Barihun was born in Addis Ababa, the capital city of Ethiopia. His house resided next to the music school of Addis Ababa University, as well as a nearby military base. Young Barihun fell for the March sound of the saxophones and other wind instruments emerging from the neighbouring military brass band. He got a saxophone and joined the music school, where he was exposed to Western Jazz albums of Charlie Parker and others. By the age of 16, Barihun joined the Ethiopian Military band, with which he toured through Ethiopia and the Eastern Bloc. Mengistu Haile Mariam once sent him to play at Kim Il-sung’s birthday in North Korea. This period in his life came to an abrupt end six years later, when the band’s bus was ambushed by EPRDF forces, rebelling against Mengistu’s Marxist dictatorship. Most band members were killed in the prolonged attack, and Barihun was wounded by two bullets.
Alemayehu Eshete is an Ethiopian Ethio-jazz singer active since the 1960s who primarily sings in Amharic. Eshete’s talent was recognized by colonel Rètta Dèmèqè who invited the young singer to perform with Addis Ababa’s famous Police Orchestra. Eshete had his first hit (“Seul”) in 1961 before moving on to found the orchestra Alèm-Girma Band with Girma Bèyènè. Over the course of 15 years, Eshete released some 30 singles until the arrival of the communist Derg junta, which forced Eshete and many other artists into exile.
Alemayehu Eshete has since gained fame in Europe and the Americas with the release of Buda Musique’s Ethiopiques series of compilations on compact disc. Ethiopiques Volume 9 is devoted entirely to recordings of Eshete’s earlier music, and Volume 22 covers his career between 1972 and 1974. Other songs have also appeared on Volumes 3, 8, 10, and 13 or the series. In 2008 Eshete toured the United States with fellow Ethiopian singer Mahmoud Ahmed, backed by Boston’s 10-piece Either/Orchestra.
Alemu Aga (born 1950) is an Ethiopian musician and singer, a master of the bèguèna.
Born in Entotto, near Addis Ababa, Alemu became interested in the begena (a ten-stringed member of the lyre family, also known as “King David’s Harp”) at the age of twelve, when a master of the instrument stayed next door to his family, the Aleqa Tessema Welde-Emmanuel. Aleqa Tessema began teaching at Ras Desta school, where Alemu was a pupil. As well as studying the begena at school, Alemu carried his master’s instrument to and from school, and thus benefited from more of Tessema’s time.
He went on to study geography at Addis Ababa University, and after graduation went to work as a geography and begena professor at the Yared Music School, where for seven years he also taught begena. Alemu went on to become an acknowledged master of the instrument, first recorded in 1972 by Cynthia Tse Kimberlin for a major UNESCO collection, and performing and broadcasting around the world. In 1974, however, the Derg military junta came to power in Ethiopia; their anti-religious policies also included the banning of the begena from radio broadcasts, and the closing down of the Yared School’s teaching of the instrument. As a result, Alemu Aga decided to give up his teaching post in 1980, and opened a shop in Addis Ababa’s Piazza district.
For a time he played only in private, but the collapse of the Derg’s régime led eventually to a change in state policy, and Alemu again began to teach and perform in public.
Ali Birra (born September 29, 1950) is a famous Oromo singer, composer, poet and nationalist. He was born in Lagaharre village in the city of Dire Dawa, Ethiopia.
Ali Birra was born in Dire Dawa (laga harré).
His parents were separated when he was three years old, after which he was brought up by his father. He attended Arabic school as a child where he learnt Arabic language. He then enrolled in local academic school and pursued his education till the sixth grade.
