Showing posts with label Amharic. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Amharic. Show all posts

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Four Famous Singers



Many many thanks to Andreas Wetter for translating the liner notes of 4 ዝናኞች ሲያዳምጡ በልብዎ ላይ ሰላምና ፍቅር ያገኛሉ - When You Listen to the 4 Famous Singers You Will Find Peace and Love in Your Heart, a really nice cassette issued by Ambassel Music Shop in Ethiopia in 1992.

With the exception of Martha Ashagari, who was featured in a previous post, I've been unable to find out much about these artists, although judging by the number of Youtube videos available online, they're very popular indeed!

የሩቅ ሰው ትዝታ - "Nostalgia for a far person":

Martha Ashagari - Yä-Ruq Säw Təzəta

ነካካኝ - "He Touched Me Somehow" (i.e. We were together and then he left me):

Martha Ashagari - Näkakkaññ

ዳርልን (ባሌ) - "Let Your Child Marry Our Child" - (literally: give your child in marriage for someone of our family, presumably a boy because usually the family of the boy takes the initiative and asks for the girl's hand):

Martha Ashagari & Teshome Asged - Darəllənn (Bale) 

እማዋዬው የለኝ - "I Have No One to Share My Thoughts":

Teshome Asged - Emmawayyew Yälläññ

አትለይኝ - "Don't Leave Me":

Teshome Asged - Attəläyyəññ

ሸጋው ተወልዷል - "A Handsome Has Been Born":

Elias Tababbal - Shäggaw Täwäldwall

ከከዳህው በል ተወው - "If He Betrayed You Leave Him Alone":

Bezawork Asfaw - Kä-Käddahəw Bäl Täwəw

ልብህን ታዘብኩት - "I Found Out What Kind of Man You Are":

Bezawork Asfaw - Ləbbəhən Tazzäbkut

ወሬዋን አምጡልኝ - "Bring Me News About Her":

Elias Tababbal - Wärewan Amṭulləññ

የኔ አለም - "My World":

Elias Tababbal - Y'ne Aläm

ትክክለኛ ኦርጅናሉን ብቻ ያዳምጡ (Listen only to a real original recording)

ዜማ (Music, melody): ዘላለም መኩሪያ (Zelealem Mekuriya), ማርታ አሻጋሪ (Martha Ashagari), ኤልያስ ተባበል (Elias Tababbal), ያየህይራድ አላምረው (Yayerad Alamrew)

ግጥም (Lyrics): ይልማ ገ/አብ (Yilma Gebre-Ab), ያየህይራድ አላምረው (Yayerad Alamrew), ዘላለም መኩሪያ (Zelealem Merkuria), ማርታ አሻጋሪ (Martha Ashagari), ኤልያስ ተባበል (Elias Tababbal)

አሳታሚና አከፋፋይ (Produceer and Distributor): አምባሰል ሙዚቃና ቪዲዮ መደብር (Ambassel Music and Video Shop)

Download Four Famous Singers as a zipped file here.

Note: I have included the Ge'ez font provided by Andreas for the benefit of anyone using an Ethiopic-language search engine. However, depending on your browser and its settings, this may be visible to you as gibberish, or may cause your computer/smart phone to run slowly or even crash. If you have the latter problem, please let me know in the comments and I will rectify the situation immediately!


Saturday, February 27, 2010

An Ethiopian Pearl




I suspect Mahmoud Ahmed needs no introduction here - he's arguably Ethiopia's best-known musician thanks to his momentous recording Era Mela Mela and other classics. He continues to tour internationally and record music at a prolific rate. Previously I posted his 1992 cassette Live in Addis Ababa. Here's Tezzetta Enqu (Ethio Music Shop), another one from 1991 or 1992. Although the cassette states 1984 as the issue date, I believe that is according to the Ethiopian calendar.

Andreas Wetter of Humboldt University in Berlin has very kindly transliterated the Ge'ez liner notes for us. Andreas writes, ". . .
I tried to translate them but some of the translations may be too literal, i.e. there may be meanings or readings I am not aware of. But you can't find these things in dictionaries. I once started to translate a list of old song titles with an Ethiopian friend and it became quickly apparent that many of the translations are quite tricky. . ." Andreas translates the title of the cassette as "Tizzita - The Pearl" or "Jewel," and further writes, ". . . Tizzita is one of the four tuning styles of Amharic music, and, by the way, the most used one in modern popular music. Mahmud Ahmed is said to be one of the best interpreters of this type of song. "

As usual, I've included the original inlay card at the bottom of this post.

