Founded almost four years ago, Selam Central was created with the intention of connecting and supporting members of the Ethiopian and Eritrean communities. To that end, Yonas Berhe, an Eritrean-American, born and raised in Houston, Texas, recently joined forces with Selam Central to start the highly popular virtual series, “Habesha Matchmaking.” To learn more about what inspired them, Amplify Africa sat down with Selam Central and Yonas to discuss how a global pandemic led to them playing cupid.
Yonas, who goes by the stage name Lost Lyrics, left his hometown of Houston with nothing but $500 in his pocket and all of his belongings packed into his 2001 Toyota Camry to drive to Los Angeles in pursuit of his dreams. The road was not a smooth one, and Yonas found himself homeless and sleeping in his car for months.
Photo: Yonas Berhe
With aspirations of establishing himself as a rapper, comedy just fell into his lap. “All my close friends know that I would always imitate Habesha parents by putting on the accent,” Yonas jokes, “it just comes naturally to me and I love to make people laugh.” His friend and roommate Benu recorded a video of him and within a week it had blown up on social media.
Yonas grew his platform by consistently posting hilarious videos that portrayed him as a Habesha parent addressing the cultural disconnect that exists with their children. His followers ability to laugh at such genuinely relatable scenarios is what he attributes his popularity to.
Earlier this year, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit and we were all quarantined at home, Yonas used his Instagram live to start matchmaking his followers with each other. Though it started out as a fun way to entertain and connect people during this time, Yonas quickly saw how popular it was as his DMs became flooded with matchmaking requests, and the number of viewers tuning in was rapidly increasing. Recognizing an opportunity for something much greater, he reached out to collaborate with Selam Central. They joined forces, combining both of their platforms and Yonas’ natural gift for entertaining, to establish Habesha Matchmaking.
Photo: Yonas Berhe & a guest on Habesha Matchmaking live
The timing of this couldn’t have been better, as Selam Central had been working for several months on the launch of their new dating app Jebena. I asked why it was so important to them to establish a platform where Ethiopians and Eritreans in the diaspora can meet and form romantic relationships. “Our goal was to create a dating platform where members of our community would feel represented,” Selam Central shared, “we wanted to break some of the dating stereotypes within our community and create new forums to engage.”
“When I was younger I would hear a lot of people my age say that they would never date a Habesha person, but the older I get, the more I understand just how important our culture is,” Yonas thoughtfully added, “many of us are raised in a way that makes us shy when it comes to dating, and that is what we want to change.” Yonas acknowledged that while finding love in another culture is also a beautiful thing, for the Habesha people that want to date within their own culture they are simply providing them with that small encouraging push.
At the height of Habesha Matchmaking’s popularity, the nation had erupted in outrage as we all witnessed yet another Black man murdered by a white police officer. The tragic video of George Floyd pleading for his life as officer Derek Chauvin kneeled on the back of his neck for nearly eight minutes was extremely painful to watch, and yet another reminder of the America that we live in. Out of respect for what was happening throughout the country, and in an effort to pay their respects, Selam Central and Yonas made the decision to temporarily stop hosting Habesha Matching.
Now back with their second season of the show, they are intentionally highlighting organizations that have a profoundly positive impact on our communities. These include; the Know Your Rights Youth Camp founded by Colin Kapernick to raise awareness on self-empowerment and interacting with law enforcement; the Alemayehu African Dream which provides legal & humanitarian assistance to Ethiopians, Eritreans and other immigrants of African descent; Egna Legna Besidet, a group of feminist activists working on migrant domestic workers’ issues and general women’s issues in Lebanon and Ethiopia; and Project Tsehigh, a nonprofit organization that was created to help decrease global energy poverty and improve the quality of life for families currently living under such conditions.
What makes Habesha Matchmaking so unique is the authenticity that drives it. Absolutely nothing is scripted and no one is screened before joining the Instagram live with Yonas. He has no idea who he will encounter next and it is his job to bring out the genuine personalities of his guests, and match them with whom he believes they are best suited. Thousands of people tune in to each show and live tweet the entire experience as they become invested and vocal about who should be matched together.
I asked what the greatest reward of starting this show has been, and they both agreed that it was seeing all the relationships that have formed, referring not only to the couples but also friendships and connections that have been established. “Continuing our original mission to create a platform where people from our community feel represented is extremely rewarding,” Selam Central added, “we receive many messages from people who sometimes don’t feel fully connected to the Habesha community; whether they are deemed too Habesha for the Western world, or too westernized for the Habesha community. To know that we are reaching everyone makes us proud.”
You can watch (or join!) Habesha Matching on Sunday nights at 7pm PST/10pm EST on Selam Central’s Instagram live.
If you are looking for love be sure to download the Jebena app (thank us later)!