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 28, 2008
Sunday, December 7, 2008
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
Sunday, October 26, 2008
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.
Sunday, June 15, 2008
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!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.
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.
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