"She Has It:"

Mahmoud Ahmed - Allat Nägär

"Oh Her Tears:"

Mahmoud Ahmed - Erri Embwa

"Appearing Abruptly:"

Mahmoud Ahmed - Zäww Zäww

"Let Me Live With It:"

Mahmoud Ahmed - Lenurebbät

"Kochämbi K
ärsädi/Alämäna" is in two different Gurage languages, Soddo and Säbat Bet (Mahmoud Ahmed is a Gurage), and Andreas was unable to translate it:

Mahmoud Ahmed - Kochämbi Kärsädi (Soddo)/Alämäna (Säbat Bet)

"Come (down) From the Highlands:"

Mahmoud Ahmed - Näy Kädägaw

"How Should I Forget Her:"

Mahmoud Ahmed - Endet Lersat

"Come (to a woman) on a Horse:"

Mahmoud Ahmed - Näy Bäfäräs

"Who Can it Be?:"

Mahmoud Ahmed - Man Yehon

"It (or he) Was:"

Mahmoud Ahmed - Näbbär

You can download Tezzetta Enqu as a zipped file here.



Friday, June 12, 2009

Another Ethiopian Songstress




If you're a fan of Aster Aweke or Kuku Sebsebe, you'll no doubt enjoy this cassette by Ethiopian vocalist Martha Ashagari.

Ärä Bakeh (Ambassel Music Shop) was released in 1993 shortly after the fall of the Derg, but Ashagari has been singing professionally since 1988 with the Abyssinia and Roha Bands, and during the '90s had her own nightclub in Addis Ababa. In 1996 she recorded the CD Child's Love/Ye-Lij Fiker, which is available online from AIT Records (I included a tune from it on my compilation African Divas Vol. 2).

Ashagari is notable for her unique vocal tone, somewhere between a sob and a wail. Side 1 of
Ärä Bakəh typifies the '80s-'90s Ethiopian style, but Martha really hits her stride with side 2 of the cassette, especially the emotional ballads "Zoma" and "Ende Näh" and the Tigrinya song "Sälam Bäluläy."

Martha Ashagari -
Ärä Bakeh

Martha Ashagari -
Feqer Näw

Martha Ashagari -
Alchalkutem

Martha Ashagari -
Bämen Yedanyal

Martha Ashagari -
Gorded

Martha Ashagari -
Dämayle

Martha Ashagari -
Zoma (Yäbati lej)

Martha Ashagari -
Endäzzihəm Allä

Martha Ashagari - E
nde Näh

Martha Ashagari -
Sälam Bäluläy (Tigrinya)

Download
Ärä Bakeh as a zipped file here. As usual, I'm including a scan of the original cassette inlay card if someone would care to correct my transliteration of the Ge'ez text (click to enlarge):



Update: Thanks to Andreas Wetter for his correction of my transliteration.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

The Return of The King




Note: This post was updated on December 30, 2008 and January 19, 2009.

Get ready for another blast of raw, uncompromising Ethiopian funk, courtesy of our friend Tilahun Gessesse. Etu Gela, issued in the early '80s by Ambassel Music Shop, finds the master in great form. The Ethiopian Army's First Division Band accompany him, and they really wail!

Duplicated under the difficult conditions of Derg-era Ethiopia,
the sound quality of Etu Gela is not up to contemporary standards. While I was able to remove a considerable amount of audio debris with sound restoration software, I couldn't do anything about a few irritating passages of static during track 5, "Yager Lij Neyilign." Just consider it part of your authentic Ethiopian listening experience!

Many thanks to the anonymous reader/listener who corrected my transliteration of the titles and provided translations and commentary.

