over, they used to play one song. And that song was played a lot. And I love that song. So whenever I heard him sing that song, I used to go back there. So I wrote my own lyrics, I fit it into that song. So everytime he goes up on the stage, I go. I take the mic from him and we sing together. 

John Gardner: Oh wow.

Daniel Nebiat: So when I kept doing that, the club had to bring another mic. So that I wouldn’t take the mic from him. So they brought us two mics. So he would since his Amharic part and I would sing my Tigrinya part. Then we’ll match it and stuff, and people were begging us every day. ‘You guys should record, you should record.’ But we don’t have the copyrights for that song, it’s a song by Ethipoian legend Mahmoud Ahmed, that’s his song. Can’t record it without his permission. 

John Gardner: And what’s the name of the song? Don’t tell me it has a nickname haha

Daniel Nebiat: The singer or the song?

John Gardner: No, no the song.

Daniel Nebiat: The song is Ketosalawk. (starts singing song) This is the Amharic part, and all that time I would sing my own part. So, yeah there was war and all the crap that comes with war was happening and everything. We have to live right? Cause there’s no war we stop living? There’s a saying in my language I think there is something similar to it in English. (Tigrinya saying) ‘Because you’re scared of your dreams, you gonna stay up all night.’ You have to sleep

John Gardner: And you have to music as well. I mean the music, even through all of that.

Daniel Nebiat: Yeah so there was war and everything, but we have to live our life. And there was war with Ethiopia, it doesn’t mean every Ethiopian is at war. It’s the government, it’s the officials that are fighting. If I wanna take a taxi ride and the guy is Ethiopian I don’t say ‘hey we are at war with you guys, I’m not taking this taxi’. So with all the war and everything that was happening around I still live and interact. Like I say the war is happening between the officials and everybody but Ethiopians and Eritreans, we are integrated through marriage, through business, through stuff like that. My first cousins are Ethiopians, my aunt is married to an Ethiopian. Cause Eritrea and Ethiopia are fighting I’m not gonna say ‘hey you’re not my cousin until the war is over’.

John Gardner: Man tough situations but that makes sense. Life goes on. And from the situation that was going on, that you continued with this music despite what was going on. Even your mom’s opposition to it, so many great things. The last thing as far as the culture that I wanted to ask you about that stood out cause when I was asking you to tell a little bit about yourself, I chickened out. I was gonna ask youmen shemka’ or kabe adi metiha’

Daniel Nebiat: you should have.

John Gardner: but then when I was looking, I was like well how do you say goodbye. What’s common to say goodbye in Eritrea? And it’s ciao, a lot of people say ciao. 

Daniel Nebiat: Yeah we say ciao because of our Italian influences and stuff.

John Gardner: Yeah, how strong is the Italian influence there?

Daniel Nebiat: In Eritrea? Well you know the city Asmara is called Picola Roma, which is ‘small Rome’.

John Gardner: Ah, I see.

Daniel Nebiat: It’s like Rome, right? I don’t know if you know the story but when- when we were under the Italians, the new generation of architects that were in Rome at that time. This was in the 30’s, 40’s, the new generation that came out was coming up with their own different styles of designing – buildings. But Mussolini didn’t like that idea. Mussolini wanted to keep his Rome. His kids were coming up with ideas that were driving him crazy. So what’d do? He was like ‘hey guys listen, instead of you messing up my Rome, I have a country that I’m colonizing. It’s name’s Eritrea. There’s no building, it’s an open canvas. Why don’t you just go there and do whatever you want to do. 

So, we are lucky to have the best of Italian architects at that time. If you go to Eritrea Asmara right now, we have a gas station in the design of an airplane. Yeah, you can Google it. Fiat Tagliero, it’s a gas station. Until this day people are like architects they come and they say ‘how are the wings still standing from the 1930s to today?’ We have a building called Bar Zilli. It’s a bar, there’s a bar in there. Zilli, Bar Zilli. That’s how the building is known. But if you stand far away from it and look at it, it looks like an old school radio. Yeah, we have a place called Barchitcat. If you go to that bar in Zilli, it looks like a train turning.

John Gardner: Really? Wow!

Daniel Nebiat: The railways, stuff like that. We still have- the names of the houses are written still. It’s like a nice villa there, like Villa Carnac. We still use villas. And my mom, if she’s really pissed off, she will switch to Italian from Tigrinya

John Gardner: Wow! You know it’s serious when it switches to Italian. 

