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Emahoy Tsegué-Maryam Guèbrou

Sometimes the simplest music hits you like a ton of bricks. Somewhere between Chopin and Sun Ra (in his more pensive moments) lie the gorgeous etudes of 87-year-old Ethiopian nun Emahoy Tsegué-Maryam Guèbrou, reflecting on her passage from religious persecution to depression to solace. Emahoy’s piano moves between dark sultry and enlivened pizzicato, like the soundtrack of a pre-talkie drama full of sweet melancholy, punctuated by fleeting moments of hope. Her melodies are a graceful, fleeting ballet of simple truths, spiritual insight, and awkward stumbles. In every phrase, you can hear the course of Emahoy’s life, so different from your own.

Meara O’Reilly for Boing-Boing:

Emahoy Tsegué-Maryam Guèbrou is a nun currently living in Jerusalem. She grew up as the daughter of a prominent Ethiopian intellectual, but spent much of her young life in exile, first for schooling, and then again during Mussolini’s occupation of Ethiopia’s capitol city, Addis Ababa, in 1936. Her musical career was often tragically thwarted by class and gender politics, and when the Emperor himself actually went so far as to personally veto an opportunity for Guèbrou to study abroad in England, she sank into a deep depression before fleeing to a monastery in 1948.

Emahoy is now 87 years old and plays piano at her monastery nearly seven hours a day.

This is music poignant and hopeful, for reflecting on life lived and not yet lived. You want this in yours.

One Comment
  1. Paul Clark permalink

    Yes, yes, yes….a little Art Tatum in there too; sparkling little after-thoughts. Fingers idly dancing out bits of beauty until it’s time to return to delving into the blues.

    When the ancient Ethiopian pentatonic mode is played on a Western (Dorian?) instrument, it has an almost painful delta blues beauty. If you listen to it as an undertone, deep in the background, it really sounds like crying…southern Indian music often does the same thing, but more intentionally. She sticks to the religious dirge patterns of the Coptic Church…very cool. Thanks Scot!

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