Tilahun Gessesse

Last updated
Tilahun Gessesse
ጥላሁን ገሠሠ
Background information
Born(1940-09-27)27 September 1940 [1]
Addis Ababa, Ethiopian Empire occupied by Italian East Africa
Died19 April 2009(2009-04-19) (aged 68)
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Years active1955–2009
LabelsEthio Grooves

Tilahun Gessesse (Amharic : ጥላሁን ገሠሠ; 27 September 1940 – 19 April 2009) was an Ethiopian singer regarded as one of the most popular Ethiopian artist of the 20th century. Noted by his tenor voice, he was nicknamed "The Voice" during his country's "Golden Age" in the 1960s. Tilahun was an eminent singer whose works are attributed legacy to Ethiopian music. Besides his popularity, he raised money for aid during the famines of the 1970s and 1980s and earned the affection of the nation, being awarded a doctorate degree by the Addis Ababa University and also winning a lifetime achievement award from the Ethiopian Fine Art and Mass Media Prize Trust.


Tilahun died from diabetes on 19 April 2009 shortly after returning from the United States. His funeral took place in Addis Ababa at Holy Trinity Cathedral on 23 April with mass public figures and mourners gathered. Tilahun's work is often compared with Teddy Afro, who is also considered to have a huge impact on the Ethiopian music industry. [2]

Life and career

Early years

Tilahun Gessesse was born on 27 September 1940 in Addis Ababa to a father named Gessesse Negusse and a mother named Gete Gurmu. [3]

Tilahun attended the Ras Gobena Elementary school in Waliso where his grandfather lived. As time went by, his interest in music became increasingly clear, although his grandfather urged him to concentrate on his academic studies. The Ras Gobena School principal Shedad (who was from Sudan), encouraged Tilahun's interest in music and urged him to go to Sudan to pursue his music career. Although Tilahun did not go to Sudan, he took Shedad's advice very seriously. [3] When Woizero Negatwa Kelkay, Eyoel Yohanes and other artists from the Hager Fikir Theatre came to his school to perform, Tilahun took the opportunity to discuss his interest in music with Eyoel. He was told to go to Addis Ababa if he wanted to pursue a career in the field.

Tilahun dropped out of school at age 13 and tried to travel to Addis Ababa to pursue his career, a journey he began on foot without his family's consent. Tilahun traveled fifteen kilometers on foot, he was caught in the small town of Tulu Bolo and stayed overnight with his aunt. The next day, he was forced to return to his grandfather in Waliso. Since his interest in music is perceived enthusiastic, Tilahun chose not to stay at his grandfather's house in Waliso. After staying only one night at his grandfather's house, he again began his journey to Addis Ababa, this time hiding in the back of a loaded truck. [3]

Achievements and career

Tilahun at the Washington DC Ethiopian Soccer Tournament in summer 2008 Tilahoun DC.jpg
Tilahun at the Washington DC Ethiopian Soccer Tournament in summer 2008

In Addis Ababa, Tilahun was first hired by the Hager Fikir Association, which is now known as Hager Fikir Theatre. [4] After a few years at the Hager Fikir Theater, he joined the Imperial Bodyguard Band where he became a leading star singer. [5] During his time with the band, Tilahun came into conflict with the Ethiopian government after a attempted coup d'état in December 1960 by the Imperial Bodyguard. He was arrested and put in prison for some time.[ clarification needed ] [6]

Tilahun moved to the National Theater where his success continued. His tenor singing was regarded as the best Ethiopian pop voice of the 1960s. His popularity was such that he appeared three times in front of Emperor Haile Selassie I. [7] During a visit, the Emperor advised him not to abuse his talent.[ citation needed ]

Recordings made by Tilahun during the 1970s and 1980s helped raise large sums of money to aid famine victims. [8] The majority of his recordings were in Amharic, but he did also record a few in Oromo. [9] In 1975, Tilahun released eponymous LP Tilahun Gessesse, Amha Records served as the label.

When collaborating with The Walias, they together worked to re-recording the older version of LPs since 1983 under Misrach Music Group.

