Ethiopia bids farewell to legendary singer
Ethiomedia | Updated April 23, 2009

Holy Trinity
The Holy Trinity Cathedral at Arat Kilo in Addis Ababa
Legendary singer Tilahun Gessesse dies at age 68
Tilahun Gessesse
ADDIS ABABA - Millions of Ethiopians on Thursday paid their last respects as the flag-draped casket of legendary singer Tilahun Gessesse lowered into the cemetery of the Trinity Cathedral here in the Ethiopian capital.

Earlier on Maskal Square, brass bands played martial music while hundreds of thousands of city residents paid their tribute to the 68-year-old national icon whose music heavily influenced generations that came and went by over the last 50 years.

Whether it is love or hate, war or peace, patriotism, poverty or affluence, Tilahun was a treasure trove of music that he had a song for almost every theme, and he was such an influential figure his death was mourned like no one in the history of the country.

Since his sudden death earlier on Sunday, life in Addis looked like it had come to a standstill when the very few, state-owned media suspended their regular programs to play the endless songs of the artist.

News of the singer's death had also sent shockwaves across the board of the Ethiopian diaspora. Websites, local radio stations or online forums were preoccupied with honoring the life and achievements of Tilahun Gessesse, the artist Ethiopians dub "The King of Music."

The two leading radio programs - the Voice of America (VOA) Amharic Service and Deutsche Welle - were intrumental in interviewing many veteran artists, including the aging Sahle Degagu, who composed several songs of artist Tilahun.

In the cyber world, like the up-and-coming Ethiopian Current Affairs Discussion Forum (ECADF), many Ethiopians - young and old, male and female - paid their tributes by reading out poems, sharing memories, and playing instruments live to the global audience.

Meanwhile, Ethiopian artists Abebe Belew and Tamagne Beyene told VOA that a special program has been scheduled for April 26 starting 3:00 PM at Washington Marriott in honor of the king of music.

Tilahun to be buried at Trininty Cathedral

ADDIS ABABA (Apr 22) - The funeral of legendary Ethiopian singer Tilahun Gessesse will be held at Trinity Cathedral on Thursday, according to the online Ethiopia Zare.

At Hager Fikir Theater, where Tilahun started his career as a teenage sensation back in the '50s, admirers are laying flower wreaths, holding candle light vigils, and signing in a book of condolences.

The expected state funeral - which the 'parliament' should declare - is expected to start from Maskal Square, and then proceed to the Trinity Cathedral in the company of a band playing martial music.

In a rare gesture, members of the Stalinist regime have also paid a tribute, and those include Meles Zenawi, Bereket Simon, Addisu Legesse. Artists Alemayehu Eshete and Aster Awoke were also among those comforting the grieving family.

In the meantime, Ethiopian billionaire Sheikh Mohamed Al Amoudi also paid his respects to the family. The 43rd wealthiest man on earth also donated Birr 200,000 (US $17,800) to Tilahun's family.

Tilahun died of a possible heart attack on Sunday at around midnight in Addis Ababa, according to Roman Bezu, the widow who frantically drove across construction sites to reach the nearest hospital and save her husband but in vain.

  |    |    |    |    |    |    |    |   Seattle Event for Tilahun

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Legendary singer Tilahun Gessesse dies at age 68

ADDIS ABABA (Ethiomedia: Apr. 21) - Legendary Ethiopian singer Tilahun Gessesse died on Sunday in his family home in the Ethiopian capital. He was 68.

Perhaps the greatest singer of all time whose career spanned five decades, the 68-year-old iconic figure died reportedly of a heart attack. He died before getting any medical aid.

A day earlier, Tilahun flew into Addis from from New York City to spend Easter with family and friends.

Reacting to the sudden death of Tilahun Gessesse, the Washington-based Radio Host Abebe Belew, also a close friend of Tilahun, said he was deeply shocked.

"He was sporting a healthy look and was in good spirits when he left for Ethiopia Saturday. On Sunday in Addis, we heard Tilahun was down with "some chest pain" and was being rushed to a hospital when in the midst of all the chaos came in the news of his sudden death," Abebe said.