In his early years, Ali used to do small on-sreet business so as to support himself as a means of livelihood. When he was 13, he joined Afran Qallo cultural group which was then oprerating unofficially to promote the Oromo music and culture. The first song that he sung on stage was called “Birra dha Bari’e” so that the people nicknamed him “Ali Birra,” meaning “Ali the Spring”. The Haile Selasie regime banned the group in 1965 and arrested some of its members. Ali escaped arrest and moved to Addis Ababa. After he settled in Addis Ababa, he was engaged in different activities along with singing. On this occasion, Ali came to know the nationalist Ahmad Taqi, and the latter bought him a guitar so that Ali could sing more widely. His fame increased dramatically throughout the city. He had ability to sing in Amharic, Arabic, Harari, and Somali languages, in addition to Oromo, his mother tongue. This had gained him appreciation from different personalities including Eyoel Yohannes, at the time the head of Kibur Zebegna, so that Eyoel recruited him as a solo singer in Oromo. He joined other famous singers such as Mahmoud Ahmed, Tilahun Gessesse and Bizunesh Bekele.
While he was within the group, he could travel to all regions of the country and show his talent to his admirers. He also traveled to the Sudan repeatedly and sang with well known celebrities like Mohammed Wardi. When he was in Addis Ababa, he would perform in large venues such as Hager Fiker and Ras Teyater, but following a discussion with his father, he left Addis Ababa. In the early 1970s, at the breakout of the Ethiopian revolution, Ahmad Taqi was killed in eastern Ethiopia while fighting the government army. Ali Birra mourned deeply and sung metaphorically,
Yaa Hundee Bareeda
Yaa Finxee Midhaga
(Hundee was another name for Ahmad Taqi.)
Ali Birra continued his career both as a musician and a composer. He produced his first album in 1971, the first in the history of Oromo music. He then recorded successful hits such as “Hin Yaadin”, “Asabalee”, “Ammalelee”, and “Gamachu”. His albums included Sudanese songs such as “Al-Habib Ween” and Harari songs such as “Yidenqal”.
Asnaketch Worku, also known by the French spelling of her name Asnaqètch Wèrqu (also spelled Asnaqetch, Asnakech and Worqu, Werku, etc.; Ge’ez or Worḳū, pronounced [wɔrkʼu], Amharic: “she surpassed,” “His gold”) (c. 1935 – September 14, 2011) was a famous Ethiopian singer. Her trademark instrument was the krar, a traditional Ethiopian plucked lyre. In 2003, Buda Musique released Ethiopiques 16: The Lady With the Krar, a compact disc which compiles Asnaketch’s recordings from the mid-1970s.
Asnaketch Worku was born in the Sidist Kilo neighborhood of Addis Ababa and was raised in the city. Buying her first krar for only 25 cents, Asnaketch taught herself how to play and began performing in small bars and cabarets. She was the first actress in Ethiopia, making her debut in 1952 at the City Hall Theatre. Despite her long and distinguished career on the stage, Asnaketch is known primarily not for her career as an actress, but for her skills with the krar and her quick wit and inspired improvisations. Asnaketch worked at the National Theatre for 30 years before retiring in the 1980s. She died on September 14, 2011 at Bete Zata Hospital in Addis Ababa.
Aster Aweke is an Ethiopian singer who lives in the United States. She is sometimes referred to as Ethiopia’s Aretha Franklin.
Aweke was born in 1959 in Gondar, Ethiopia, and was raised in the capital city of Addis Ababa. Her father was a senior civil servant in the Imperial government.
By the age of 13 she was determined to become a musician, and started her career at Hager Fikir Theatre in Addis Ababa.
By her late teens, she was singing in Addis Ababa clubs and hotels with such bands as the Continental Band, Hotel D’Afrique Band, Shebele Band, and the Ibex Band before they became the internationally known Roha Band.
Aweke’s distinct style has been influenced by other Ethiopian singers such as Bizunesh Bekele.
Launching a solo career, she was encouraged by musical entrepreneur Ali Tango, who financed and released five cassettes and two singles of her music. By 1981, she had become disillusioned by Ethiopia’s oppressive political climate following the death of Haile Selassie and relocated to the United States. Temporarily settling in the Bay Area of California with plans to pursue an education; within two years, she settled in Washington, D.C., one of the largest Ethiopian expat communities in the country.
Here she became increasingly popular within the Ethiopian community, performing in restaurants and clubs.