Tilahun released his debut single "Yehagere Shita" in 1970, accompanied with 7", mono formats and Philp Philips served as the record label. With these formats, Tilahun continued to release singles and EPs, including "Tiz Alegn Yetintu" (1970), with Mulatu Astatke, "Kulun Manqualesh", "Min Libejegn" (1972), "Aykedashm Lebe" (1974), and "Yikir Yibelatchew / Leyito Blaskerew" (1974). [10]

He received an Honorary Doctorate Degree from Addis Ababa University, in appreciation of his contribution to Ethiopian music. He also received an award for his lifetime achievements from the Ethiopian Fine Art and Mass Media Prize Trust. [11] [12]

Despite some health problems, especially following a life-threatening slash to his neck after a stabbing attempt which occurred on Ethiopian Easter Sunday in 1993, Tilahun still managed to continue to record his music, especially after spending time in the US where he recorded three different CDs with Ethio-Grooves Records. First in 1992 with Tilahun Gessesse Volumes 1 & 2, a double CD of his best works and the first time his music was available to a wider audience outside of Ethiopia. Three years later, he released Wegen Alegn in 1995 followed by Andand Negeroch in 1999. Each album were re-recordings of his older songs which were done by prominent instrumentalists such as Abegasu Kibrework, Fasil Wuhib, Teddy Mak, Theodros Mitiku, Yared Tefera, and other artists. In 2000, Ethio-Sound released a collection CD of his old recordings entitled Tilahun Gessesse Greatest Hits

Death and funeral

Tilahun died on 19 April 2009 in Addis Ababa as he was being taken to hospital by his wife. He had just returned to Ethiopia from the United States. He had been in poor health for several years due to diabetes. [13] Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi stated that "Tilahun stood out as an artist of great renown with his lifetime contributions to Ethiopia's modern music, which he popularized across the world". [14] The Patriarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, Abune Paulos said that "whoever is said dead is he who leave[s] nothing worthwhile behind. Tilahun left numerous, though secular, legacies behind to survive the mortal body for generations to come". As well as the United States Ambassador Donald Yamamoto stated that "Ethiopians owe a great deal to the late Tilahun Gessesse, who promoted Ethiopian music across the world". [15]

A candlelit vigil was held by friends and family in the garden of the National Theatre in Addis Ababa on the night of 22 April 2009. [16] On 23 April, a state funeral was held. About one million Ethiopians, including government officials, and entertainers, [17] gathered in Meskel Square, Addis Ababa and heard messages of condolence from the prime minister and President Girma Wolde-Giorgis. A funeral mass was held in the Holy Trinity Cathedral. [18] Messages of condolence from fans all over the world were posted on a memorial website. [19]


Tilahun's death left a lasting impact on the Ethiopian music community, one that has been unmatched with wavering support from other Ethiopian figures. Most notably, Tamagne Beyene, a close friend to Tilahun. A year after Tilahun's passing, a memorial service was held by Tamagne to honor the life and legacy of Tilahun. During the ceremony, Tamagne revealed Kome Limerkish, an unfinished project that was started sometime around 2003. A sample of the first version of the track was revealed to the public during the memorial service before being released as an album 2021 posthumously. The album was produced by Abegasu Kibrework who dedicated lots of time to put together the project from start to finish.


Tilahun Gessesse (LP)1975 Amha Records
Tilahun Gessesse Vol. 1/ Vol.21992Ethio-Grooves
Wegen Alegne1995Ethio-Grooves
Andand Negeroch1999Ethio-Grooves
Greatest Hits2000Ethio Sound ES-116
Singles and EPs
"Yehagere Shita"1970 Philips Records
"Alegn Yetintu"/"Emnete"1970Philps, Philip
"Kulun Manqualesh"1970Philips Records
'Sithed Siketelat"/'Yefikir Tizita"1970Philips Records
"Ketero Yikeber"/Ewnet Marign"1974Philips Records
"Sew Manen Yimeslal"1975Amhara Records
"Atkelidge"/"Fikir Sew Ayimertim"1975Philips Records
"Erishiw"/"IIhud"1976Philips Records
Contributing artist

