If the piano compositions of Abdullah Ibrahim or Eric Satie perk up your ears, you'll be intrigued by the piano work of Emahoy Tsegué-Mariam Guebrù, an Ethiopian nun, pianist and composer who for nearly thirty years has lived cloistered in an Ethiopian Orthodox convent in Jerusalem. A series of concerts this week in Jerusalem highlight Guebrù's music, premiering pieces the 90-year-old composer first recorded on l.p. fifty years ago, in Ethiopia.
Yewubdar Guebrù was born to a prominent Addis Ababa family in 1923, sent to Swiss boarding schools and awarded a scholarship to study music at a London conservatory. Her musical dreams plans were torpedoed when the Ethiopian government refused to allow her to leave the country. Heartbroken, Guebrù transformed her despair into a life-long commitment to the church, abandoning music for a time and living in a Northern Ethiopian monastery, where she changed her name to Emahoy Tsegué-Mariam. Returning Addis Ababa, Guebrù recorded two l.p.s which were later issued on cd by Buda Musique, in their "Ethiopiques" series.
In an August 18th, 2013 article in Britain's The Guardian newspaper, Maya Dunietz, the Israeli musician who helped Guebrù publish her scores (the book comes out this week), says this about the distilled originality of Guebrù's music:
"It is classical music, with a very special sense of time, space, scenery. It's not grand; it's intimate, natural, honest and very feminine. She has a magical touch on the piano. It's delicate but deep. And all her compositions tell stories of time and place."
Guebrù's influences include not only Beethoven, Strauss and Chopin, but Ethiopian pop stars of the 1960s, Tilahun Gessese, Hirut Bekele, and Bizunesh Bekele, as well as Ethiopian church music.
Here's Maryam, a short video essay set to Guebrù's piece, "Presentiment:"
And here's a link to Harriet Sherwood's article on Guebrù in The Guardian newspaper: