VF Mix 160: Emahoy Tsegué-Maryam Guèbrou by Hejira

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A patchwork homage to the Ethiopian pianist.

Emahoy Tsegué-Maryam Guèbrou was born in Addis Ababa in 1923. Endured imprisonment during the Second Italo-Ethiopian War to study the violin, first in Switzerland and then under Polish maestro Alexander Kontorowicz in Cairo, she fled to a monastery in Wollo Province aged 19, where she was given her full name, Emahoy Tsegué-Maryam Guèbrou, and began a spiritual journey as a nun that would mark much of her life.

Guèbrou released her first album in 1967, but led a largely reclusive life, choosing to use music for charitable ends rather than furthering her own career. Featured in an Éthiopiques compilation in 2006, her tender, pentatonic compositions and sensitive blues playing began to reach a wider audience for the first time.

Among that new audience was London-based band Hejira, whose second album Thread Of Gold was released in late February and draws inspiration from vocalist, bass player and songwriter Rahel Debebe-Dessalegne’s Ethiopian heritage. It was on a trip back to Addis Ababa that pianist Sam Beste discovered Guèbrou, who forms the basis of a mix that weaves field recordings, original Hejira compositions and a few extras into a patchwork homage to the great pianist.

Listen to the mix and read Beste’s introduction below.

“Hejira’s trip to Ethiopia in early 2016 opened up a whole new world of music to me, including the unique talent of Emahoy Tsegué-Maryam Guèbrou. As a fellow pianist it is continually refreshing and inspiring to delve deeper into Emahoy’s beautiful music. She has developed a truly distinctive style on her instrument, infused with diverse influences, but manifesting itself with a cohesive sound and expression entirely her own.

“Field recordings that I made during Hejira’s time in Addis Ababa are a narrative thread which runs through this mixtape. This journey to Ethiopia was inspired by Debebe Dessalegne, the father of my dear friend and fellow Hejiran Rahel. I feel very privileged to have been in the company of his gentle presence a few times before he passed away in 2012 after a battle with cancer. In later field recordings we hear the voice of his brother-in-law Gashe Sileshie who was an incredible host and guide during our time in Addis Ababa. Sadly he also passed away not long after our return.”

Tracklist:

1. Field recording – Rain and music at Selam Festival, Addis Ababa, January 2016
2. Hejira – Welcome
3. Field recording – Music at a wedding ceremony, Addis Ababa, January 2016
4. Emahoy Tsegué-Maryam Guèbrou – The Jordan River Song
5. Field recording – Man walking up hill, Addis Ababa, January 2016
6. Hejira – Ethiopian Hymn
7. Emahoy Tsegué-Maryam Guèbrou – The last tears of a deceased
8. Field recording – Band at Fendika, Addis Ababa, January 2016
9. Duke Ellington – Fleurette Africaine
10. Fran & Flora – Rockers
11. Emahoy Tsegué-Maryam Guèbrou – Presentiment
12. Field recording – Market in Addis Ababa, January 2016
13. Unknown – Ethiopian 7” vinyl
14. Hejira – You
15. Emahoy Tsegué-Maryam Guèbrou – Ballad of the Spirits
16. Field recording – Call to prayer, Addis Ababa, January 2016
17. Mark Hollis – The Colour of Spring
18. Hejira – A Taxi Man
19. Yeaynne Abeba Nigus – Bire Dama
20. Hejira – Fresh
21. Field recording – Uncle Gashe Sileshie talking about Shekla (Amharic word for vinyl)
22. Emahoy Tsegué-Maryam Guèbrou – Mother’s Love
23. Field recording – Talk with Gashe Sileshie
24. Hejira – Save It For Another (original demo)

Hejira’s Thread Of Gold is out now via Lima Limo Records. Get a copy on Bandcamp and check out their tour dates and tickets here.

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