See also

Related Research Articles

Ethiopian music is a term that can mean any music of Ethiopian origin, however, often it is applied to a genre, a distinct modal system that is pentatonic, with characteristically long intervals between some notes.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Aster Aweke</span> Ethiopian singer (born 1959)

Aster Aweke is an Ethiopian-American singer-songwriter. Aster's voice has attracted broader public popularity, especially tracing back in 1990s singles and her single "Abebayehosh" in Ethiopian New Year. She is best known for her 1999 album Hagere and her 2006 album Fikir. She moved to the United States in 1981, and she returned to Ethiopia in 1997.

Asnaketch Worku was an Ethiopian singer who sang in the Amharic language and a krar instrumentalist, the instrument which symbolized her fame during the 1960s and 1970's. Asnaketch also had a long distinguished career as an actress.

Amha Records was an Ethiopian record label founded by Amha Eshete. The company released 103 singles and 12 albums between 1969 and 1975.

Éthiopiques is a series of compact discs featuring Ethiopian singers and musicians. Many of the CDs compile songs from various singles and albums that Amha Records, Kaifa Records and Philips-Ethiopia released during the 1960s and 1970s in Ethiopia. Prominent singers and musicians from this era appearing on Éthiopiques releases include Alemayehu Eshete, Asnaketch Worku, Mahmoud Ahmed, Mulatu Astatke and Tilahun Gessesse. However, some other releases contain new recordings.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Mulatu Astatke</span> Ethiopian multi-instrumentalist (born 1943)

Mulatu Astatke is an Ethiopian musician and arranger considered as the father of "Ethio-jazz".

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Mahmoud Ahmed</span> Ethiopian singer (born 1941)

Mahmoud Ahmed is an Ethiopian singer. He gained great popularity in Ethiopia in the 1970s and among the Ethiopian diaspora in the 1980s, before rising to international fame with African music fans in Europe and the Americas.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Hager Fikir Theatre</span> Theatre in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

The Hager Fikir Theatre is a theatre in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. It is one of the oldest and foremost theatre in Ethiopian history; hosting as multipurpose artistic venue over half decades.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Kebur Zabagna</span> Imperial bodyguards of Ethiopia

The Kebur Zebenya was the Ethiopian imperial guard. Also known as the First Division, this unit served the dual purposes of providing security for the Emperor of Ethiopia, and being an elite infantry division. It was not, however, part of the organizational structure of the Ethiopian regular army as it was part of the Zebagna, the Addis Ababa Guard. The Kebur Zabagna was based in Addis Ababa.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Ali Birra</span> Ethiopian singer and composer (1950–2022)

Ali Mohammed Musa, known professionally as Ali Birra, was an Ethiopian singer. He was regarded as the most popular Oromo icon, as well as an influential artist in the other regions and urban areas of Ethiopia. He had played a lot of songs in Amharic, Afar, Arabic and Somali languages. Ali was a celebrated as a poet and multi-instrumentalist.

Walias Band were an Ethiopian jazz and funk band active from the early 1970s until the early 1990s. Formed by members of the Venus Band, Walias backed up many prominent singers with a hard polyrhythmic funk sound influenced by western artists like King Curtis, Junior Walker and Maceo Parker. In 1977 they recorded one of the few albums of Ethiopian instrumental music in collaboration with vibraphonist Mulatu Astatke, whose role as a bandleader and composer was also a major influence on Ethiopian popular music.

Abel Tilahun is an Ethiopian-born artist and sculptor, who works across traditional and emerging art forms. At the heart of his work is a concern for both the cutting edge and the long arc of history.

Getachew Kassa is an Ethiopian singer and percussionist. He was famous at the height of 1960s and 1970s after hiring to the country's famous clubs, the Sombrino and Axum Hall, which made him eligible to professional skills.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Jano Band</span> Ethiopian progressive rock band

Jano Band is an Ethiopian rock band formed by its entrepreneurs Ermyas Amelga, Bill Laswell and former manager Addis Gessesse in 2011. It versatilely mixes progressive rock with Ethiopian music. The band includes two female back and lead vocalists, two lead male vocalists, and four musicians who play bass guitar, rhythm guitar, drum, and keyboards.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Eténèsh Wassié</span> Ethiopian jazz singer

Eténèsh Wassié is an Ethiopian jazz singer, renowned for her collaborative approach to music and performance.

