September 8, 2021

A tribute to the legendary Alemayehu Eshete

City: Addis AbabaObituary

Born in Addis Ababa in 1941 Alemayehu Eshete, one of its notable musical icons, died at the age of 79, after battling heart disease for some time.

Avatar: Solomon Yimer
By Solomon Yimer

Solomon is a content editor at Addis Zeybe. He has worked in print and web journalism for six years.

A tribute to the legendary Alemayehu Eshete
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Ethiopia has lost Alemayehu Eshete, one of its notable musical icons on Sep 2, 2021. On this unfortunate day, Alemayehu had been showing signs of discomfort. Though he had been taken to the nearby hospital when his illness became unusually serious, the dignified legend of Ethiopian music was sadly destined to fall that day. Born in Addis Ababa in 1941 Alemayehu Eshete died at the age of 79, after battling heart disease for some time. 

Alemayehu is known for his deep patriotic sentiment. He always venerated his country Ethiopia in his work and actions. Among his songs there are some nationalist pieces remarkable in celebrating the greatness of Ethiopia, advising his countrymen to beat poverty and the youth to educate themselves, among others. “His song ‘Ya Tikur Gisila’ is a revolution by itself,” writes Bewketu Seyoum, a popular writer in his recent Facebook post honoring Alemayehu. 

Photo Credit: Mario Di Bari

His sensibility to his country is also witnessed in the recent production of an album entitled “Sile Ethiopia” (About Ethiopia) comprising songs featuring more than 50 young and veteran vocalists all having a theme of exalting Ethiopia. Alemayehu played an active role as a senior advisor and mentoring father in organizing and participating in the realization of the album, in which his song is also included.

His love for his country is not a kind of hypocritical or politically correct one. Ethiopia had always been his priority, regardless of political, racial, religious, or any other affiliations. Simeneh Betreyohanes, an acclaimed Ethiopian music scholar noted in one of his well-analyzed researches, “Alemayehu Eshete admits that he used to perform songs with nationalist and development advocacy themes with a genuinely full heart. Alemayehu also remembers that he and other famous singers were asked to perform all over the country, even in the most difficult circumstances, which they felt they could not refuse to do.”

Alemayehu, who grew up watching modern movies of his time, also had a dream of becoming a film actor. "King Richards and the unknown king" a school theatre which he played during his school days, manifested that Alemayehu was not only a singer but also a talented actor. 

Alemayehu who is known as the ‘Ethiopian Elvis Presley’ started his music professionally when he was 14 years old, first in local bands, then with his brother’s group Mammoth that later changed its name to Van Halen. He played on Van Halen’s debut album when he was only 18 years old.

The internationally touring musician launched his career in the 1960s as a member of the Police Orchestra, before moving on to start the Alem-Girma Band with Girma Beyene, his first hit was ‘Seul’ in 1961.

With a unique talent for performance, Alemayehu Eshete is one of the defining Ethiopian artists of his era who is celebrated for his extraordinary stage performances. Alemayehu's musical works gained acceptance not only by local Ethiopians but also by international audiences.

He gained fame in Europe and the US with the release of Buda Musique’s Ethiopiques series, whose Volume 9 is devoted entirely to Alemayehu’s early recordings. Alemayehu has produced about 400 songs in his musical journey.

After the death of Alemayehu, was confirmed, condolences have been pouring in including from the high government officials, musician’s colleagues, and his fans across the globe.

"I am saddened to hear the death of Alemayehu Eshete, one of Ethiopia's greatest singers;  the timeless lyrics and melodies in his songs, will remain in the hearts of Ethiopians forever," said Sahle - Work Zewude, President of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia in her message of condolence.

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed also paid tribute to the singer’s contribution to the Ethiopian music industry, particularly in motivating both veteran and emerging singers to engage in musical works that promote patriotism. “Ethiopia will always be honored in his works. Those who worked for Ethiopia will never die but will rest in glory,” he said.

"I am deeply saddened by the tragic death of Alemayehu Eshete, the great musician and vocalist who was one of the pioneers of the modern music industry in our country. I extend my heartfelt condolences to his family, colleagues, music lovers, and the people of Ethiopia." Tewodros Kassahun, an acclaimed Ethiopian pop star wrote on Facebook.

On September 7, 2021, government officials, religious leaders, artists, and his fans turned out for an event in Meskel Square, to bid farewell to the legendary Ethiopian singer. He has been laid to rest in a funeral ceremony held at Holy Trinity Cathedral in Addis Ababa.

Alemayehu who has trodden on the road of his musical career for nearly half a Century is survived by his wife, four sons, and three daughters.