She also remains popular in Ethiopia; in 1997 she performed in Addis Ababa for a crowd of over 50,000 people. More recently, on the 9th of May 2009, Aster performed in front of a crowd of 10,000 during the Peace through Unity, Unity through Music concert in Addis Ababa at the Millennium Hall, alongside other Ethiopian artists Gossaye and Pras (of the Fugees).
Ejigayehu Shibabaw, or Gigi
Ejigayehu Shibabaw, or Gigi as she is popularly known, is one of the most successful contemporary Ethiopian singers worldwide. Coming from an ancient tradition of song originating in the Ethiopian Church, she has brought the music of Ethiopia to wider appreciation and developed it in combination with a wide variety of other genres.
Gigi was born and raised in Chagni in northwestern Ethiopia. She has described learning traditional songs from a priest in the family home, in spite of the Ethiopian Church generally prohibiting women from singing or playing music in church until the Derg era. She lived in Kenya for a few years before moving to San Francisco in about 1998.
Gigi recorded two albums for the expatriate Ethiopian community, but it was her 2001 album, titled simply Gigi, that brought her widespread attention. She had been noticed by Palm Pictures owner Chris Blackwell, who had years earlier introduced reggae to the mainstream through his former label, Island Records. Blackwell and Gigi’s producer (and later, husband) Bill Laswell, decided to use American jazz musicians (including Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Pharoah Sanders and others) to accompany Gigi on the new album.
The result was a fusion of contemporary and traditional sounds. The album was a critical success internationally and generated controversy in her home country for such a radical break with Ethiopian popular music. This release was soon followed by Illuminated Audio, an ambient dub style remix of the album by Laswell.
2003 saw the release of Zion Roots, under the band name Abyssinia Infinite. Bill Laswell played guitar and keyboard (instead of his usual bass), and several of Gigi’s family members contributed vocals. The album was a return to a mainly acoustic sound for Gigi, incorporating instruments such as the krar and the tabla. The track “Gole” is in Agaw, the language of Gigi’s father’s village.
Gigi’s voice can be heard in the Hollywood film Beyond Borders (2003), in which Angelina Jolie portrays an aid worker during the 1984 – 1985 famine in Ethiopia.
She released her sixth album, Gold and Wax on Palm Pictures, in 2006.
She has also appeared in “Running From the Light” in Buckethead’s Enter the Chicken (2005). In 2010, she recorded Mesgana Ethiopia with Material, released on the M.O.D. Technologies label.
Getatchew Mekurya (born 1935) is an Ethiopian jazz saxophonist.
Mekurya began his musical studies on traditional Ethiopian instruments such as the krar and the masenqo, and later moved on to the saxophone and clarinet. Upon reaching adolescence, he began his professional career in 1949 as a part of the Municipality Band in Addis Ababa. In 1955 he joined the house band at Addis’ Haile Selassie I Theatre, and in 1965 joined the famous Police Orchestra. He was also one of the first musicians to record an instrumental version of shellela, a genre of traditional Ethiopian vocal music sung by warriors before going into battle. Mekurya took the shellela tradition seriously, often appearing onstage in a warrior’s animal-skin tunic and lion’s mane headdress. He continued to refine his instrumental shellela style, recording an entire album in 1970, Negus of Ethiopian Sax, released on Philips Ethiopia during the heyday of the Ethiojazz movement. Mekurya continued to work alongside many of the biggest orchestras in the Ethiopian capital, accompanying renowned singers Alemayehu Eshete, Hirut Beqele, and Ayalew Mesfin.
Mekurya reached an international audience when his album Negus of Ethiopian Sax was re-released as part of the Ethiopiques CD series. Mekurya’s playing style has been compared to free jazz, but developed in isolation from it during the early 1950s. Mekurya has said he is unfamiliar with either Ornette Coleman or Albert Ayler.
The album Negus of Ethiopian Sax caught the ears of Dutch avant-garde/punk band The Ex who invited the septuagenarian sax player to perform at their 25th anniversary show in Amsterdam in November 2004. In turn, Mekurya asked the Ex to be the backup band for his 2006 album, Moa Anbessa. The Ex and Mekuria toured The Netherlands, Belgium and France together in 2006 and 2007, and then the United States in 2008 and Canada in 2009.