Neway Debebe is an Ethiopian singer and songwriter. Neway became popular after releasing his first debut album, recorded by the Tango Music shop, in 1970s with a local band called the Roha Band. Following this, Neway released more than five studio albums.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Menelik Wossenachew</span> Ethiopian singer (1940–2008)

Menelik Wossenachew was an Ethiopian singer who was known for his famous singles "Fikir Ayarejim", "Sukar Sukar" "Teyaqiyew Biaschegregn " and later "Gash Jembere".

The Ethiopian Golden Age of Music was an era of Ethiopian music that began around the 1960s to 1970s, until the Derg regime progressively diminished its presence through politically motivated persecutions and retributions against musicians and companies, which left many to self-imposed exile to North America and Europe. Several artists and musical companies, as well as recording groups, emerged to produce their own singles and albums; the first being Amha Records, and Philips Records, Ethiopia Records and Kaifa Records, which is primarily based in Addis Ababa.

Ayalew Mesfin Chufa is an Ethiopian musician. He is one of the most important figures of Ethio-Groove.


  1. "Hawassaonline Articles: ድምጻዊ ጥላሁን ገሠሠ (Tilahun Gessesse) - (የመዚቃው ንጉስ)". hawassaonline.com. Retrieved 2021-12-03.
  2. "Ethiopia' in Selected Lyrics of Tilahun Gessesse and ... - Core" (PDF). October 23, 2020.
  3. 1 2 3 Kifle, Elias (April 20, 2009). "Tilahun Gessesse passed away". Ethiopian Review.
  4. Tilahun Gessesse, 31 October 2017
  5. "Tilahun Gessesse laid to rest". Ethiopian News Agency. 23 April 2009. Archived from the original on 25 April 2009. Retrieved 2009-04-23.
  6. Francis Falceto, "Tilahoun Gèssèssè", Éthiopiques No 17, Buda musique, booklet, p. 5.
  7. Dacks, David (21 April 2009). "R.I.P. Tilahun Gessesse". Exclaim News. Archived from the original on 25 April 2009. Retrieved 2009-04-23.
  8. "Ethiopia bids farewell to legendary singer". EthioMedia. 22 April 2009. Retrieved 2009-04-23.
  9. "Dissenting voice with songs that mattered". The National. April 25, 2009.
  10. "Tilahun Gessesse". Discogs. Retrieved 2020-10-13.
  11. "Tilahun Gesesse passes away". Zethiopia. 21 April 2009. Retrieved 2009-04-23.
  12. "Tilahun Gessesse - ESFNA Guest of Honor". Ethiola. Archived from the original on 2008-07-08. Retrieved 2009-04-23.
  13. "Ethiopian emperor's singer dies". BBC. 20 April 2009. Retrieved 20 April 2009.
  14. "Meles pays homage to Tilahun Gesesse, dubs him epitome of Ethiopia's modern music". Ethiopian News Agency. 21 April 2009. Retrieved 2009-04-23.[ permanent dead link ]
  15. "Patriarch comforts Tilahun's family, Ambassador Yamamoto expresses deep sorrow". Ethiopian News Agency. 22 April 2009. Archived from the original on 25 April 2009. Retrieved 2009-04-23.
  16. "Vigil for Tilahun". Addis Journal. 23 April 2009. Retrieved 2009-04-24.
  17. "Nation bids Tilahun farewell". Addis Journal. 24 April 2009. Retrieved 2009-04-24.
  18. "Ethiopia holds state funeral for 'legendary' vocalist". EthioPolitics. 23 April 2009. Retrieved 2009-04-23.
  19. "Tilahun Gesesse's Memorial Web Site". tilahungesesse.org. Tilahun Gesesse Memorial Web site. 23 April 2009. Retrieved 2009-04-23.

Further reading