Let this 99-year-old nun be your introduction to Ethio-jazz

However, a twist of fate early in her life led her down a different path. Born in Addis Ababa into a wealthy family in 1923, she left to study the violin at a boarding school in Switzerland at the age of six. During the Second Italo-Abyssinian War, three of his brothers were executed and the rest of his family was sent to a prison camp on the Italian island of Asinara. Once the war was over, determined to play music professionally, Guèbrou traveled to Egypt to continue his studies with the Polish violinist Alexander Kontorowicz. Finally, in her late teens, she was offered a scholarship to study at the Royal Academy of Music in London. When the Ethiopian authorities refused her permission to accept her place there, she was upset. After refusing to eat or drink for 12 days, she fled to a nearby monastery where she was later ordained a nun (the name Emahoy means “woman monk”).

Living in remote poverty with no access to any musical instruments, Guèbrou stopped composing until the 1950s when she returned to Addis Ababa. In the 1960s, she moved to the province of Gondar, a former capital of the Ethiopian Kingdom, and began to study the ancient musical traditions of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.

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Guèbrou’s first record was released in 1967, and she donated the proceeds from it and all subsequent releases to a local orphanage. Through the emergence of Ethio-jazz and the above Ethiopians albums, as well as her music more recently featured in various television commercials and film soundtracks, she has begun to reach a wider audience. Chicago-based record label Mississippi Records has just reissued a selection of his recordings, consisting of three movements representing his past, present and future.

The first is composed for her family and those she lost during the war. The second represents his devotion to God and his commitment to the Church. The third movement is dedicated to the next generation, a selection of sonic love letters from the perspective of its enlightened 99-year-old. The fence track, Tenko why feel sorry, comes with a message in the liner notes from Guèbrou herself: “Why are these tears in your eyes? Courage, because you are so young!

Top 3 ethio-jazz albums

1 Ethio Jazzby Mulatu Astatke

Modal scales, compelling smoky melodies and danceable polyrhythmic beats make this a true classic from the man who invented the genre himself.

2 Getatchew Mekuria and his saxophone by Getatchew Mekuria

Bewitching and uplifting in equal measure, this album binds together like a musical storybook, Mekuria’s sax driving the narrative with singsong conviction.

3 Ethiopians 1: The golden years of modern Ethiopian music 1969-1975

The first in a series of 30 celebrating a range of Ethiopian sounds, this compilation features a wide range of popular artists as well as some who are literally unknown and uncredited. A perfect entry point.

Deb Grant is a Big Issue jazz radio host and critic

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