"Etu Gela" is an old-fashioned term of endearment for a woman. Hear another version of this song by Alemayehu Eshete here:


Tilahun Gessesse - Etu Gela

"Wejin Ola" is an Oromiffa song. Translation unavailable:

Tilahun Gessesse - Wejin Ola

"Akal Ayenshin" means "My sweet, your eyes":

Tilahun Gessesse -
Akal Ayneshin

"Yigermal" means "It's surprising" or "It's astonishing":

Tilahun Gessesse - Yigermal

"Yager Lij Neyelign" translates as
"Come to me my countrywoman":

Tilahun Gessesse - Yager Lij Neyelign

"Tirse Beredo Nat" means "What an amazing smile she has," although literally it compliments the whiteness of her teeth. The equivalent in Engilsh would be "The Smile":

Tilahun Gessesse - Tirse Beredo Nat

"Bene Des Yibelish" = "Be happy with me":

Tilahun Gessesse - Bene Des Yibelish

"Siwedish" = "When I love you":

Tilahun Gessesse - Siwedish

"You're always on my mind," although "
Astawisishalehu" literally means "I remember you," that's not the sense of the song:

Tilahun Gessesse -
Astawisishalehu

"Yachatina" means
"There she is." This song is quite memorable because it had one of the very first real Ethiopian music videos. The song is about him looking for a girl he fell in love with in the past, and he is looking for her all over Addis. The video is thus of Tilahun walking and driving across Addis looking for her. . .:

Tilahun Gessesse - Yachatina



Sunday, December 7, 2008

The King of Ethiopian Music




In an earlier post I wrote of the brilliant Ethiopian singer Tilahun Gessesse, posted a couple of songs from a recent CD, and promised I'd make available some of his earlier Ethiopian recordings.

Back in the '80s I was loaned three of Gessesse's cassettes. I dubbed these onto 10" tape reels (that being the best means of preservation in that pre-digital era) and was unable to listen to them for twenty years, when I got hold of a reel-to-reel tape deck and was able to digitize two of them. The third has apparently been misplaced, and when I manage to track it down I will, of course, transfer it as well.

I present one of these recordings, Sebebena, which I believe was produced by Ambassel Music Shop in the early '80s. The original inlay card was missing, but the Ethiopian friend who loaned me the cassette transcribed the song titles for me. I believe the tunes are in Amharic and Oromo (Gessesse's parents were of both nationalities), and they pose quite an interesting contrast to the recordings I made available in my earlier post. Listen to them and understand why Tilahun Gessesse is considered ". . .a living legend, the pride of all Ethiopians, and the King of Ethiopian music":

Tilahun Gessesse - Wube Abeba

Tilahun Gessesse - Sebebena

Tilahun Gessesse - Shemunaye

Tilahun Gessesse - Nedegesh Naw

Tilahun Gessesse - Sherer Bay

Tilahun Gessesse - Mene Taragewalesh

Tilahun Gessesse - Yekerb Eruc Hono

Tilahun Gessesse - Mewdeden Lingeresh

Tilahun Gessesse - Mene Yeshalele

Tilahun Gessesse - Neyeleng

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Digital Ethiopia Pt. 2




As I explained in
"Digital Ethiopia Pt. 1," the last decade and a half have seen an explosion of Ethiopian musical releases recorded in the United States. While these productions have the benefit of state-of-the-art recording facilities, they tend to lack the freshness and immediacy of the home-grown recordings of the '70s and '80s. In this post I'll be highlighting some of the great Ethiopian female singers who have made careers in this country but I also want to post a couple of tracks by a musician who doesn't fit into that category.

Tadesse Alemu was from Wollega province in western Ethiopia and seems to have begun his recording career in 1997, when he released Ethiopian Wedding Songs (Ethio Sound Productions). This is the only recording I have by him, but he released several others, all in the same vein: traditional melodies updated for modern times. Here are two tracks from Ethiopian Wedding Songs:

Tadesse Alemu - Shinet

Tadesse Alemu - Hedach Allu

Alemu is said to have passed away in 2007, but he has a number of videos on YouTube, including this adaptation of a traditional Ethiopian Orthodox hymn (I think some of the footage is lifted from The Passion of the Christ!):



Hamelmal Abate's song "Kalkidan" was included on my compilation African Divas Vol. 1. Her career began during the dark days of The Derg when she performed with the National Theater (formerly the Haile Selassie 1 Theater) and recorded several hit cassettes. After stints with the Roha Band and the Ethio-Stars she moved to the United States in the early '90s. "Tirulegn" is from her 2006 CD Gize Mizan (Amel Productions):

Hamelmal Abate - Tirulegn

Hana Shenkute, singing with the Abyssinia Band, graced 1992's Music from Ethiopia (Caprice CAP 21432), and she's been getting rave reviews lately for her performances across the US with the Either/Orchestra.
I'm pleased to present this tune by her from her debut solo release Hana (Yared Cahen Productions YCP-HSD 001). A pleasant change from most of the synthesizer-driven sounds here, backup is by the Admas Band (more about them below):

