Ethiopia · Interview

Interview: Vahe Tilbian

Photo: Mario Di Bari/Graphics: Mustafa Saeed


It’s been over a year since I’ve began blogging, and after seeing the number of Ethiopian bloggers, I see where I can squeeze into: the Entertainment section. So while I love writing about random things, I want to make my blog as entertaining as possible.

For my interviews section, I will be interviewing several people whom I think deserve to have their stories told. For my first victim, I chose Vahe Tilbian, an Ethiopian Armenian singer, song-writer, residing in the New Flower. I met him about a year ago at a ZOMA Magazine’s contributors meeting. Ever since, we met there regularly, became facebook friends and stayed in touch.

Vahe has a story to tell. Here are some random but fun things you should know about him.

Sukersays: Tell us about yourself… sisters, brothers…age… your full background.
Vahe: I come from an Armenian family. I have a younger sister who is also my best friend. My mother’s side of the family have been in Ethiopia since the early 1900’s (maternal relatives) and 1917 (paternal relatives) and my father’s side of the family since early 1920’s (maternal family) and 1930’s before the Italian occupation (paternal family).
Armenians living in Ethiopia were stateless, most having escaped the Genocide in what was then Western Armenia and is currently Eastern Turkey. They were given citizenship by Emperor Haile Selassie and those of us still living in Addis are Ethiopian. Most of the Armenians who were in Ethiopia moved yet again when the Derg moved in and confiscated businesses and houses. But we stayed. I have 3 aunts and an uncle and many cousins from both sides of the family still in Addis. As you can tell my family is really important to me and they’re my inspiration, my drive.

Age? Let’s just say I’m young at heart. 🙂

Sukersays: How did you get in the music business? Or, when did you know in your heart that this is what you wanted to do?
Vahe: It was actually as a joke. I was working a day job and also dancing when a friend of mine Bitik Emlaelu, who I’d met through salsa dancing, heard me break out in “Feeling Good” the Michael Buble version and she asked if I’d be interested in joining a band that she was putting together. I jumped at the opportunity. We went through some hurdles of course but kept persevering and after about 3 years of working both a day job and singing at nights I decided that music was giving me way more satisfaction and contentment. I decided to quit after an eye opening trip to India. By then I’d started working with Ledj Leo and Kenny Allen around Addis as well as The Beyaynetus (band) so I just continued from there.
It was a bit odd to realize that music is where I need to be. I’d never thought about it as a career. I was surrounded by music all my life but I never thought I’d be where I am today. I wanted to be a doctor so I was a Biology major at university in Vancouver Canada but I’m happy that faded out when it did!

"Picture This Photogrpahy Vancouver BC Canada"

Sukersays: Besides singing, i know that you dance. tell us a little bit about that and other “artistic” or creative things that you do. If you just couldn’t sing anymore, what do you think you’d be doing right now?
Vahe: All through university I couldn’t handle just the academic aspect of life. I was bored of just going to class and studying and parties weren’t my thing so I joined the UBC Dance club where I started taking lessons in ballroom dancing, ended up competing right off the bat and fell in love with this form of non verbal communication. It changed my life completely. If it wasn’t for the UBC Dance club and the people in there who believed in me and my dance partners who trusted me, I wouldn’t be in music right now. I was very much an introverted guy and dance gave me the confidence I needed.
I write as well… if you can call it writing. I call it “releasing brain stress”. Opinion pieces, some poetry, lyrics. I write as I speak which is perhaps very unconventional but I find it’s easier for people to relate to what I’m trying to say. I’m also into designing especially on jeans and t-shirts which I’m hoping to pick up again soon, hopefully make it something to tag along with my music.
If I wasn’t singing, I honestly don’t know what I would be doing right now. Probably still at my day job somewhere, or managing my own café/restaurant.

Sukersays: Tell us about your first, public, self-written song. how did it feel to have the world judge you?
Vahe: Scared at first. I’d released the song “Life or Something like it” on the radio (Afro FM) and was getting pretty good responses. Then some time later I sang it live and it was a pretty awesome feeling. Of course one can’t expect peaches and cream all the time. Some people love your work, others hate it and a lot are indifferent but the fear changes to satisfaction that I’m doing the right thing, especially when people respond positively to my music.

Sukersays: I don’t think you know this bedenb, but you really are a celebrity. (trust me, everyone i know, knows you.) what can you say about that?
Vahe: Well if you know everyone I know then you’re a celebrity too!! I’m NOT a celebrity. I don’t think myself as one and this is not me being humble or anything. But at the end of the day it’s not my ultimate goal. Of course we all want to get recognized and make some cash when we can. I’d be a hypocrite if I say I’m not in this business for the money and fame. That would be a lie. I just don’t think I’m there yet, or if I ever will get there. It would be more of God’s blessings coming my way and I thank Him for that. I just want to leave a mark in this world.