Daniel Nebiat: Yea. So, the same thing with the cycling. Italians are big into cycling. 

John Gardner: Yea, Yea

Daniel Nebiat: So, they brought that to Eritrea and now, the first African to wear the polka dot Jersey in the Tour De France is Eritrean. 

John Gardner: Look at that. Wow, that’s amazing.

Daniel Nebiat: There was a competition about two weeks ago, Tour of Gabon, Africa. Every jersey was worn by an Eritrean. Like cycling is crazy.

John Gardner: Not joking around with cycling. They are serious. 

Daniel Nebiat: Driving. They still drive like the Italians. Like crazy, like you know if you go from Asmara to Keren or from Asmara to the port city of Massawa, the roads are like this. 

John Gardner: Oh okay. Real windy. 

Daniel Nebiat: You are scared to drive but those guys they just zoom, zoom. 

John Gardner: Yea no problem. 

Daniel Nebiat: One hour they are like out. 

John Gardner: Wow! That’s amazing. Did any of the music or food, is there- can we get ravioli in Eritrea?  

Daniel Nebiat: Oh yea! Oh yea! Oh yes! Spaghetti is the main dish over there. 

John Gardner: Yea. 

Daniel Nebiat: Yes, Spaghetti, Pizza, you know? 

John Gardner: Did you ever get- feel any influence from Italian music? 

Daniel Nebiat: No, I never listened to any Italian music. 

John Gardner: Really, there weren’t people with accordions

Daniel Nebiat: There were some popular songs – there were some popular songs that were there but it is pop music. And I’m not into it.

John Gardner: Just pop music wow. Obviously you have played all over the world, you have played with so many, so many greats. Did you open for Seun Kuti

Daniel Nebiat: Seun Kuti, yea. Yea, Seun Kuti!

John Gardner: And the band Egypt 80, right? 

Daniel Nebiat: Egypt 80, yea. 

John Gardner: Wow! That is amazing. From those kinds of experiences, you have seen so many of, like yourself, great artists. When you’re on the road like that and playing performances, obviously Afrobeat is quite a bit different than what you are performing. How do you take from influences from other great artists like that, when you are still representing the traditional music? Are you able to find ways to be influenced by them? 

Daniel Nebiat: Yea, whenever I like a style of music, what happens is I dream about it. And when I dream about it, I dream about me performing that specific song. That’s how I know if I like a song or not. So, when I opened for Egypt 80 and Seun Kuti, I- the next day I was sleeping and I was dreaming about me playing that kind of music. 

John Gardner: Oh wow. 

Daniel Nebiat: So, when I hear music like that I say wow, there are unlimited things I can do to our music. But what happens is the first obstacle is finance. Bringing musicians. I have ideas, but my ideas are not- I can’t say not important but my ideas at the moment are secondary, my children come first. I gotta feed my kids before I go and hire musicians to play my songs, right?. 

John Gardner: Yea, yea. 

Daniel Nebiat: So, finance is the biggest obstacle. Second is time. Second is time. Time, you have to work. Before my children came around, I was single. The only job I did was music. I never worked other than music. 

John Gardner: Yea yea. 

Daniel Nebiat: Now I have kids. Now I have to do whatever comes around. I drive taxi, I deliver pizza, I play music, I am a graphic design and advertising graduate, so whatever comes around. 

John Gardner: Ow wow. 

Daniel Nebiat: I do posters, I do websites. Whatever! 

John Gardner: Yea. 

Daniel Nebiat: I don’t do one job. I have to do whatever comes around, right? So, time is the second thing. Out of that, everytime I open for a musician like Seun Kuti or The Ex like I told you. I listen and I get ideas and the next day I write down whatever I was thinking. I have for example there is a song that was done in the 1960s in Eritrea. 

Daniel Nebiat: Whenever I hear that song I hear like, I hear Guns and Roses. The kind of style of that music.

John Gardner: Really? Wow.

Daniel Nebiat: So if I can support it financially and when I have time. I’m gonna do that song with a rock band. But when I do it with a rock band, I want to do it like the boss. I want to be like Bruce Springsteen. I want to do guitars and saxophone and heavy drums and stuff like that. 

John Gardner: So, an Eritrean song from the 60s, rock and roll style like Guns and Roses, in a Bruce Springsteen style. Easy as that. 

Daniel Nebiat: The song is by a very talented Eritrean artist, Engineer Asgedom 

You can find him if you go like “ Eritrean Engineer musician” you can find him. I don’t know, I have the song but I do not know the name of the song. I know the lyrics. 