Hana Shenkute - Addis Fekere



A tune by Abonesh Adnew was featured on my collection African Divas Vol. 2. Currently residing in Washington DC, Abonesh is one of Ethiopia's finest new vocalists and sings in many of its languages. Here's a video featuring her music, and here's another. "Limitawey" is taken from her excellent 2004 release Bahilen (Electra Music & Video Center):

Abonesh Adnew - Limitawey

One of the most popular postings on Likembe has been "Ethiopian Honey", featuring Kuku Sebsebe's outstanding '80s cassette Munaye. Of course you know I'm a huge fan of this wonderful singer, and I wish I could tell you more about her. All I know is that she was apparently resident in DC for a number of years, recently had a "comeback" and is said to have returned to Ethiopia. Although I don't think her recent work measures up to Munaye, I'm happy to present another tune by her, from her 2003 CD Tinish Geze Sitegn (Nahom Records):

Kuku Sebsebe - Hallo Belat



My daughter Aku asked, "Is Chachi Tadesse trying to be the Ethiopian Beyoncé?" There's no question this sexy LA-based singer has what it takes in the looks department, although her musical stylings are quite different from those of the former Destiny's Child member. While her debut release Global Rhythm (C.T. Records, 1994) went for a "World Beat" (God, I hate that term!) feel, 2000's Medina (C.T. Records) hews closer to the standard Ethiopian sound. Here are two tracks by Chachi, one from each CD:

Chachi Tadesse - Africa

Chachi Tadesse - Medina




In the course of researching this post, I came across a very informative interview with Kay Kaufman Shelemay, a professor of music and African and African American Studies at Harvard University. Among other things, she discusses the musicians who make up the Admas Band, a group that is ubiquitous on Ethiopian recordings made in the US, in fact they play on most of the tunes showcased in this post and in
"Digital Ethiopia Pt. 1." Fasil Wuhib, Abegasu Kibrework Shiota, and Hennock Temesgen, shown below (l to r) comprise the core of the group:



Bassist Fasil Wuhib played with the Dahlak Band and the Ethio-Stars before emigrating to the US in 1990. Abegasu Shiota, who plays keyboards
, was born in Japan of a Japanese mother and an Ethiopian father. Like Mulatu Astatqé, he studied at the Berkeley College of Music in Boston and recently returned to Ethiopia, where he has a recording studio and teaches young musicians at the Yared School of Music in Addis Ababa. Bassist and producer Hennock Temesgen has also returned to Ethiopia. Together, these musicians have performed with just about all of the Ethiopian artists who have made their way to the United States.

None of these recordings are available through the usual channels, but they are well worth searching out. An excellent source in Los Angeles
is the Merkato Ethiopian Gift Shop, 1036½ S. Fairfax Ave. (323-935-1775) which is in the middle of Little Ethiopia, a one-block stretch of restaurants and shops.
I
n Chicago, Abyssynia Market, 5842 N. Broadway (773-271-7133) and Kukulu Market, 6129 N. Broadway (773-262-3169) both have nice selections of music. I understand a good source in DC is Ethio Sound, 2400 18th St. NW (202-232-6076), and there are many other sources in the area. Online, AIT Records and Nahom Records are both good.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Digital Ethiopia Pt. 1




Back in the '80s Ethiopian music was extremely hard to come by outside of Ethiopia. Mahmoud Ahmed's brilliant Ere Mela Mela was released on LP by the Belgian label Crammed Discs around 1985, and later in the decade the exile singer Aster Aweke released Aster, recorded in the UK with mainly non-Ethiopian backup musicians. That was just about it, unless you were lucky enough to know Ethiopians who could supply you with scratchy, poorly dubbed cassettes from the motherland.

All that changed in the '90s when political change opened the country up. A fine collection of traditional and modern music, Music From Ethiopia (Caprice CAP 21432) came out in 1992, and within a few years the incredible Ethiopiques series opened the world's ears to the classic sounds of "Swingin' Addis" from the '60s and early '70s.

When it became possible for Ethiopian musicians to travel freely it was only natural that they would gravitate to U.S. recording studios, and in the last 15 years there has arisen a robust market in CDs made here. For the most part these are "under the radar" - not available through the usual "World Music
™" outlets like Sterns. The main issue I have with these American recordings is the overwhelming use of synthesizers. That said, many of these productions are surprisingly sophisticated, a far cry from the rinky-dink keyboards and drum machines of much contemporary African music.