Sukersays: What do you think is your biggest challenge in the business?
Vahe: Staying real! It’s so easy to spiral out of control be it in a positive or a negative way. I can’t really answer this without making it sound like an excuse but a big challenge these days is the age factor. Competing with 13 14 year olds to get record deals basically means 30something year olds don’t really stand a chance. The teenagers can be molded and shaped to what the record label wants them to be. Us 30somethings are somewhat solidified already HAHA. But we push forward and see what life has in store.

Sukersays: I know that you’ve got gigs after gigs… and I think you work with different  bands? How is the dynamics different with everyone? You perform at different places all the time…where is the best place to work? Where do you get the most love, response from the audience?
Vahe: I do work with different musicians and bands. Each musician approaches gigs in different ways. Some are very calm cool and collected, others get stressed out. I personally get very anxious to perform if I don’t feel I have rehearsed enough. So the dynamic between musician and vocalist can be a little tense at times but the final and most important link is music. The show must go on!
I can’t really say where I get the most “love” because it’s different on a weekly basis. Sometimes you get great energy in the room and sometimes it’s just not there no matter what you do. We have our fans who show up every week, some fans even show up at daily gigs and dance and sing along with us. The vibe is usually there. But it all has to do with the energy of the day.

Sukersays: Name your top 5 musical inspirations…
Vahe: Very tough question. So many musicians and music that inspire me. Off the top of my head, in no particular order.
Bruno Mars, Mahmoud Ahmed, John Mayer, Nickelback, Kenny Allen

Sukersays: If you could sing with one world-known artist, dead or alive, who would it be and why?
Vahe: Again, extremely difficult to answer this one. Only 1? That’s not fair! There are so many artists that I’d love to work with. Again just putting it out there… Alicia Keys, Bruno Mars, Aerosmith, Zeritu Kebede, Mahmoud Ahmed, Munit Mesfin, Sirusho (Armenian artist), … the list is endless.
Perhaps a duet with Whitney Houston would have made my life. She was the diva, her voice was absolutely gut wrenchingly perfect.

Sukersays: What do you like to do, when you are not working? Your favorite past-time activity?…
Vahe: You had to ask… Updating Facebook! I like to watch movies and religiously watch some TV series. I like to read when I can as well. And perhaps something people don’t know, I like to do crossword puzzles.

Graphics: Mustafa Saeed

Sukersays: Tell us about the award that you are nominated for…
Vahe: I’m nominated for an Armenian Pulse Music Awards, in the Best Artist in English category for my song “Don’t Stop“. I’m honoured to be in the same category as an artist I admire a lot, Tamar Kaprelian.

Sukersays: Tell us about your album, Mixology.
Vahe: Mixology is what I always call the music I listen to. I never stick to one genre or one artist. That’s pretty much what I perform as well. Whenever people ask me what type of music The Beyaynetus play (that’s the band I started with) I always answer with the word Mixology. I also think it defines me. Being Ethiopian Armenian, my album includes songs in English, Amharic and Armenian, pop, dance, rock, reggae. Also perhaps slightly on the funnier side, I used to be a biology major but flipped that to a “mixology” of music, dance and the arts.

There you have it my friends! Be sure to go to Vahe’s Facebook page and click “Like”. Also, listen to his music at ethioarmen on Youtube. ANDDD Make sure you vote for him for Best Artist in English on the Armenian Pulse Music Awards! 



16 thoughts on “Interview: Vahe Tilbian

  1. Listen Sarah! Your blog posts are really awesome!!!! I really like Vahe and his music and i vote for this blog post and him. Thanks again for updating us, for free, on time… GREAT!

  2. Salam suker speak on amaragna That ur language not english

    If u r true Ethiopian speak amaragna
    No sPeak English or other langauge

    1. Thanks for your comment.
      I am Ethiopian, also Harari, so naturally I speak 2 languages. Then English came along, and it comes easily to me now.
      Question for you. Why did you not comment in Amharic?

  3. Good come back, Ms. Sara! I would also like to add my thoughts about Mr. Hailu’s comment.

    First of all, anyone can speak and/or write in any number of languages and that should be something he or she should be commended upon. We are living in a time when the world is becoming smaller by the day making it very important that we communicate effectively. Knowing more than one language is a good start in the right direction.

    Second, Sara is a blogger. She writes for an audience that isn’t in one specific demographic. Although she’s writing about Ethiopian topics, she aims to entertain and inform people that have never even heard about our country. So, how can we not understand her aiming to reach a wider audience (English speakers) on a global scale? I, personally can understand her choosing to reach billions of English speakers (including Ethiopians like you, Mr. Hailu) than just being limited to the less than 80 million (not all Ethiopians speak Amharic, mind you) Ethiopians that speak Amharic. I would say “Think local, go global”.

    Finally, Mr. Hailu, what makes you so sure she doesn’t have a blog in Amharic, Harari or Telugu for that matter?

    Ms. Sara, I absolutely love your blog and can’t wait for your next post.

    Kudos and warmest regards,


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