John Gardner: I see. 

Daniel Nebiat: Like he sings about like when you’re in the port city of Massawa, the love they spent and everything. But the way he plays that- 

vocalizes rhythm

Like, like I hear a great guitar loop in that song. But he only uses a box guitar, only uses a box guitar. When I hear it, I am like this could be some really, really nice rock music. 

John Gardner: That’s awesome. 

Daniel Nebiat: Yeah I get influences like that, I get ideas like that but like I said, financially, it’s a little bit tough to do. But-

John Gardner: Yea, there’s restrictions. 

Daniel Nebiat: But you will hear it! When I do it, you’ll be one of the first people to.

John Gardner: I got to, I gotta make sure that we let the people hear that one. Well, I have loved the conversation, obviously. I am going to call it a lightning round, you know, no time for long answers. I will ask you just some- a handful of questions, and short answers, first thing that come to mind. So, we will do the lightning round. So, we will start off with an easy one. What is your favorite food? 

Daniel Nebiat: Ow man, I like food so I think basically everything is my favorite food except raw fish but- 

John Gardner: No crawfish, huh? Okay.  

Daniel Nebiat: No, I like Sushi but it gotta be cooked. I would say, I would say Chicken Stew. 

John Gardner: Chicken Stew, Okay! 

Daniel Nebiat: That my mom makes. 

John Gardner: Oh, homemade Chicken Stew, that’s a whole other level! Homemade chicken stew, okay! 

Daniel Nebiat: My mom makes it, so it’s a little bit different from the restaurant. 

John Gardner: I am sure, no doubt. Does your mom still have that restaurant by the way?

Daniel Nebiat: Yea! It’s called Latarya Howard

John Gardner: Good, we have to at least plug her restaurant. She stopped breaking your Krar enough that we can at least plug her restaurant a little bit here. What’s been on your mind lately? 

Daniel Nebiat: Lately, I have been working so hard and I just came back from Eritrea with some new material so nowadays, you can make beautiful music but if you don’t have a video for it nobody listens to it because it feels like everyone switched to Youtube instead of iTunes. 

John Gardner: That is true! 

Daniel Nebiat: So, we will be making some new music videos for the new songs that I made. In Eritrea there is a trend growing because it pays [more] money to do the traditional music than modern music like RnB and like Rock kind of music. 

John Gardner: Ow, Okay! 

Daniel Nebiat: For some reason, people are into the traditional style. 

John Gardner: Traditional, wow that’s exciting okay!

Daniel Nebiat: The traditional, not necessarily traditionally played, but the guayla style that I told you. 

John Gardner: I see. 

Daniel Nebiat: So, every Youtube channel that is buying music to put on their channel is buying that kind of music so every musician is doing that kind of style. I can’t say I am on a mission but I am trying my best to play a different style and support that style, not have it disappear. So, I made about six songs when I went back home. I made six songs. They are waiting for a music video to support them so they can go on youtube.

John Gardner: Great! We will be tuning in for that for sure! What do you do outside of music? 

Daniel Nebiat: Outside of music, I’m a  cook at my house. 

John Gardner: Okay! Great! Grew up with a family with food everywhere so that makes sense.

Daniel Nebiat: I don’t know if my food is good or my family are tricking me to just cook, but they just made me the cook at home. I cook, I am a taxi driver. I am a graphic designer, I am a translator, I am a self-taught appropriate technician.

John Gardner: Okay! Right on! 

Daniel Nebiat: You have a broken iPhone I’ll fix it, you have a broken apple computer or iMac, I’ll fix it. So, like I am a daddy. I am a father. 

John Gardner: That’s a big thing too! That’s a full-time job. 

Daniel Nebiat: I have three beautiful kids. I made this new Okavango album that is coming out that is nominated for the Juno. I have a song called Harerta, It means matters of the heart, like what you really wish for. It’s a song for my children. It’s got three verses. I have three children. The first verse is for my daughter. The second verse is for my son. The third one is for my third daughter. 

John Gardner: Wow man! 

Daniel Nebiat: I made that song before my children even came around. My children, my oldest, is five years old. 

John Gardner: Ow Wow! Okay!

Daniel Nebiat: So, I made that song for a completely different reason. 

John Gardner: I see, so you have the melody sitting there on the shelf. 

Daniel Nebiat: Yea! Now they came and they own it. 