Let's listen to some of these
recordings from "Digital Ethiopia." This is Part One of a two-part post.

I became familiar with Tilahun Gessesse through Ethiopian friends in the '80s. A brilliant and passionate singer, Gessesse got his start during the 1950s with the Hager Fikr Theater and later moved on to the Imperial Bodyguard Band. I didn't want to like his debut US release, the 2-CD set Tilahun Gessesse in the US (Ethio-Groove MCD-1181, 1992). Its slick production, presenting the great maestro in "crooner" mode, varies greatly from the raw, unbridled sound of his Ethiopian recordings, but damn if it didn't grow on me - what a singer! At this point I'd rate
Tilahun Gessesse in the US one of my fave African recordings. Here are two songs from the 27-track setlist, and I promise that sometime in the future I will post some of Tilahun's wonderful Ethiopian recordings:

Tilahun Gessesse - Melelayet Mot New

Tilahun Gessesse - Ewedish Nebere

Menelik Wossenachew is another old-timer who was a member of the Haile Sellasie I Theatre Orchestra and the Ras Band back in the 1960s and had a number of hits including "Fiqir Bastergwami," "Fiqir Ayaregim" and "Sukuar Sukuar." You can hear one of his early recordings here. I really enjoyed his CD Gash Jembere! (Ethio-Grooves EG95-2, 1995), especially this, the title track:

Menelik Wossenachew - Gash Jembere!

And I just had to include this peculiar but very enjoyable, almost "country-western" tune from the same CD. Check out the wonderful tenor sax solo by Moges Habte:

Menelik Wossenechew - Yeayne Tesfa

The Oromo people are the largest ethnic group in Ethiopia, although they have been historically subordinated by the dominant Amhara. One of the most popular Oromo musicians back in the '80s was Mohammed Tawil, who now apparently lives in the US. You can see a video by him here. Here's a tune from his 1997 CD Changes (Tawil Production):

Mohammed Tawil - Si-Si



In all of Africa, American-style "jazz" music (as opposed to the various "jazz" groups that play local styles) has taken root in only two countries, South Africa and Ethiopia. That jazz has caught on at all in the latter country is due mainly to the efforts of one man, the pianist and vibraphonist Mulatu Astatqé. His "Ethio-Jazz" style, combining the results of ten years studying and playing music in London and New York with Ethiopian tradition, is brilliantly showcased in the CD Ethiopiques 4: Ethio Jazz & Musique Instrumentale 1969-1974 (Buda Musique 82964-2). Serendipitously, this record was the basis for the soundtrack of the 2005 movie Broken Flowers, directed by Jim Jarmusch and starring Bill Murray.

During a later US sojourn, Astatqé recorded Assiyo Bellema (Ethio-Grooves, 1994) with a group of mainly American musicians. While not as interesting in my opinion as his Ethiopian recordings, it has its moments. Here's a tune featuring the vocalist Teshome Mitiku:

Mulatu Astatke w. Teshome Mitiku - Wello

Tilaye Gebre also stakes his claim to the jazz idiom. His Endless Dream (Shakisso Music Productions 001, 1995) wouldn't be out of place on one of those "Smooth Jazz" radio stations, with it seamless blend of synthesizer and saxophone, but I love it nonetheless - Gebre's just too talented a musician. He too served his musical apprenticeship at the Haile Sellasse I Theatre, then graduated to the Equators and Dahlak Bands. While on a tour of the U.S. with the Walias Band, he decided to stay, and has become a sought-after session musician for acts like Aster Aweke and Mahmoud Ahmed. Here's my favorite tune from Endless Dream:

Tilaye Gebre - Yenigat Kokeb/Yelelit Berehane



If you're interested in getting some of these recordings online, I can't promise anything, but you might try AIT Records or Nahom Records. Otherwise, investigate your nearest Ethiopian restaurant or grocery store. In "Digital Ethiopia Pt. 2" I'll be posting songs by some great female singers as well as some other goodies.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Mahmoud Ahmed Live in Addis Ababa, 1992




As part of this blog's ongoing effort to bring to light obscure and hard-to-find recordings from Ethiopia, I present a 1992 cassette, Mahmoud Ahmed Live in Addis Ababa (Ambassel Music Shop).