Getatchew Mekurya has added his distinctive sound to collaborations with numerous other contemporary artists, including British Tamil singer Susheela Raman and Boston jazz ensemble Either/Orchestra. He still lives in Addis Ababa, and regularly performs at the Sunset Bar at the Sheraton Addis.
Kuku Sebsebe (surname also spelled Sebsibe) is an Ethiopian popular singer. She lived in the Washington, DC, area of the United States for many years but moved back to Ethiopia c. 2003. She generally performs with synthesizer and drum machine accompaniment, occasionally with the addition of traditional instruments such as the krar or other instruments such as the electric guitar. Although using modern instruments and harmonies, her vocal style is essentially traditional, using modes such as tezeta.
Mahmoud Ahmed (born May 8, 1941) is an Ethiopian singer of Gurage ancestry. He gained great popularity in Ethiopia in the 1970s and among the Ethiopian diaspora in the 1980s before rising to international fame with African music fans in Europe and the Americas. He remains one of the most well-known Ethiopian music artists in the world.
Born in Addis Ababa’s Mercato district, Ahmed was enthralled with the music he heard on Ethiopian radio from in early age. Having done poorly at school, he shined shoes before becoming a handyman at the Arizona Club, which was the afterhours hangout of Emperor Haile Sellassie’s Imperial Body Guard Band. One night in 1962 when the band’s singer didn’t show up, Ahmed asked to sing a few songs. He soon became part of the band’s regular lineup, where he remained until 1974.
After cutting his first single with Venus Band “Nafqot New Yegodagn”/”Yasdestal” in 1971, Ahmed continued to record with several bands for the Amha and Kaifa record labels throughout the 1970s. The overthrow of Emperor Sellassie and the suspension of musical nightlife under the military government created shifts in the Ethiopian music industry—the Imperial Body Guard Band were no more, and Ahmed continued to make hit records and cassettes with many musicians who remained in the country, including the Dahlack Band, the Ibex Band and the Idan Raichel Project. He also began to release solo cassettes, accompanying himself on the krar, guitar or mandolin.
By 1978, censorship laws prevented Ahmed from releasing his music on vinyl and so he switched to releasing cassettes . In the 1980s Ahmed operated his own music store in Addis Ababa’s Piazza district while continuing his singing career. With many Ethiopian refugees living abroad, Ahmed became one of the first modern Ethiopian music makers to perform in the United States on a 1980-81 tour with the Wallias Band, Gétatchew Kassa, and Webeshed Fisseha. Ahmed soon began releasing records with the Roha Band and became popular in diaspora communities.
In 1986, Ahmed’s music reached a larger western audience when the Belgian label Crammed Discs released the collection Ere Mela Mela drawn from two Kaifa LPs Ahmed had recorded in Addis with the Ibex Band a decade earlier. Ethiopia was making headlines in the west because of political repression and famine, and the contrasting tone of Ahmed’s first international release received much acclaim in the burgeoning world music community. Ahmed gained even greater international popularity in the late 1990s after Buda Musique launched the Ethiopiques series on compact disc. This led to new recordings and tours in Europe and the United States with Boston’s Either/Orchestra and Badume’s Band.
In 2007, Ahmed won a BBC World Music Award.
Mulatu Astatke (born 1943) is an Ethiopian musician and arranger best known as the father of Ethio-jazz.
Born in the western Ethiopian city of Jimma, Mulatu was musically trained in London, New York City, and Boston where he combined his jazz and Latin music interests with traditional Ethiopian music. Astatke led his band while playing vibraphone and conga drums—instruments that he introduced into Ethiopian popular music—as well as other percussion instruments, keyboards and organ. His albums focus primarily on instrumental music, and Astatke appears on all three known albums of instrumentals that were released during Ethiopia’s Golden ’70s.
Astatke’s family sent the young Mulatu to study engineering in Wales during the late 1950s. Instead, he earned a degree in music through studies at the Welsh Lindisfarne College and then Trinity College of Music in London. In the 1960s, Astatke moved to the United States, where he became the first African student to enroll at Boston’s prestigious Berklee College of Music, where he studied vibraphone and percussion.