John Gardner: Wow! Look at these spoiled kids they get to go around and say, oh yea my Juno award-winning father wrote me a song. 

Daniel Nebiat: Yea. Every time the song comes on my playlist, my daughter is like, hey my song! 

John Gardner: That’s great. She is going to go up there and accept the award when it comes. 

Daniel Nebiat: Yes! Hopefully one day. She is into music. She is only five but she sings, she is in music school. She is a performer. I can see that from now. Maybe she will be on Canadian Idol soon.

John Gardner: There you go! Last question, it’s kind of a complicated one so let me know if it is not clear. If you could ask the universe, just one question and you would know the entire answer to that question, what is the one question that you would ask the universe? 

Daniel Nebiat: I would say what makes you think you are not God? 

John Gardner: Okay! That is intense!

Daniel Nebiat: I know the answer. It is that God is you! Everyone is god. Cause I don’t like what I am seeing in what’s happening in our world because of religion. In the name of God, people are killing each other, people are suffering. 

John Gardner: Yea. 

Daniel Nebiat: But I think everyone is god. So, what makes you think you are not god? You are god. If you listen to that mini-me inside you that says everything will be alright then you are god.

John Gardner: Wow! So, you are giving the universe answers instead of just asking. 

Daniel Nebiat: Stop torturing people in the name of god. 

John Gardner: Absolutely. Wow! So great speaking with you. I can tell pretty clearly that when you started earlier and you said that parent want their kids to become anything except for a musician. I think that cycle broke with you. I heard in your voice, you lit up when talking about your daughter’s musicianship so I know she has an encouraging father on that front. 

Daniel Nebiat: Oh Yea for sure! 

John Gardner: Thank you so much for taking the time, Daniel! It was a pleasure. 

Daniel Nebiat: Thanks for the opportunity I really appreciate it. I hope people get to listen to Eritrean music because what I have noticed is people say African music, they only listen to West African music, but there is beautiful music in the Eastern side, or in the North side of Africa so when you Google for African music, sometimes look for East African music. 

John Gardner: There you go. That’s a great tip. Wonderful. They will hear this episode and they hear great examples coming from you. Thank you so much. 

Daniel Nebiat: Thank you so much I appreciate it. 

John Gardner: Take care. We will be in touch. 

Daniel Nebiat: Thanks bye. 

For the Extra Curious




Musical Mentions

00:04 The World Music Foundation
00:08 John Gardner
00:15 Krar
00:17 JUNO Award
00:18 Okavango African Orchestra
00:20 Daniel Nebiat
02:24 China
02:25 India
02:26 Femi Kuti
02:27 Nigeria
02:28 Côte D’Ivoire
02:29 United States
03:16 Eritrea
03:17 East Africa
04:32 ACDC
04:33 Guns n’ Roses
04:35 Jimi Hendrix
04:52 Country Music
04:53 Donald Williams
04:54 Kenneth Rogers
04:55 Dolly Parton
05:07 Blues
05:09 Muddy Waters
05:10 B.B. King
06:14 Poland
06:15 Italy
06:19 Jamaica
06:40 Guitar
07:39 Highway to Hell
09:30 Ethiopian New Year
09:33 Hoyena hoye
0:12:54 Piano
0:16:50 Halloween
0:17:36 Asmara
0:20:17 Addis Ababa
0:21:15 Kenya
0:21:28 Habtom
0:21:46 Eritrea Independence Day
0:24:48 Canada
0:25:02 Pearson International Airport
0:25:18 Texas
0:25:19 Chicago
0:25:21 Cafe
0:27:32 Tewelde Reda
0:29:02 Tewelde Reda-Memona
0:29:30 Tigrinya
0:29:36 Amsterdam
0:29:48 The Ex
0:29:53 Tsehaytu Beraki
0:30:52 Guayla
0:31:03 Senegal
0:31:22 Morocco
0:32:46 Harp
0:34:46 Pentatonic Scale
0:35:52 Seven-string bass
0:49:40 Mussie Zekarias
0:49:50 Isaak Okbay
0:41:12 Kora
0:44:20 Madagascar
0:45:21 Afrofest
0:46:12 Muziqa
0:52:46 Mèla Testègn
0:59:38 Italy
1:00:02 Seun Kuti
1:00:06 Seun Kuti & Egypt 80-Rise
1:03:38 Bruce Springsteen 
1:03:40 Bruce Springsteen-Born To Run
1:04:49 Daniel Nebiat-Harvata