The Weeknd has spoken openly about the importance of his Ethiopian heritage in the past, and now the singer has taken another step to ensure that heritage is honoured. The Canadian hit-maker, real name Abel Tesfaye, made a large donation to the University of Toronto last August to help fund a new class on Ethiopic studies.
U of T history professor Michael Gervers put out a call to Toronto’s Ethiopian community last year for donations to help fund a new Ethiopic Studies course that will ensure the language Ge’ez is not lost. Following Gerver’s request for donations, The Weeknd quickly donated $50,000, with the first class of 25 students entering the class this month.
The Weeknd’s parents, Makkonen and Samra Tesfaye, immigrated to Canada in the 1980s from Ethiopia before having their only child in 1990. In an interview with Rolling Stone, Tesfaye cited his grandmother’s influence on his life as a child—helping him become fluent in the Semitic language Amharic, which was his first language.
He discussed the importance of Ethiopian culture in his home growing up. Even his famous style of singing, which has led him to two Grammy wins, was influenced by Habesha singers like Aster Aweke, as well as pop icons like Michael Jackson. “People forget — ‘We Are the World’ is for Ethiopia,” The Weeknd told Rolling Stone. “At home, if it wasn’t Ethiopian music, it was Michael. He was our icon.”
While The Weeknd has previously expressed his regret about not finishing school, his donation to the U of T will help many students learn more about Ethopian history and languages.
The Weeknd isn’t the only past member of Toronto-based music label OVO who has popped up in an academic setting. Amara Pope, a PhD student at Western University in London, Ontario recently presented her thesis on rapper Drake’s ability to ‘connect with multiple communities and places.’
It feels like only a matter of time before students can start applying to OVO U.