This recording is interesting in light of the fall of the brutal regime of
Mengistu Haile Mariam on May 19 the previous year. Suddenly the riches of contemporary Ethiopian music became far more available to the outside world. Live, along with a number of other cassettes, was licensed to an Ethiopian entrepreneur in Washington, DC, who was able to use mass-market technology to duplicate it. These cassettes were therefore of somewhat better quality than the haphazardly-copied Ethiopian editions (the cassette inlay cards were printed in Ethiopia).

Live is marred somewhat by the use of synthesizer and drum machine, but it offers an interesting look at one of the masters of the Ethiopian groove on his home ground. Of course, I have no idea if the lyrics reflect the tumultuous changes occurring in Ethiopia at the time.

A member of the minority Gouarague ethnic group, Mahmoud Ahmed was born on May 8, 1941, and rose from very humble origins as a shoeshine boy to become the best-known Ethiopian musician internationally, thanks mainly to his ground-breaking record Erè Mèla Mèla (1975), which has been reissued several times in the last 20 years.

The cassette lists twelve songs, but three, "Enmane Nebru," "Yuy Heregitu" and "Naye Danune Tesau," are missing. As usual, I've transliterated the song titles utilizing the Geez syllabary. As there are undoubtedly errors, I'm making the original inlay card available to anyone with a knowledge of Amharic (I suspect some of these songs are in other languages as well). Your input is gratefully solicited!

Mahmoud Ahmed - Alaweqeueleoeme


Mahmoud Ahmed - Menafeqy Gwadaoe

Mahmoud Ahmed - Enedyte Yerlale


Mahmoud Ahmed - Mela Tesxoe

Mahmoud Ahmed - Elemaze Mene Oeda Newe

Mahmoud Ahmed - Tezeta

Mahmoud Ahmed - Enegeday Nu

Mahmoud Ahmed - Enedagna

Mahmoud Ahmed - Imisemamaoe Axahuoe





And if you'd like to hear some more Mahmoud Ahmed at the top of his form, I've zipped and uploaded recordings of two concerts he did in Amsterdam a few years ago. These were originally posted at Matt Yanchyshyn's wonderful blog
Benn Loxo du Taccu and are made available with his permission. Download them here (warning: this is a 141 megabyte file) . I may decide to take these down in a couple of weeks, so get 'em while they're hot! Here's the setlist:

1. Atawruijn
2. Endet Nesh
3. Wey Fikir
4. Belomi Benna
5. Libesh Kabashini
6. Ney Denun Teseshi
7. Ere Mela Mela
8. Buna
9. Ashkaru
10. Yaselame
11. Eshet
12. Sab Sab Argign
13. Hulum Bager Naw

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Another Mystery Tape




Note: This post was updated and revised on July 29, 2008 and on September 19, 2009.

I wrote this on June 15, 2008:

Here's another "mystery cassette" that I was given many years ago by a friend. All I know about it is that is supposedly by the great Ethiopian singer Alèmayèhu Eshèté and the title is Amronyali or something similar. I was told that Track 2 was "Amronyali," and I was able to identify Track 5 as "Che Belew," an old standard about the Italian invasion of Ethiopia. As there was no inlay card for the cassette or even a label I can't tell you anything about the songs, when they were recorded, or even confirm that the artist is Alèmayèhu Eshèté. The sparse arrangements (synthesizer & drum machine, usually the bane of my existence) are more than compensated for by the quality of the vocals. The title track in particular is just spine-chilling!

Alèmayèhu Eshèté has been called "Ethiopia's Elvis" or "The James Brown of Ethiopia" for his musical style and manner of dress. He's been on the scene since the mid-1950s, when he revealed a talent for imitating the singers Little Richard, Elvis Presley and Ray Charles. In 1956 he joined the Police Orchestra in Addis Abeba, and from 1961 onward has formed numerous bands and recorded uncounted songs that have become popular standards.

During the "Derg Years"
Eshèté seemed to drop out of sight. I heard an unconfirmed rumor that he had become a "born-again Christian" and was living in exile in Washington, DC. However, with political changes in Ethiopia he reemerged and recorded a new CD, Addis Ababa (Shanachie Records 64045, 1992). In 1998 AIT Records released The Best of Alèmayèhu Eshèté (AIT 013), featuring re-recorded versions of his hits. Most excitingly, his original classic recordings are now becoming available again through the Ethiopiques series.

