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.


icastico said...

A true loss. He leaves behind a great legacy.

Comb & Razor said...

Awww man... I had no idea!


Dawiale said...

Tilahun was indeed a great artist..many of the other artists that followed during his time (alemayehu eshete, mehamud ahmed, tamerat molla, etc) all have at one point or another credited Tilahun for their success. Tilahun didn't just sing, he gave you a performance to remember. His eye movements, his general performance went in line with what he sang about almost all the time. Simply put, he was gifted.

Andreas Wetter said...

On Ethiopian Television there were special programs the whole week following his death, in both Amharic and in Oromo. The funeral was also broadcasted live on TV. And, which is the most remarkable point: there has never been a funeral of this size in Ethiopia! It was a state funeral with a big ceremony at Mesqel Square (the main plaza in Addis) in the center of Addis Ababa after which Tilahun's body was driven in a car up to Arat Kilo where he was laid on a carriage and taken to Qiddist Selasie (Holy Trinity) cathedral (also in Arat Kilo). There he was buried.
(The transfer in the car was necessary because the road between Mesqel Square and Arat Kilo is very steep.)

AddisTunes said...

You can see ETV's reports on his death on AddisTunes:


Anonymous said...

Tilahun was gifted with natural talent for music. Has he been a western artist he could have been worshiped more than Elvis and Jackson together.

Marcus said...

I remember when I heard this news of Tilahuns death. He was simply one of the greatest musicians to have ever lived.

Anonymous said...

I read this very nice article

Anonymous said...

very sad. I found a site where there is a fan club dedicated for Tilahun Gessesse at Fan Club for Tilahun Gessesse