"I wonder if there could be another Ethiopian who would live up to the honors and achievements of Tilahun Gessesse," Abebe said. "Music and musicians have really, really fallen on most trying times."

Back in Addis, close friends and legendary singers Alemayehu Eshete and Ayalew Mesfin broke into tears, unable to answer questions by reporters. The widow, Roman Bezu, told the media she was driving the car frantically to save the life of her husband but "died before getting any medical help."

His updated biography in Wikipedia said: "Tilahun Gesese, King of Habesha Music, died on April 19, 2009 in Addis Ababa only 7 hours after returning from the United States. The cause of death is not yet known. His family and individuals who were with him at the moment of death suspect a heart attack or some kind of heart complication as a cause of death."

A winner of several awards, including an honorary doctrate degree from Addis Ababa University as well as a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Ethiopian Fine Art and Mass Media Prize Trust, Tilahun was a commanding voice of love, peace, harmony and above all unity in the beleaguered Horn of African nation.

Born on September 29, 1940 in Addis Ababa, the teenager Tilahun joined Hager Fikir Theater from where his golden voice captured the attention of the nation. Shortly, he joined the Imperial Guard of Emperor Haile-Selassie during whose era the legendary singer became a household name not only in his native country but also in neighboring countries such as the Sudan.

He later joined the prestigious National Theater, with whom he stayed for several years. He has sold millions of albums, and was singing in Amharic and Oromiffa languages.

In 2006 there were several fund-raising activities in the United States to help the aging and diabetic singer retire into a relative comfort.

When Tilahun Gessesse visited Seattle in November 2006, Ethiomedia reported on the occasion:

Several hundreds of Ethiopians spent the weekend night dancing to the songs of Tilahun Gessesse, arguably Ethiopia’s most beloved and popular singer whose distinct voice and endless songs of romance and patriotism have molded him into a revered national icon.

The symbol of modern music whose early songs date back to the heady days of Emperor Haile-Selassie before the '70s, Tilahun stole the hearts of young men and women who ruled over the dancing floor for much of the night into the early hours of Saturday.

"Tilahun is a rare talent whose music is enjoyed by different generations living between the era of boogie-woogie and rap music," a friend whispered into the ears of this writer with a mix of laugh.

The life of the artist is closely intertwined with the ups and downs of the country, and there is no doubt his death would be mourned by millions of Ethiopians.

During the '60s, when Ethiopia was at perfect peace with itself with the rise of nascent capitalism, the time for music was ripe it was generally referred to as the 'golden era of Ethiopian music.'

Tilahun was an offshoot among legends of the '60s whose super stars include worldclass composer Mulatu Astatike, legendary saxophonist Getachew Mekuria, singers Mahmood Ahmed, Alemayehu Eshete, Tamrat Molla, the late Hirut and Bizunesh Bekele, Asnaketch Worku, and many others.

Most memorable among his romantic hits is Mona Liza, where beauty is adorned with rare words. The power of capturing the hearts and minds of the youth could be compared to legendary American singer Marvin Gaye. If there is a distinct difference between the two, it is that Marvin Gay adores sex while Tilahun reveres beauty.

Away from the world of romance, Tilahun was a great philanthropist. When Ethiopia fell on worst days of the 1974 and 1984 famines, his albums helped raise millions. He openly sobbed on national TV and on the stage, wondering why hunger and famine haunt millions in a country endowed with natural resources that a few were capable of wallowing in extra-terrestrial affluence.

The legend was a great patriot as well. When Ethiopia and Eritrea went to war in 1998, for instance, a military-uniformed Tilahun was - along with the other great singers - singing for the Ethiopian Defense Forces who honored the nation by destroying the invaders in a blitzkrieg.

Tilahun is expected to be accorded a state funeral.

More reading

Tilahun Gessesse: Biography(Source: Wikipedia) - An African-American news and views website.
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