While living in the US, Astatke became interested in Latin jazz and recorded his first two albums, Afro-Latin Soul, Volumes 1 & 2, in New York City in 1966. The records prominently feature Astatke’s vibraphone, backed up by piano and conga drums playing Latin rhythms, and were entirely instrumental, with the exception of the song “I Faram Gami I Faram,” which was sung in Spanish. Though these records are almost indistinguishable from other Latin-jazz records of the period, some tracks foreshadow elements of Astatke’s later work, and he is credited as having established conga and bongo drums as common elements in Ethiopian popular music.
In the early 1970s, Astatke brought his new sound, which he called Ethio-jazz, back to his homeland while continuing to work in the US. He collaborated with many notable artists in both countries, arranging and playing on recordings by Mahmoud Ahmed, and appearing as a special guest with Duke Ellington and his band during a tour of Ethiopia in 1973.
During this time, Astatke recorded another album in New York, Mulatu of Ethiopia (1972). Meanwhile, the bulk of his recorded material was being released on Amha Eshèté’s eponymous Ethiopian label Amha Records in Addis Ababa, which released several Mulatu Astatke singles along with the 1974 album Yekatit Ethio-Jazz and six out of the 10 tracks on that year’s Ethiopian Modern Instrumentals Hits compilation. Astatke’s records appeared alongside releases by notable Ethiopian vocalists Mahmoud Ahmed, Tlahoun Gèssèssè, Alèmayèhu Eshèté, and others, all of whose music was influenced by the infusion of American jazz and Latin instrumentation that Astatke brought to Ethiopia.
By 1975, Amha Records had ceased production after the Derg military junta forced the label’s owner and many other Ethio-jazz luminaries to flee the country. Astatke stuck around long enough to play vibes for Hailu Mergia and the Walias Band’s 1977 album Tche Belew (which featured the original classic “Musicawi Silt”) before the Wallas also left Ethiopia to tour internationally. But by the 1980s, Astatke’s music was largely forgotten outside of his homeland.
Muluken Melesse (born 1954) is an Ethiopian singer and drummer who later abandoned his music career to involve himself in the Pentecostal Church.
Melesse was born in Gojjiam, a province in Northern Ethiopia. When he was six, he moved to Addis Ababa with his uncle. In 1966, aged 12, he began his musical career singing at night clubs and in groups founded by night club owners, with his first song to be performed on stage, Enate Sitewoldgne Metchi Amakerchign.
His first song to be recorded on vinyl was Hedetch Alu, which was recorded in 1972 by Girma Bèyènè (piano and arrangements), Tesfa Mariam Kidane (tenor sax), Tekle Adhanonm (guitar), Fekade Amde Meskel (bass), Tesfay Mekonnen (drums) and Melesse himself. In 1975, he recorded his second song, Wetetie Mare and Ete Endenesh Gedawo, with ‘Equator Band’, and a year later in 1976 he recorded what was to be his last song, Ney Ney Wodaje. While the remained of the band emigrated to the United States of America, Melesse remained to join the Pentecostal Church in the 1980s, having ended his musical career.
In the early 1980 Muluken accepted the Lord Jesus Christ as his saviour and Lord. From his own testimony, he chose to follow Jesus Christ completely by leaving the world behind. Since then He served the Lord with all his heart.
Muluken was approached by people a lot of time to return to the music world but he preferred to be with the people of the Lord and minister to them. By doing that he testified to the world that Jesus Christ is His Lord and he valued the many blessings of his Lord more than the fame and riches that the world can offer.
Muluke is married and resides in Washington DC metropolitan area. He ministers by traveling all over the world. These are his famous songs : Yeregeme lebe, Kumetish loga neu , Wedijesh Nebere and Tenesh Kelbe Lay . H is song : nanu nanu was the favorite for his era .
An album of his music, Muluken Melesse Vol. 1” is available from AIT Records.
