Abel Makkonen Tesfaye (stage name: The Weeknd) is a Canadian singer and producer who rose to fame after releasing some of his songs on YouTube. His dark-style R&B style gained many admirers, and in 2012, he signed with Republic records. His first studio album, Kiss Land, dropped in 2013, and two years later, The Weeknd dropped his uber-successful second studio album Beauty Behind the Madness.
The Weeknd’s third studio album, Starboy, won Best Urban Contemporary Album at the 2018 Grammy Awards. His accolades include five American Music Awards, three Grammy Awards, and nine Billboard Music Awards. The Weeknd recently stunned the world with a unique and polarizing half-time Super Bowl performance.
The Weeknd’s parents separated shortly after immigrating to Canada from Ethiopia
The Weeknd’s parents, Makkonen and Samra Tesfaye, fled from Ethiopia in the late 1980s due to civil strife and severe drought. They settled in Toronto, Ontario, where The Weeknd was born on 16th February 1990.
Makkonen and Samra never married, nor had another child. They separated when Abel was a toddler. With the help of Abel’s grandmother, Samra raised Abel in the Scarborough area of Toronto. Samra worked multiple jobs to support Abel and take him through school.
Abel spent a lot of time with his grandmother as Samra spent a lot of time working. He learned Amharic from his loving grandma. In an interview with The Guardian, The Weeknd described Samra as ‘a great mom, very protective, very cultured,’ but she couldn’t prevent him from dropping out of school at age 17.
The Weeknd started down a dark road at the age of 11 when he took his first hit of marijuana. He quickly moved to hard drugs, and to support his habit, he shoplifted and used his welfare checks to buy Xanax, cocaine, and ecstasy. At age 17, Abel and his best friend drove to Abel’s home, took Abel’s mattress, and went off to live in the Parkdale area of Toronto.
Samra watched on helplessly as his only son left to live with ‘students and crackheads.’ “The worst look anyone could ever have,” Abel told The New York Times. “She looked at me like she had failed.” Abel eventually ditched the drugs, got his music career on track, and reconnected with his mother. “Everything good, I get from my mother,” he told Rolling Stone.
The Weeknd’s estranged father expressed his desire to reunite with his son
After separating from Samra, Makkonen rarely showed interest in Abel’s life. “I saw him vaguely when I was six, and then again when I was 11 or 12, and he had new family and kids,” Abel told Rolling Stone. Despite Makkonen’s absence, Abel never resented or judged him. “I’m sure he’s a great guy,” The Weeknd continued. “He wasn’t abusive, he wasn’t an alcoholic, he wasn’t an asshole. He just wasn’t there.”
In 2017, Makkonen spoke to Radar about his desire to reunite with Abel. He talked about his dream to ‘create a bridge between me and my son.’ “I wish more than anything I could make up for lost time, and I want to offer him a sincere apology for not being there for him when he needed me the most,” Makkonen added.
At the time of the interview, Abel and Makkonen hadn’t seen each other for 14 years.
Makkonen has been spotted back stage during Abel’s performances. Therefore, it’s highly likely that the pair reconnected after more than a decade apart.
Abel’s mom refused to talk about life in Ethiopia
Abel’s mom kept mum about the family’s life in Ethiopia. He got some snippets about the country from his uncles, but never from his mom. He told Rolling Stone:
“I remember hearing some stories from my uncles – they would chew khat and talk. But I don’t think my mom wanted to tell those stories. I don’t think Ethiopians want their kids to feel like Ethiopia is a bad place.”
Abel’s mom and dad fled a massacre of tens of thousands of people in Ethiopia dubbed the Red Terror.
In Canada, Abel wondered why his mother didn’t provide a sibling for him. “I always wanted a brother so I’d have somebody to play with,” Abel said. “I remember lying to people that I had brothers – that’s how much I wanted one.”