Bezuayehu Demissie finds his own voice
By Befekir Kebede
Tuesday, 11 February 2014 21:26
In 2007, a new, young Ethiopian singer by the name of Bezuayehu Demissie released a controversial album that became the subject of a lawsuit against him.
Named “Best Oldies Collection”, the album contained 13 unoriginal songs – all previously sang by Ethiopian legendary musician Muluken Melesse.
Muluken left the music world in the mid 1980s after undergoing a religious conversion, abruptly ending what had been one of the most successful musical careers of his generation.
Many agree that the veteran singer’s abilities are still unmatched, and as such, his songs are a great source of inspiration as well as entertainment for many.
Needless to say, Bezuayehu Demissie is among those who find the music of Muluken a great source of inspiration indeed.
But he took it to the next level and used his passion for music to present to the audience an imitative album out of very carefully selected songs of Muluken – and with minimal stylistic changes.
Muluken reacted angrily, from his residence in Washington, D.C., accusing Bezuayehu of "plagiarism" and “theft” of his songs, which he described as musical masterpieces that should be left alone.
It is unclear what the outcome of that legal action has been. But it is very clear that the controversy gave the previously unknown Bezuayehu Demissie an unexpected and perhaps much needed boost in publicity.
It was an album met with a mixed reception from Ethiopian music listeners: some said Bezuayehu resurrected some of the old and forgotten songs of Muluken and introduced them to a new generation of listeners, while others argued that he sang them beautifully, but he should have sought permission from Muluken at the very least.
It must be noted, however, that Ethiopian music fans, particularly young listeners, have embraced him and his music, buying his records and filling his concert halls.
Now 7 years later, Bezuayehu declares that he has found his own voice with the release this month of his second album “Salayesh”.
The new album has 15 songs and while the lyrics are entirely original in terms of rhythm and style, it is very easy to sense Muluken Melesse’s enduring influence on Bezuayehu and how Bezuayehu continues to draw inspiration from Muluken’s classic songs.
If you go straight to track 11, you will find Yenat Fikrua – a new song about Ethiopia, delivered superbly with borrowed rhythms – borrowed from easily recognizable songs of Muluken Melesse that Bezuayehu didn’t attempt in his first album. In fact what he has done here is picked three of Muluken’s songs, combined them as one, replaced the lyrics with his own, and as the French say, voilà!
But it really is a song of substance and addresses a very sensitive issue for many Ethiopians living abroad.
First on the list of tracks below is Bezuayehu’s Muluken-inspired Yenat Fikrua (track 11 on the new album) followed by the three old songs of Muluken that Yenat Fikrua has drawn inspiration from.
The cover song of the album is Salayish (track 4) and it has a refreshingly uplifting and a purely contemporary Ethiopian vibe despite the story being about a relationship plagued by unfounded, malicious rumours.
Almost all of the album’s songs are about love and relationship and when it comes to quality love songs, the absolute standout on the album is Negerigne (track 7).
It is the kind of quality love song that you would want to sing to your lover on Valentine’s Day. It is also a song that most Ethiopian music fans would welcome from Bezuayehu because of its originality as well as its jazzy and rock and roll style.
Equally just as impressive is track 12, a song named Nigist or Queen in Amharic – it simply is a lovely love song.
For Eskista and traditional-leaning Ethiopian music lovers, track 13 and 14 deliver adequately with sensationally written lyrics.
Another astounding song that is worth mentioning is Track 9, which goes by the name of Tizita – it is about someone’s recount of reminiscences of love that is now lost.
And it is in songs like this that Bezuayehu finds his own voice and style, and it must be liberating for him.
But the very last track of the album is a remake of another one of Muluken’s old songs and the song sounds like he has made a remarkable effort to create an admirable imitation.
We give the album the following stars:
Befekir Kebede | Tuesday, 11 February 2014
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