If anyone can tell us more about this recording, or what the song titles are, please comment, and I will update this post accordingly.
Thanks to reader/listener "Ethio Jazz" I can report that this recording is not by Alèmayèhu Eshèté, but by Wubeshet Fisseha (picture at top of post). Ethio also writes: ". . . he is on Keyboard as well. This was probably recorded in the mid to latter '8o's in Washington, DC. Sadly, Wubeshet passed away in 1997." I can confirm that this tape was made in 1985 or earlier, as it was given to me in summer of that year. I've been unable to find any information about Wubeshet Fisseha, but I will keep trying.

I have changed the track titles to reflect the new information Ethio Jazz has given us. Tracks 3 and 4 are in Orimiffa and Tigrinya respectively. The other tracks are in Amharinya. A warning about the song "Shemunmunaye": At several points (4:55, 9:36, 15:30 and 16:10) the sound drops out. The defect is on the original cassette, not in your internet connection!

Wubeshet Fisseha - Abesha Nat

Wubeshet Fisseha - Shemunmunaye

Wubeshet Fisseha - Hali Meru Meru

Wubeshet Fisseha - Kab Semay Fiqri

Wubeshet Fisseha - Che Belew

Wubeshet Fisseha - Belashew

Friday, January 11, 2008

More Ethiopian Honey




Here's another long-lost cassette from the "Derg years" in Ethiopia. Bati (Ambassel Music Shop, ca. the early '80s), by Rahel Yohannes & Shambel Belayneh, was apparently quite popular in its day, and
perfectly illustrates the confluence of the ancient and modern that is so typical of contemporary Ethiopian music.

Rahel Yohannes (right) began her career not as a singer but as an entrepreneur. In Addis Ababa she managed a restaurant and often entertained the customers with impromptu a capella vocal performances. This led to her introduction to the late Ketema Mekonnen, a singer and player of traditional musical instruments. A professional career, and ten albums, soon followed. To this day she is both a performer and a restaurateur, entertaining audiences at her Fasika Restaurant & Nightclub in Addis.

Shambel Belayneh (left) is a master of the Masinko, the traditional one-string Ethiopian violin. He has performed with the greats of Ethiopian music, including Aster Aweke, Mahmoud Ahmed and the Roha Band, among many others. He currently lives in the United States.

Rahel Yohannes and Shambel Belayneh both have CDs available from AIT Records.

As I discussed in my last post on Ethiopian music, music distribution in Ethiopia during the '80s was a "do-it-yourself" affair, cassettes being duplicated one-by-one by various music shops. Bati is no exception, and it shows in the recording quality. The musical quality is another matter. I'm sure you'll agree with me that this is an outstanding work of art.

Our opening tune, "Bati," is one of the standards of the Ethiopian repertoire, and has been recorded by innumerable artists. An exceptional version opened 2001's Éthiopiques 15: Jump to Addis (Buda Musique 82264-2). From the liner notes of that disc I got these lyrics:

Like the road to Bati, deep in the gorge,
I wonder if your love will last,
He ate a fruit in Dèssié and went crazy,
He saw a beauty in Kombolcha and went crazy,
I want to leave him before he gets what he deserves.
Unfortunately I have no idea what the other songs on Bati are about. If anyone out there knows Amharic, I'm sure we'd all like to know.

Rahel Yohannes & Shambel Belayneh - Bati (Bähäbrät)

Rahel Yohannes & Shambel Belayneh - Änta Aynama

Rahel Yohannes & Shambel Belayneh - Endenäu (Bähäbrät)

Rahel Yohannes & Shambel Belayneh - Leqerbwe Leraqwe

Rahel Yohannes & Shambel Belayneh - Änaznegahe Hody

Rahel Yohannes & Shambel Belayneh - Bale Dere (Bähäbrät)

Rahel Yohannes & Shambel Belayneh - Zenay (Bamebele)

Rahel Yohannes & Shambel Belayneh - Klelelaye

Rahel Yohannes & Shambel Belayneh - Yedaoo

The tracklist on the cassette lists ten tunes in all. The ninth, "Anejetyne Balakewe," is missing. The song titles were transliterated by myself from a photocopy of the cassette inlay card (below) using the Geez syllabary, so I can't vouch for their accuracy. Anyone with a knowledge of Amharic is invited to correct any errors.


