March 9, 2021
(SECAUCUS, N.J.) – Bright paintings decorate the wall. Musical instruments are displayed next to two computer monitors and a laptop on an L-shaped desk. Dagnachew Bayou’s face beamed as he talked about the room, which he says is his gallery, music studio, and an office – all in one, during a recent zoom interview — not a typical room for a financial analyst.
Bayou is not your average numbers guy. Since the pandemic sent him home from his office in Rockville, M.D., he has discovered his more creative side in painting and in music.
Bayou now spends close to 15 hours each day in the home studio office.
“Mostly, I play music. Other times, I paint,” said the Silver Spring, Maryland resident pointing to the artworks that adorn his home office.
Bayou, 48, began sharing his music and paintings on Facebook reluctantly, believing that some of his friends might find it helpful.
“At the time, people were much worried about the new virus, and I just wanted to offer hope and a little bit of entertainment,” Bayou told me. “It is about offering hope and also breaking the cycle for my followers who tend to consume too much news about the virus.”
Bayou grew up on a farm in the Oromia region of Ethiopia. He is the first of four siblings to get college-level education and later worked as a professor at Addis Ababa University, one of Ethiopia’s most prestigious academic institutions.
After moving to the U.S. in 2008, Bayou earned a second MBA in Accounting from Maharishi International University in Fairfield, Iowa. He attributes his success and the initiative to self-teach new hobbies to his dad and the extra time afforded by the lockdown.
“My dad wanted me to go to school for a reason he couldn’t articulate at the time,” he said. “I just never stopped learning.”
Bayou plays popular Ethiopian songs daily for close to 5,000 followers on Facebook, wearing his bright-colored tracksuits almost all the time. “I never played this much ulule in my entire life,” he said, referring to the end-blowed bamboo flute that he watched his father play while growing up in Ethiopia. He has uploaded more than 200 videos since the lockdown began.“One thing about Dagne is he just doesn’t like stressing out,” said his friend Fekadu Negash, also of Maryland, using Bayou’s nickname. “He wanted to paint a positive outlook for his followers during the pandemic.”
As Bayou’s followers grew, his wife, Shewaye Urgessa, stepped in to help. She makes cameo appearances demonstrating how to dance to cultural songs. “My wife supported me in everything, sometimes taking on new challenges, like being my cameraperson,” Bayou said.
But the online attention was new to him.
“I am a private person, and the attention was overwhelming,” he said with a chuckle. “I wasn’t sure whether to accept the media requests coming my way.”
Bayou used the pandemic positively, unleashing talents he never knew he had.“I can’t imagine myself painting a single one of them if not for coronavirus,” he said, holding up an acrylic painting of a cherry blossom tree that he recently finished.
“For a guy like me who grew up in a village and never saw a painting as a child, this is crazy.” He posts his paintings on Facebook just like the music.
“I truly believe each of us…have unique talents and hobbies we never got a chance to explore,” said Bayou. “But I think the pandemic gave many of us the time to give it a try.”