Tadesse Alemu was an Ethiopian singer from Wollega who sang traditional Ethiopian songs, sometimes Christian-based, in an upbeat pop-music style with the modern-day electronic instrumentation that is characteristic of today’s Ethiopian popular music. Active since 1997, nothing was known about his origins. However, an interview with Alemu’s wife on Voice of Ethiopia radio during fall 2007 confirmed that he had become sick and died that July in Addis Ababa of a short disease, which resulted from an infection that was caused by a stabbing wound from several years previously that had not healed properly, just before he was set to leave the country on a concert tour.
Teddy Afro B. 14 July 1976) is a popular Ethiopian singer and critic of the ruling Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF). His opposition to the government has led to legal troubles.
In 2001, Teddy Afro released his second album, Abugida, named after the Abugida syllabary of the Ge’ez language. Several tracks quickly caught the ear of many listeners in Ethiopia – “Halieselassie”, a tribute to the late Emperor of Ethiopia Haile Selassie I; “Haile, Haile”, a single in honor of the Olympic long distance champion Haile Gebrselassie; and “Mona Lisa”, a song about the measure of human beauty.
His third album, Yasteseryal, was released in 2005. The release of this album coincided with elevated political tension in Ethiopia surrounding the Ethiopian general election, 2005. His politically- and socially-inspired songs acted as a call for unity and peace and made the 17 years of TPLF-led government in power concerned. Consequently the government banned four songs including “Yasteseryal” from playing on radios and TV. The most popular song of the album “Yasetseryal” claims that there is no real change in Ethiopia but a new government and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) fight against the Derg was nothing but an infamous military junta. The album sold more than a million copies within a few months after its release, becoming the biggest selling Ethiopian music album to date.
Afro was accused of hit-and-run manslaughter and was imprisoned in April 2008. Some sources claimed that the accusation was politically motivated, following the release of several songs critical of the government, especially during the May 2005 national election. Afro pleaded not guilty to these allegations, and his court case and imprisonment were national talking points in Ethiopia. Some members of the opposition viewed his imprisonment as part of the regime in Ethiopia attack on symbols of Ethiopian unity. Afro was convicted of manslaughter on 5 December 2008 and the judge sentenced him to six years’ imprisonment and a fine of 18,000 Birr (apr. 1800 USD). On 18 February 2009, Afro’s prison sentence was reduced from six years to two years by an appellate court. On 13 August 2009, Afro was released from prison eight months early on account of good behaviour in prison.
Tilahun Gessesse (September 29, 1940-April 19, 2009) was an Ethiopian singer regarded as one of the most popular of his country’s “Golden Age” in the 1960s. During the 1960s he became famous throughout the country, nicknamed “The Voice”. He raised money for aid during the famines of the 1970s and 1980s and earned the affection of the nation, being awarded a doctorate degree by the University of Addis Ababa and also winning a lifetime achievement award from the Ethiopian Fine Art and Mass Media Prize Trust.
In his later years he suffered from diabetes. He died on 19 April 2009 in Addis Adaba shortly after returning from America. Tilahun was honoured with a state funeral attended by tens of thousands of his fellow citizens.
Tilahun was born to Mrs. Gete Gurmu and Mr. Ayyaano Guddata (Woliso Awrajja), on 29 September 1940. His given name was thus Dandana Ayano Gudata. When his mother remarried Gessesse Negussie, Tilahun was baptized and took his stepfather’s name as his second name. As time went by, his interest in music became increasingly clear, although his grandfather urged him to concentrate on his academic studies. The Ras Gobena School Principal Mr. Shedad (who was from Sudan), encouraged Tilahun’s interest in music and urged him to go to Sudan to pursue his music career. Although Tilahun did not go to Sudan, he took Mr. Shedad’s advice very seriously. When Weyzero Negatwa Kelkai, Ato Eyoel Yohanes and other artists from the Hager Fikir Theatre came to his school to perform, Tilahun took the opportunity to discuss his interest in music with Ato Eyoel. He was told to go to Addis Ababa if he wanted to pursue a career in the field.
