The Weeknd

The Weeknd donates $50,000 to launch a new U of T Ethiopic Studies program

The school will offer a course on the Ethiopic language spoken since 2000 BCE.

- Aug 7, 2016

The Weeknd has donated $50,000 to help launch a new Ethiopic Studies program at the University of Toronto.

The Scarborough-bred pop R&B star credits his Ethiopian heritage as an elemental influence on his music. In a 2015 Pitchfork interview, Abel Tesfaye explained that artists like Aster Aweke and Mulatu Astatke were the soundtrack of his childhood, continuing to seep in years later.

“It’s such beautiful music, but I didn’t realize how beautiful it was until I left that head space,” Tesfaye told Anupa Mistry. “That’s why I feel like my singing is not conventional. I mean, if you look at technique, I’m not a technical singer; I know I get bashed by R&B heads 24/7. I’m not here to do Luther Vandross runs. I can’t do what Jennifer Hudson does. But the feeling in my music and in my voice is very Ethiopian and very African and much more powerful than anything, technically.”

The feeling in my music and in my voice is very Ethiopian and very African and much more powerful than anything.

The Weeknd, to Pitchfork
While he has yet to integrate Ethio-jazz as explicitly as Nas and Damian Marley’s Astatke-sampling “As We Enter,” the Weeknd has put his money where his mouth is (he also previously donated $50,000 to Toronto's St. Mary Ethiopian Orthodox Church). Tesfaye’s donation followed a pledge from U of T professor Michael Gervers of the Department of Historical and Cultural Studies, who offered $50,000 if the university and Ethiopian community could match his contribution.

Support Ethiopian Studies at U of T

Before his signature $360 vape that plays his song “The Hills,” Tesfaye received a Professional Excellence Award from the Bikila Awards, who contacted him for the U of T donation.

“This initiative is a rare opportunity and of historical significance in the discovery of Ethiopia’s ancient civilizations, for the preservation of our rich culture, history and traditions,” Bikila president Tessema Mulugeta told The Toronto Star.

$170,000 has currently been raised for a course on the Ethiopian script and language Ge’ez, also known as Ancient Ethiopic. It has been spoken since 2000 BCE. The U of T program is set to launch in fall 2016.

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