Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Tilahun Gessesse is Dead

I was saddened to hear of the death Sunday of a true master of Ethiopian music, Tilahun Gessesse, who has been the subject of several posts here at Likembe. The BBC reports:

The popular Ethiopian singer, Tilahun Gessesse, has died at the age of 68. He had been the most dominant figure in Ethiopian music for more than half a century and will receive a state funeral later this week.

Ethiopian radio and television interrupted programmes to broadcast tributes to the singer.

He started performing in the days of the Emperor Haile Selassie, and was for a time the lead singer in his imperial bodyguard band.The BBC's Elizabeth Blunt in Addis Ababa says that over the years, his plaintive tenor voice sang of love, family and friendship, as well as the more public themes of liberty, unity and justice.

He had been in poor health in recent years because of diabetes.
Ethiopian Media Forum writes:

The legendary Ethiopian singer, Dr. Tilahun Gessesse passed away on Sunday due to a sudden heart attack, EMF confirmed the news from close family sources. Dr. Tilahun has died at the age of 69, just hours after a surprise return from USA with his wife to celebrate the Ethiopian Easter.

His wife, Roman Bezu, said that he passed away while she was taking him to the nearest private hospital. “It was unfortunate that he couldn’t able to get medical assistance as most clinics had no doctors due to the Ethiopian Easter,” Roman added.

Family sources also said that Tilahun will be buried in public funeral scheduled on Wednesday, 22 April, at Holy Trinity Church in Addis Ababa.

Tilahun was attacked on his throat the same day, 16 years ago. Many were surprised by the coincidence. Tilahun had received an Honorary Doctorate Degree from Addis Ababa University, in appreciation of his contribution to Ethiopian music.

In honor of this consummate professional, here are three tracks from Tilahun's 1995 release Wegen Alegne (Ethio-Grooves EG- 95-1):

Tilahun Gessesse - Aykedashim Libe

Tilahun Gessesse - Ethiopia

Tilahun Gessesse - Ene Alamaregnem

Many thanks to Andreas Wetter of Ntama Journal of African Music for bringing this sad news to my attention. Andreas also points out that I mis-spelled Tilahun's name in the G'eez script in the graphics in my last two posts concerning him. Sigh! I'll have to go back and correct that at some point.

Friday, April 10, 2009

More Senegal Swag

Aku and I recently returned from a trip out East for Installment Two of the Spring Break College Tour. I'm happy to report that she's been accepted by a number of renowned institutions - the problem now is to figure out how to pay for the school she finally decides on!

Landing in New York of course we had to make a beeline for
Little Senegal, for Thiebou Yaap, Diiby, Mafé, and pirated CDs by the armful! To hear some of the music we picked up, scroll down.

After a tour of Fordham University (we checked out NYU & Columbia last year) it was off to Boston, where we had dinner with Uchenna of With Comb & Razor fame at Asmara, an excellent Eritrean restaurant in Cambridge, and toured Boston University the next morning. Suitably impressed, we departed for Montréal and world-renowned McGill University.

Never having been there, my impressions of Québéc have all been second-hand: following the traumatic events of 1970, when martial law was declared in the province; reading Pierre Vallières' White Niggers of America; the subsequent election of the separatist Parti Québécois and the ensuing "language wars." So, I didn't know what to expect. Unfortunately, Aku's French-language skills weren't put to the test - everybody we met was enthusiastically bilingual, and often multi-lingual.

I should have asked the crew at Masala for some travel advice before the trip. I'm sure they could have steered us to the (so I'm told) happenin' Afro/Latin/Caribbean scene in
Montréal, but as time was at a premium, we had to content ourselves with wandering the streets around our hotel, mainly in the Vieux Montréal area. Rapidly gentrifying, it still retains a scruffy charm and thankfully hasn't yet been turned into a French-Canadian theme park. Towering cathedrals, funky old architecture and restaurants abound.

You may know that I love good food almost as much as I love good music, and it's apparent that Montréal is a serious food town. French food stars, of course, but just about any cuisine can be found easily. Unfortunately, we didn't get to sample poutine, and we missed out on the legendary Au Pied de Cochon restaurant, but we did follow our guidebook's advice and had a lovely meal at Boris Bistro on rue McGill. I had the Duck Magret with cardamom espresso sauce, and Aku had Duck Risotto, both truly delightful, and reasonably priced as well. Finished off with Tarte Tatin and espresso, it was truly a meal for the ages. The staff couldn't have been nicer, and the manager came over and had a friendly chat with us.

Anybody have any suggestions about what to see, do, eat or hear in Montréal? I definitely want to go back again!

Now to the music we obtained in Little Senegal. I'd wanted to showcase selections from a number of musicians, but one stood out: multi-instrumentalist and vocalist Ousmane Diallo, better known as Ouza, is a "musician's musician" who has achieved cult status in Senegal, not only for his fine music but for his socially-conscious lyrics and his run-ins with the authorities. Over the years he has associated with a series of female backup groups - Les Brancheés, Les Ouzettes and Les 4 Femmes dans le Vent, as well as the Ballet Nationale and the Orchestre Nationale du Senegal. He remained mostly unknown outside of Senegal until 2001 & 2002, when two compilation CDs, Ouza & ses Ouzettes 1975-1990 (Popular African Music PAM OA 208) and Best of Ouza (Africa Productions 01028-2) were released.

The tunes I've chosen here well display his unique blend of mbalax, funk, r&b and jazz.

Here are two tracks from 1975-1990. "Guajira," of course, is an old Cuban song, while "Diriyankee," which originally appeared on the cassette
Nakhe M'Baye (GDL 001, 1982) addresses the exploitation of African resources by the Western world:

Ouza et ses Ouzettes - Guajira

Ouza et le Nobel - Diriyankee

Best of Ouza features music from the latter part of the maestro's career. "La Sante" originally appeared on the 2000 cassette Le Vote (Origines), while "Tamboulaye" is from Sen Sougnou Sama (Talla Digne), which was issued in 1997:

Ouza - La Sante

Ouza ack Ndiaguamarees - Tamboulaye

Diapason Ouza (Keur Serigne Fall) is a live recording released in 1996:

Ouza - Gouye Gui

Ouza - Xadimo

20 Ans?, about which I've been unable to find any recording information, is also apparently a live recording:

Ouza - SIDA Retro

Ouza - Boul Teury

The picture at the top of this post is taken from
Ouza & ses Ouzettes 1975-1990. More Senegal swag in a future post. More non-Senegal music too!