13/03/2024Mississippi Records Posthumously Reissues Collection Of Self-Recorded Songs In Memory Of Emahoy Tsege Mariam Gebru

There are recordings that are specifically made to move you and then there are recordings that genuinely move you. The latest release on Mississippi Records is of the latter kind, a collection of self-recorded solo piano songs by the revered Ethiopian nun, composer and pianist Emahoy Tsege Mariam Gebru. Simply titled "Souvenirs," these cassette recordings had previously only been available on CD, as sold in the gift shop of the Kidane Mehret monastery in Jerusalem, where Emahoy lived in permanent exile until her passing in 2023. Now released posthumously on vinyl, in what would have been her 100th year, "Souvenirs" delivers an up-close-and-personal impression of this visionary, transcendental artist, who ended up making a name for herself and gaining somewhat of a niche, cult following, quite simply by making her own music on her own terms. 

"In the 21st century, Emahoy has become known worldwide for her utterly unique melodic and rhythmic style. Commonly misinterpreted as 'jazzy' or 'honky tonk,' Emahoy's music actually comes from a deep engagement with the Western classical tradition, mixed with her background in Ethiopian traditional and Orthodox music," the release notes read. Created between 1977-1985, during a period when her native Ethiopia was in "political upheaval and turmoil, [...]  these are songs of wisdom, loss, mourning, and exile, sung directly into a boombox and accompanied by Emahoy's unmistakable piano. Though written and recorded while still living at her family's home in Addis Ababa, Emahoy sings of the heartache of leaving her beloved Ethiopia, a reflection on the 1974 revolution and ensuing Red Terror in her homeland, and a presentiment of her future exile in Jerusalem."

Listening to "Souvenirs" is an otherworldly experience in all its subtlety. Soothing, heartfelt, unpretentious, meaningful and seemingly spontaneous in their delivery, there is an unparalleled honesty, intimacy and humanity in these home recordings that is bound to strike a chord with listeners from all walks of life. On this record, we are granted a private recital from the artist's family home that is incredibly touching, if you give it the room it deserves and appreciate it as coming from a place of truth. Each recording is a personal moment that we get to share with an intriguing individual, musical snapshots from a long time ago brought back to life for us to take joy in. There is a sense of eavesdropping that goes with these recordings as well as a slight tinge of guilt or remorse that it has taken us this long to hear her song. And yet, we can rest easy, knowing that Emahoy's musical legacy is in good hands.

AUTHOR: Lev Nordstrom