Tilahun: What an End of an Era – By Fekade Shewakena

April 21st, 2009 Print Print Email Email

It is Monday morning after Ethiopian Easter Sunday. I was driving to work in a juicy Washington spring weather. (more…)

It is Monday morning after Ethiopian Easter Sunday. I was driving to work in a juicy Washington spring weather. It was raining heavily and I was in a crowded traffic when the ring tone of my cellular phone, a Tedi Afro’s song that I have set up to use until he gets out of prison, was playing off the hook. One call was from my daughter. “Hi Fekadye it is a sad day in Ethiopia today, have you heard that Tilahun Gesesse passed away? It is sad. I know you will cry but cry not too much ok” and she hung up. Then a friend and then another confirmed the sad new to me. It was a surreal feeling. Alone, in a far away land on a highway; not an ideal place to hear stunning news of the death of a man that I love, admire and consider my country’s treasure and icon. These are some of the times where you hate “sidet”, a time you hate to live away from the people you want to be in the middle of, and share pain and grief together.

Tilahun has many times made me uncontrollably emotional while listening to his songs and watch him sing. I never imagined he would lead me to uncontrollable tears at the news of his passing away too. I parked on a shoulder and cried profusely. It was a good time and place to cry. Everyone was rushing to work and no one was looking, but who the damn cares even if anybody looks at you.

They are passerby and I was crying for something larger than whatever a ferenji passerby may be thinking I was crying about. I felt like I was crying not for Tilahun alone but for an entire era that he takes away with him. From where I was, I saw my country coiling in sadness, so sad as if she doesn’t have enough of sadness already. I even imagined that the mountains of Ethiopia that echoed Tilahun’s songs through the flutes of sheep and goat herders were silent in sadness.

Five full decades of failure to replace one super star, I often joked, is a sign of the slow sociocultural dynamism in Ethiopia. I am probably wrong on this one. Tilahun was simply unsurpassable.

There was everything from Tilahun’s beautiful voices for all times and generations of Ethiopians. His gift straddles the generations of my daughter, me and my father and probably beyond. There was also everything for every humanly feeling in those voices. Just tell me what you need and I will pick a song for you from Tilahun. Whether you are sad, you are in love, happy, or raved up by patriotism, there was something for you in the voices of Tilahun. He was, after all, the soundtrack of all our lives for so many years. It is hard to stop travelling in memory lane back in our lives and remember songs like “engudaye neshi”, “Yegeter Temir nesh” and who would forget that 1974 song “waay Waay silu” about the famine victims which he sang along with a river of tears flooding his face. That was something that tells you that Tilahun not only had a wonderful voice but also a wonderful heart too.

As a member of the generation raised by his songs I have tons of memories of Tilahun. I have not yet had grasped the fact that he died. I know he is mortal, but I looked like a little foolish to think that he will never die. But then again, I may probably am half right. Tilahun may never die. He is going to be physically absent no doubt. But he will continue to live in our households. I have the treasures he left in my library.

There is some lesson for all of us in the life of this great legend. Any one of us making significant contributions to positively affect the lives of our people and country and still die physically can continue to live as Tilahun definitely will. People who do something greater than themselves live forever. Work for our people, fight for their freedom and change their lives. You will live long after you died. That is the moral of Tilahun’s life and story. I am still crying but some half of me tells me the right thing to do now is to celebrate Tilahun’s wonderful life and gift to all of us.

Goodbye Tilahun! Thank you for the wonderful gift you left us behind! It has been such a long time of hard work. Now take a break from singing and rest in peace! Goodbye my dear! Goodbye!!


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