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Emahoy Tsege Mariam

Emahoy Tsegue-Mariam Gebrou

Emahoy Tsegemariam Geberu is 90 in 2014.  She started playing different musical instruments in her teenage years and now plays the organ, piano and violin living in an Ethiopian Orthodox monastery in Jerusalem.

 

She has written hundreds of songs, produced some of the most listened to and loved instrumental works of music in Ethiopia.  Emahoy Tsegemariam has recorded six LPs and CDs – the latest was released in 2006 as the 21st in the "Ethiopique" series by the French record company, Buda Records.

 

Her original name is Yewubdar Gebru and she was born in Addis Abeba on 12 December 1923 to a privileged family. Yewubdar was sent to Switzerland at the age of six along with her sister Senedu Gebru. Both attended a girls' boarding school where Yewubdar studied the violin and then the piano. She gave her first violin recital at the age of ten. She returned to Ethiopia in 1933 to continue her studies at the Empress Menen Secondary School. In 1937 young Yewubdar and her family were taken prisoners of war by the Italians and deported to the island of Asinara, north of Sardinia, and later to Mercogliano near Naples.

 

After the war, Yewubdar resumed her musical studies in Cairo under a Polish violinist named Alexander Kontorowicz. She returned to Ethiopia accompanied by Kontorowicz and  served as administrative assistant in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and later in the Imperial Body Guard where Kontorowicz was appointed by Emperor Haileselassie as music director of the band.

 

Young Yewubdar secretly fled Addis Abeba at the age of 19 to enter the Guishen Mariam monastery in the Wello region where she had once before visited with her mother. She served two years in the monastery and was ordained a nun at the age of 21. She took on the title Emahoy and her name was changed to Tsege Mariam. Despite the difficult life in religious order and the limited appreciation for her music in traditional Ethiopian culture, Emahoy Tsegemariam kept working on her passion of music continually. Often she played up to nine hours a day and went on to write many compositions for violin, piano and organ concerto.

 

Emahoy Tsegemariam’s first record was released in Germany in 1967 with the help of Emperor Haileselassie. Other recordings followed with the help of her sister Desta Gebru and the proceeds were used to help an orphanage for children of soldiers who died fighting at war.

 

She left Ethiopia following her mother's death in 1984 and fled to Jerusalem el because socialist doctrine in Ethiopia during the reign of dictator Mengistu Hailemariam attacked her religious beliefs.

 

In recent years admirers of Emahoy Tsege Mariam have established a foundation in her name known as the Emahoy Tsege Mariam Foundation.  It is a non-profit organization registered in the state of Virginia in the United States to teach classical and jazz music to children in Africa and assist American children to study music in Africa.

 

The ETM Foundation celebrates the life and musical endowment of Emahoy Tsege Mariam Gebru, the first Ethiopian classical music composer and solo pianist.

 

Emahoy Tsege Mariam Gebru first published her piano compositions in 1973 and used the proceeds from sales of her music to benefit orphaned children in Ethiopia. In keeping with this tradition ETM Foundation gives disadvantaged children access to classical and jazz music genres. Emahoy Tsege Mariam Gebru donated some of her previously published and unpublished music for the use of the ETM Foundation.

 

Below is Emahoy Tsege Mariam Gebru’s 1963 classical song The Homeless Wanderer for you to enjoy. This masterpiece song is by far the most popular Ethiopian classical song by any Ethiopian musician.

 

Name Play Length
The Homeless Wanderer
Tsegue-Maryam Guebrou

7:08 min