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 -

"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


Anonymous said...

Hey John, you keep on surpassing expectations post after post....Anyways, only #2 "Wejin Ola" is in oromiffa the rest are in Amharic. Here's a better transliteration (when I use the letter G it's to be pronounced as in the G in "get". Otherwise I use the letter J.) I'll also try to translate when possible. Although Amharic is my mother tongue, it's hard to find equivalents in english for some of the words or concepts below (literal translations would not make any sense.)
1. Etu Gela (this is just an old fashioned term of endearment for a woman)
2. Wejin Ola (no's in oromiffa)
3. Akal Ayneshin ("my sweet, your eyes" is the best I can come up with)
4. Yigermal ("It's surprising"..or "it's astonishing")
5. Yager Lij Neyilign ("Come to me my countrywoman" in from my country as opposed to the countryside)
6. Tirse Beredo nat ("what an amazing smile she has"...although literally it compliments the whiteness of her teeth, the equivalent I think, would be "the smile" in english)
7. Bene Des Yibelish...("Be happy with me")
8. Siwedish ... ("When I love you")
9. Astawisishalehu ..("You're always on my mind"...although it literally it means "I remember you" that's not the sense of the song)
10. Yachatina ... ("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....)

Anonymous said...

Oh ... I forgot to add that cover mentions that it was produced my Ambassel (as you noted) but also that the accompanying band is the Army-1st Division's band ..... not bad for army kids..

John B. said...

Dear Anon: Thank you very much for this information. As I'm finding out, the Latin phonemes indicated by the Ge'ez Syllabary only approximate the way they are pronounced in Amharic. For instance, the character that begins "Etu Gela" is rendered "ae" in the table (the sound "eh" is represented by another character).

As there were a number of unusual phonemes of this type indicated here ("ao," "ue" and the like), that's why I thought the songs were in a non-Amharic language.

Thanks again.

chris said...


your selections are SOOOO good! thank you!!

chris schreck

Anonymous said...

sing on! this kind of sounds is make my eyes fill with tears ov joy and gratitude... i learning and loving llistening thanks you

much respect!

Baz said...

Hello John B...I would just like to say thanks for the great music and the information. This has to be one of the best blogs I've come across! Cheers!

Andreas Wetter said...

John, I wanted to congratulate on your blog.
But there are some sad news from Addis Ababa. Tilahun Gessese died yesterday in Addis Ababa.

I also wanted to remark that the name of Tilahun isn't spelled like this. The first letter (sign) is wrong. It is not a t but an ejective t' like this ጥ.


John B. said...

Andreas: Thanks for pointing that out to me. Obviously Amharic isn't my first tongue! The graphic has been corrected.

sebez said...

Dear JOHN B. when I was looking for Tilahun’s songs, I come across with your blog accidentally. I appreciate your posting and I like to contribute the following information to this posting:
These songs (or this album) released date was in the month of Puagume in 1974 Ethiopian calendar. For 3 consecutive years Puagume contains 5 days; and every other four years it contains 6 days. After the last day of Puagume a new year started or arrived which is on September 1st. Tilahun had had a habit of releasing songs in the arrival of a New Year. So this album released few days before the New Year in Puagume 1974; this date-1975, corresponds to the year 1983 in western calendar. The band that accompanied Tilahun is the 1st army division band; it is a new name given by Durge regime to the old imperial body guard band which had been known as Kiber Zebegn band. The imperial body guard(the Kiber Zebegn band) was the most beloved band because Tilahun and Bezunesh (the queen of female singers in her time).
Tilahun released a new set of songs in Puagume 1975 for the new year of 1976; I hope you post that as well. Thank you

John B. said...

Sebez: Thank you for this information. Some time in the future I will update this post yet again and I will provide the information you have provided.

I have yet another great Tilahun cassette (the best one of all, in my opinion) which may be the one you speak of. Unfortunately, it is dubbed to a 10" tape reel and I have misplaced it! When I manage to find it I will rent a tape deck, digitize it and post it here. Hopefully soon!

David said...

Lots of useful info above, thanks to those contributors for their efforts, but most of all thanks John for the tape! Loved the last track, but no.3 was for me the standout - a brilliant mix of real Ethipian sounds and something more appealing to westerners like me! A special mention also for the bells in 'Be happy', a lovely touch! Thanks - a wonderful tape.