Tilahun left school to go to Addis Ababa, a journey he began on foot without his grandfather’s consent. When his grandfather realized that Tilahun was no longer in Woliso, he informed Tilahun’s great-aunt in Tulu Bolo. After Tilahun traveled fifteen kilometers on foot, he was caught in Tulu Bolo and stayed overnight with his great-aunt Woizero Temene Bantu. The next day, he was forced to return back to his grandfather in Woliso. Since his interest in music lay deep in his heart, Tilahun chose not to stay at his grandfather’s house in Woliso. After staying only one night at his grandfather’s house, he again began his journey to Addis Ababa, this time hiding himself in the back of a loaded truck.
In Addis Ababa, Tilahun was first hired by the Hager Fikir Association, which is now known as Hager Fikir Theater. After a few years at the Hager Fikir Theater, he joined the Imperial Bodyguard Band where he became a leading star singer. During his time with the band, Tilahun ran afoul of the government after the attempted coup d’état of December 1960 by the Imperial Bodyguard. He was arrested and put in prison for a time.
Tilahun moved to the National Theater where his success continued. His tenor singing was regarded as the best Ethiopian pop voice of the 1960s. His popularity was such that he appeared three times in front of Emperor Haile Selassie I. During a visit, the Emperor advised him not to abuse his talent.
Recordings made by Tilahun during the 1970s and 1980s helped raise large sums of money to aid famine victims. The majority of his recordings were in Amharic, but he did also record in Oromo. He received an Honorary Doctorate Degree from Addis Ababa University, in appreciation of his contribution to Ethiopian music. He also received an award for his lifetime achievements from the Ethiopian Fine Art and Mass Media Prize Trust.
Tilahun Gessesse died on April 19, 2009 in Addis Ababa as he was being taken to hospital by his wife. He had just returned to Ethiopia from the United States. He had been in poor health for several years due to diabetes. “Tilahun stood out as an artist of great renown with his lifetime contributions to Ethiopia’s modern music, which he popularized across the world”, said Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi. The Patriarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, His Holiness Abune Paulos said “that whoever is said dead is he who leave[s] nothing worthwhile behind. Tilahun left numerous, though secular, legacies behind to survive the mortal body for generations to come.” United States Ambassador Donald Yamamoto stated that “Ethiopians owe a great deal to the late Tilahun Gessesse, who promoted Ethiopian music across the world.”
A candlelit vigil was held by friends and family in the garden of the National Theatre in Addis Ababa on the night of Wednesday 22 April. On Thursday April 23, 2009 a state funeral was held. About one million Ethiopians, including government officials, and entertainers, gathered in Mesquel Square, Addis Ababa and heard messages of condolence from the Prime Minister and President Girma Wolde-Giorgis. A funeral mass was held in Holy Trinity Cathedral Church. Messages of condolence from fans all over the world were posted on a memorial web site.
Walias Band was an Ethiopian Jazz and funk band active from the early 1970s until the early 1990s. Formed by members of the Venus Band, Walias backed up many prominent singers with a hard polyrhythmic funk sound influenced by western artists like King Curtis, Junior Walker and Maceo Parker. In 1977 they recorded one of the few albums of Ethiopian instrumental music in collaboration with vibraphonist Mulatu Astatke, whose role as a bandleader and composer was also a major influence on Ethiopian popular music.
In 1981 Walias became the first modern Ethiopian band to travel to the United States, playing on a tour with singer Mahmoud Ahmed primarily to audiences of Ethiopian refugees. Four members—Girma Bèyènè, Mogès Habté, Mèlakè Gèbrè and Haylu Mergia—stayed in the U.S. in favor of returning to live in Ethiopia under its dictatorship. The remaining members—Yohannes Tèkola and Tèmarè Harègou—continued to play together under the Derg dictatorship for another decade.
In the late 1990s Walias Band found a wider audience in the west when the French label Buda Records reissued much of the group’s music on the Ethiopiques series of compact discs. Their instrumental, “Musicawi Silt”, became a popular dance number and has been covered by a number of artists.
The Walias Band’s name derives from the walia ibex, an endangered species of the Capra genus native to the mountains of Ethiopia. They share no members with the similarly named Ibex Band who also backed up Mahmoud Ahmed during the same epoch.