Sancho Gebre: Ethiopia’s Michael Jackson. (Courtesy)

The late King of Pop, Michael Jackson, inspired artistes worldwide with his unique dance and stage persona. His chart-busting Thriller album has been hailed as his finest production in terms of the sheer work and talent that went into its making.

Among the MJ wannabes are his Spanish look-alike Sergio Cortes, a stunning replica of the fallen star, who was once hailed as his reincarnation, and Congolese singer Stino Mubi of Viva la Musica band.

Ethiopia has not been left behind in this craze, with musician Sancho Gebre adding to the collection of performing artistes who draw their influence from the king.

A choreographer, singer and dancer, 29-year-old Sancho was born in Wolaita, Sodo, where he developed an interest in music choreography at a young age. Sancho’s dalliance with Michael Jackson started at home where he spent lots of time watching his videos during his study time without his parents’ knowledge.

It took up a lot of his study time, but he was determined to learn the tricks that the late King of Pop employed in his videos and to make something out of it.

Like most traditional Ethiopian families, Sancho’s parents wanted him to study and pursue a ‘proper’ career. But when they realised he was hell-bent on making a career in music they supported him.

Ethiopia’s Michael Jackson. (Courtesy)

Costly affair ‘becoming MJ’

And it was a costly affair walking in the shadow of the King of Pop. For one, to impersonate him successfully, he needed to get the costumes right, which was expensive. Then he had to perfect the famous moonwalk and on top of different dance styles, he innovated in his experimentation. 

Sancho’s big break came in the 2009 Ethiopian Idol show. The show, which was aired on Ethiopian National TV, ran from 2009 to 2011. It was originally held in nine regions before it moved to the capital, Addis Ababa. He competed in eight toughly-contested seasons before finally emerging winner in the Single Modern Dance category.

But he was not home and dry yet. His next big challenge was recording his own music since he needed to get out of the shadow of the king and become his own man. To do this he had to travel 300 kilometres from his home in Areka, Wolaita Zone to the capital, Addis.

In Addis, he met famed music producer Kamuzu Kassa and his brother Gildo, who helped mould his career. At the time he was still doing a lot of choreography in the music videos of other artistes, but Kamuzu and Gildo encouraged him to go to the studio to record his own music.

Sancho Gebre. (Courtesy)


His debut was the 2016 hit single, Ande, which borrowed heavily from MJ’s ‘moonwalk’ dance routines. The choreography of Ande earned Sancho a solid following. His follow-up release, Atasayugn, solidified his arrival on the Addis music scene. Three other singles Tanamo, Leba and Fiyona would follow shortly.

He genre, which he describes as ‘Afrobeats’, is extremely popular on the Ethiopian club scene, borrowing from dancehall and a sampling of Ethiopian traditional music, but done in a hip and modern style.

As a choreographer Sancho is extremely experimental pushing the boundaries of what we conceive as modern dance. His strength draws from the diversity he employs in choreographing his videos.

Sancho is currently finalising work on his album.