Showing posts with label Tilahun Gessesse. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Tilahun Gessesse. Show all posts

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.

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

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.