Sunday, November 25, 2007

Ethiopian Honey




I'll never forget the first time I heard Ethiopian music. I was in a restaurant called The Blue Nile in Tribeca around 1982 or '83, long since closed although I believe there is now another restaurant by that name in Manhattan. There was a scratchy, much-dubbed cassette playing on the sound system. The instrumentation was pure American R&B, but the vocals, well, the vocals were something else entirely. It was hard to explain but the overall effect sent chills up and down my spine. Other people have since told me that they had the exact same reaction the first time they heard these enigmatic sounds.

In 1985 I started doing "African Beat," a weekly program for WYMS-FM in Milwaukee, and through the show started to come in contact with Ethiopians living in town. Most of them described themselves as political exiles, Ethiopia at that time being ruled by a military dictatorship, the Derg, that called itself "Scientific Socialist." Of course I nagged them mercilessly for music from their homeland, and they were happy to comply. They loaned me about ten cassettes, and my love affair with Ethiopian music was rekindled.

The music industry in Ethiopia in the 1980s was in a state of meltdown. Shortly after the fall of Haile Selassie in 1974, production of vinyl recordings ended, and the political turmoil of the time, with the Derg and its rivals engaged in a bloody civil war, meant a more or less permanent curfew and the resulting disappearance of nightlife.

But Ethiopian music persevered. There being no record pressing plants or professional cassette-duplicating facilities, the various music shops - Electra, Ambassel, Kaifa and the like - took matters into their own hands. Musicians were contracted with, master tapes were recorded, cassettes were dubbed one-by-one on cheap boomboxes, and distributed throughout Ethiopia by the hundreds of thousands.



Francis Falceto's Ethiopiques series on Buda is justly renowned for bringing to light the classic Ethiopian recordings of the Imperial Era. In the liner notes of Ethiopiques 20: Either/Orchestra (Buda 860121, 2005), Falceto decries the current state of Ethiopian music for its lack of adventurousness and reliance on junky synthesizers, as contrasted with the artistic expermentation and professionalism of "The Golden Years."

I certainly don't disagree with Falceto's assessment of the current state of the Ethiopian music scene, but I just can't buy his implicit dismissal of the Derg years as a musical desert. Keep in mind that it was during this era that the renowned singer Aster Aweke began her career, as did Efrem Tamirru, Hamelmal Abate, Martha Ashegare and a host of other artists. Moreover, the great singers of the classic period - Tilahun Gessesse, Mahmoud Ahmed and the like - did some of their most memorable work under the Derg (Ere Mela Mela, anyone?).


One of the singers who got her start in Addis Ababa in the early Eighties is Kuku Sebsebe, whose cassette Munaye (Electra Music Shop, ca. 1985) ranks as one of the greatest Ethiopian recordings ever. I would rate it, actually, one of my ten favorite African recordings of all time. Like many Ethi
opians, Kuku lived in exile in Washington, DC, and recorded several CDs there. She is said to have returned permanently to Ethiopia in 2003.

My fervent hope is that someday Munaye will be reissued in the format that it deserves, remastered from the original master tapes. Until that day I present it to you now, digitized from one of those homemade Ethiopian cassettes. I have also included three tunes by Kuku Sebsebe from the compilation tape Ambassel Bidiyona Muziqa Mdbere (Ambassel Music Shop, ca. 1985). In case you want to make your own CD, I've provided front and back covers.

Kuku Sebsebe - Benafeqote Newe

Kuku Sebsebe - Hodiya

Kuku Sebsebe - Yagere Watat

Kuku Sebsebe - Feqreh Beretabenye

Kuku Sebsebe - Munaye

Kuku Sebsebe - Bleby Gwadana (Instrumental)

Kuku Sebsebe - Bleby Gwadana

Kuku Sebsebe - Iny Webe Qonjo

Kuku Sebsebe - Sayehe Dese Yeloale

Kuku Sebsebe - Yanene Yegy Uga

Kuku Sebsebe - Dany Belewe

Kuku Sebsebe - Instrumental

Kuku Sebsebe - Ugawe Glegamy

Kuku Sebsebe - Iaregale


Kuku Sebsebe - Klete Igy Mewe Dede

Not knowing even a shred of Amharic, I transliterated the song titles from the cassette track listing (right), using a table of the Ge'ez Syllabary. The results don't look quite "right," so anybody with knowledge of the language is warmly invited to correct me.



Saturday, September 22, 2007

Aster Aweke Live in Addis


I just came across this - real Ethiopian music the way it was meant to be heard, played on real musical instruments and not cheap synthesizers: