Ethiopia Mourns Treasured Singer at State Funeral – By Peter Heinlein (VOA)

April 23rd, 2009 Print Print Email Email

Tens of thousands of Ethiopians have attended a state funeral for legendary singer Tilahun Gessesse, considered a symbol of national unity since the time of Emperor Haile Selassie. Many of Tilahun’s songs were considered anthems, binding together a country through war and famine, monarchy and dictatorship. (more…)

Tens of thousands of Ethiopians have attended a state funeral for legendary singer Tilahun Gessesse, considered a symbol of national unity since the time of Emperor Haile Selassie. Many of Tilahun’s songs were considered anthems, binding together a country through war and famine, monarchy and dictatorship.

Mourners wailed in the streets and security forces struggled to control massive crowds as a nation said farewell to a man many call ‘the father of Ethiopian music’. Radio stations interrupted regular programming for a live broadcast of the memorial service.

Hours before the service began, tens of thousands of fans, many with tear streaked faces, gathered under a blazing sun in Addis Ababa’s main square, chanting and singing along with Tilahun Gessesse’s songs.

Fifty-year-old Antene Gizachew said nobody will replace him in Ethiopia’s heart.

“He’s a legend for Africa,” said Antene Gizachew. “He was motivator, humanitarian, so the United States has legends, as a young man I remember Elvis was a legend. He’s like our Elvis. He lives in each Ethiopians hearts and minds forever.”

Tilahun’s golden voice captivated a struggling nation, transcending politics and time. He was a favorite of Emperor Haile Selassie, and served in the Imperial Guards.

His fame grew through the years of Marxist dictatorship known as the Dergue, under Mengistu Haile Mariam. His songs about starvation raised millions of dollars for a famine-stricken nation. He traveled abroad, thanking the world for its support during the famed “We are the world” campaign.

But unlike many who fled the terror of the Dergue, he overlooked politics and kept on singing to his adoring public.

He won over the current government a decade ago during Ethiopia’s war with Eritrea when he went to the front to entertain the troops.

The front row of seats at the memorial service was dotted with the faces of top government officials.

Also prominent at the service was a massive floral bouquet sent by the young singing sensation Teddy Afro, whose songs were adopted by the opposition during the violent anti-government protests following the 2005 elections. Afro is currently serving a prison sentence for a fatal hit-and-run traffic accident. after being framed by Zenawi for being an advocate of the oppressed.

Famed artist Sileshi Demisse says even though Tilahun’s music sometimes had a political edge, politicians of all stripes embraced him.

“He was not anti any government personally, but through his music he expressed his feelings during all these three regimes, and all these governments were going to give him a hard time,” said Sileshi Demisse. “But he wasn’t that politically hard, but he was saying what he wants to say.”

Prominent actor Abdullah Balcha, who also served as Tilahun’s personal attorney, says the singer not only had a knack for expressing the people’s feelings, but could do it in several languages.

“There was some operation in every form at the time of the emperor, at the time of the dergue, there was that feeling of expressing, and he was always the voice of the people,” said Abdullah Balcha. “He used to sing perfectly and eloquently in Amharic and Oromifa and in Sudanese, Arabic as well.”

Tilahun had been in poor health in recent years, suffering from diabetes. He died Sunday, hours after returning to Ethiopia from the United States. He was 68-years-old.

  1. Hagere
    | #1

    Thank you Peter Heinlein, for the coverage. But you have your facts wrong to report “[Teddy] Afro is currently serving a prison sentence for a fatal hit-and-run traffic accident” as if this is true.

    Teddy is in prison not for a hit-and-run. Rather, he remains in jail based on allegations that have been proved in court to be completely baseless. Yet, since the court is in the business of fulfilling the wishes and whims of the dictators and not to serve justice, Teddy has remained in jail for over a year.

    Teddy’s message of love, unity, compassion, forgiveness, and peaceful coexistence continues to shatter Meles Zenawi’s divisive ethnic politics. This is Teddy’s real crime and the mean and vengeful bandits in power are punishing him for this.

  2. Anonymous
    | #2

    Wow I still think it is just a dream that he really is dead. it is very sad.

  3. Degife
    | #3

    This was his all time favorite song that lived forever, “mot enquan chekino wesedo kemiaskerew, min ale degagmo dagimegna bifetirew”. Needless to say, min ale degagmo Tiliyen bifeterew.

    Bless your soul!

  4. POTO ASCHALEW
    | #4

    condolence to His familly.

  5. MIMI & ASCU
    | #5

    condolence to His familly.

  6. MIMI & ASCU
    | #6

    MIMI & ASCU :condolence to His familly.

    @MIMI & ASCU

    @MIMI & ASCU

  7. Tiblets
    | #7

    Egzerem endesew ferdun yaguadlal
    Melesen kuch argo Tileshen yegelal

  8. hiwot
    | #8

    god bless your nefis

  9. WEGESHAW
    | #9

    Meles Zenawi’s “condolences” or “YeAzo Enba”?

    From the Prime MR office:
    Herby I forward my condolences to the family of Dr.Tilahun Gessese with great honor and feeling of deepest sorrow. Artist Dr. Tilahun Gessese has contributed a lot in introducing Ethiopian music to the World by using his talent during his entire life. He will be remembered as one of the best musician every Ethiopian should be proud of….
    I wish courage to his family.
    With Greetings,
    Meles Zenaw
    Personal signature

    I have read the above mentioned condolences of “Ethiopian PM Meles Zenawi” directed to the passing away of every Ethiopian’s beloved Artist Dr.Tilahun Gesesse at the IGA forum. Indeed let his soul rest in peace, I as an individual Ethiopian who was raised and grown listening his heart touching and sweet songs also wish to his closest relatives and friends & most of all to the entire Ethiopian people courage on this big lose to all of us! In addition to this I appreciate the gesture of Mr. Prime minister for his “touchy’ condolences expressed by the highest government personnel and I truly believe that such kind of gesture leads the country to reconciliation and healing of deep wounds! If one notices this kind of behavior of the PM, it is happening for the first time and even it might raise questions why now? Is it meant to win the Ethiopian peoples hearts and minds after so many atrocities have been committed? Or is it a political smart move before the coming “election”, in order to show that the present Government and specially Mr. PM really care for Ethiopian people? If this gesture is genuine then the PM will have to go much further than that, since this action is just the iceberg compared to the brutal destruction and hurt perpetrated on the people of Ethiopia! Dr.Tilahun Gessese was a true son of Ethiopia and a good gesture towards his passing away means winning of Ethiopian’s people hearts. Giving condolences to Dr.Tilahun Gessese’s sudden death means showing good gesture to Ethiopia, as the good Artist was one of the best symbols of Ethiopian ness, On the other hand Ethiopia has been bleeding in the past by TPLF and is continued to bleed up to near death. Due to these reasons, the condolence expressed by enemies of Ethiopia is not genuine and rather it is an insult to the Ethiopian people rather than honor! A “Prime Minister” who claimed “Ethiopia doesn’t need Medical doctors” has to be one of the main reason of untimely death of Ethiopians beloved son Artist Dr. Tilahun Gessesse ! Other Questions which could be raised to the good PM would include, if you really wanted to be good to the Ethiopian people, then why didn’t you show even a simple regret on the massacre of over 100,000 young Ethiopian soldiers who have shade their blood on the border war of the 1998-2000? Why is it not investigated till now? Why didn’t you allow the investigation of the Anuak massacre?, Beddeno Massacre? Gonder, Addis, Awassa, Ogaden,Tigray, AU massacres. What about the Somalia massacre? What about the 40,000 still imprisoned Ethiopians kept in inhuman conditions, including innocent individuals like Birtukan and “Tedy Afro”? What about mothers who don’t even still know whereabouts of their beloved children? Refugees around the world who lead life of misery? Is the PM having any moral value to write a letter of condolences? Or we take this as just “crocodile’s tears”? Is this not laughable in front of the Ethiopian people? I realty invite every Ethiopian for discussion on this topic!

  10. Ali
    | #10

    I don`t have any word to say about you my true broyher .Only I like
    to say GOD BLESS YOUR SOUL my brother.
    Ali

  11. Ali
    | #11

    Please first of all you don`t know me I am not woyanne or shabias.

  12. Wakyo
    | #12

    PETER HEINLEIN GOOD THAT YOU ARE REPORTING OUR BIG LOSS OF MOTHER ETHIOPIANS LOVING SON BUT WHAT YOU WRITE ABOUT TEDDY IS REALLY RUBBISH AS FOR YOU ARE A JOURNALIST OF A VOA YOU ARE WELL AWARE THAT HIS HIT AND RUN ACCIDENT IS COMPLETELY BASELESS AND YOU ARE STAYING IN ADDIS FOR LONG AS JOURNALIST AND IF YOU DONT KNOW THE NATURE OF WOYANNE ASK RESIGINATION AND LEAVE THE PLACE FOR COURAGEOUS JOURNALISTS WHO STANDS WITH THE PEOPLE NOT WITH A POLITICIANS

  13. al
    | #13

    The greatness of Tilahun in his own field of profession is enough to explain him. We don’t need any adjective to define him. Tilahun Gesese is whole and stands by itself to define one Great Ethiopian. I do not use a title such as ‘Kibur’ to call Tilahun. ‘kibur’, now a days is a misplaced title given to murderers and tyrants. Tilahun is above any thing that explains a human Ethiopian.

  14. Ali
    | #14

    Ali :I don`t have any word to say about you my true brothre .Only I liketo say GOD BLESS YOUR SOUL my brother.Ali

    @Wakyo

  15. Zemen
    | #15

    Rest in peace Tilahun you are the ethiopian king og music

  16. yikerbelen
    | #16

    It is agreat loss for ethiopia and it people. Artist Tilahun was every thing.But we can not do any thing to save him because his life on earth is being decided by almighty God.He will not come back again, but we will go to him.It is the matter of time, not body escape from die. But so shame when those anti ethiopians [weyanes] used his passed away for their trash ,un wise political business.The way how the eritreans’ leader with in TPLF { MELESE ] started his nonsense letter to artis’s Tilahun’s families by say” hageritua”, He did notlike even to say hagerachin or ethiopia.And other power monger the so called “AEUP”S LEADER Hailu shawul ordered his command to erect two obliks ,one in woliso and the second in addis ababa.This is a sort of dirty politics from some dirty politicians to buy some attention from the publice in the name of artis Tilahun. Artis Tilahun deserves more than erecting of obliks , or others. Ethiopians should build one big washera school in the future. May God rest his soul in peace. AMEN

  17. አረፈ በለው
    | #17

    “አውሮፐላን መጣ እየገሰገሰ
    በዘፈን አንደኛ ጥላሁን ገሰሰ”
    በፓይለቱ ኮርተን ማኮብኮቡን
    እኛስ የገረመን አስተራረፉን!!!!
    እየበሉ ቢይያ እየተደሰቱ
    አልችል አለውና ጨመረ የልብ ምቱ
    ዋይ!ዋይ!ሲሉ ሰምቶ ዛሬም እንደጥንቱ
    ሀፍረት ያዘውና ከመኝታ ቤቱ
    ሲቃ ያዘውና.. አወይ መዋተቱ !
    አደግን ያሉንማ.. ተማርን ያሉን
    እንደምን ነፈጉት ንጹህ አየርን ?
    የተማረ ይፍረድ ለቆመም ትዝብት
    ለሌለው እናስብ ገንዘብ ያለው ሲሞት !
    ምንኛ ደግ ነው የሕዝብ ፍቅር ያለው
    ሀገሩ ላይ ቀረ እንደተመኘው
    እንኳንስ አድናቂው ሐኪም አልረዳው !
    ሞተ? ወይ አረፈ? ነው የሚባለው ?
    አፈሩን አቅልሎ ከገነት ያግባው
    ሐዘናችን መራር የእድሜ ልክ ፀፀት ነው::(ከካናዳ)

    al :
    The greatness of Tilahun in his own field of profession is enough to explain him. We don’t need any adjective to define him. Tilahun Gesese is whole and stands by itself to define one Great Ethiopian. I do not use a title such as ‘Kibur’ to call Tilahun. ‘kibur’, now a days is a misplaced title given to murderers and tyrants. Tilahun is above any thing that explains a human Ethiopian.

  18. yikerbelen
    | #18

    AL, I DO AGREE WITH YOUR DEFINITION. ANY BODY GREATNES CAN BE JUDGED BY HIS OR HER WORK.tHERE IS NO ENOUGH WORKS TO EXPLAIN ABOUT ARTIS TILAHUN. HE HS DEFINED HIMSELF THROUGH HIS WORK.EVERY ETHIOPIAN EXCEPT MONSTERS ARE IN DEEP GRIEVE.God bless his soul amen

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