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Farewell, Minilik

Swinging Addis still holds a fascinating charm, thanks to in part to singers like Minilik Wesenachew. The songs from that period are still well-liked and heard frequently.

Minilik was part of those golden years when the Ethiopian music bloomed. Certainly, he was one of this country’s leading musicians, along with Tilahun Gessese, Mahamoud Ahmed, Girma Beyene, Alemayehu Eshete and others.

He died early Wednesday after a battle with complication related to pneumonia. As word of his death spread, the singer was remembered both by experts and ordinary folks for his opera like golden voice. Many said the country had lost a legend who had touched the lives of many people through his music.

Minilik was born in 1940 in Addis Ababa to his father Wesenachew Tazabi and his mother Sisay Shahwured. He grew up in a busy and lively area, Tekle Haymanot. He attended church school and later Alliance Ethio-Francaise. Minilik remembers always loving music, and the house was filled with music, when the family listened to the radio broadcasts. It was a time when modern music instruments were introduced to the country and he was a teenager at what proved to be a pivotal time. He dropped out of high school and he was hired at Kedamawi Haile Sellasie Theater (today’s Ethiopian National Theater) in 1958 for 50 Birr monthly salary. There he got a chance to work with talented musicians like Fikere Maryam Ayele who the young Minilik emulated much.

He learned from Fikire Maryam how to take little catch breaths so that he could sing a full line, without taking a discernable breath, Minilik recalled.

Over the next two years, he performed and recorded with the National Theatre band, making his hits “Almaze Eyasebkush” and “Fikir lemin yeker.” His unrivaled vocal power made him one of the top protagonists of the swinging Addis.

The group from the Theater had a chance to tour in various parts of the world. While in Sudan, Minilik studied and performed Mohamed Werdines’s renowned Sudanese song “Seberta” which won him an acclaim from the Sudanese audience, he told Tobia magazine in 2003. They came back fifteen days later. Two months later, a squad from Kedamawi Haile Selassie Theater, Hager Fkir and Kibur Zebegna headed to China where they have performed for forty days, and in Russia for almost a month.

Other than working for the National Theatre, Minilik played in the Ras Band and later established his own band. He wrote his own lyrics like “Ye Harerua wetat” and “Se le Wubetua Sadenk” He has also written for other singers, one being Tilahun Gessesse’s “Selam lanchi Alegntaye”.

When the military regime took power in 1974, things became bad. The Derg sent him into exile for 18 years. Those dangerous times and his experience of exile were formative for Minilk as a musician. In fact he told “Tobia” that those were his university years. It was in exile in Sudan that he released a song about Red Terror. He stayed in Sudan for 12 years and in Egypt for 5 years. His stay in Egypt was one of the most difficult parts of his life where he was running around from security people, as he told the interviewer.

After he came back home some years ago, he appeared in concerts at Sheraton and Alliance. One of his hits was “Gash Jembere” that he dedicated to the business tycoon Shiek Mahmoud Alamudi who eliminated financial worries of coming back home. Gash Jembere was a taxi chauffeur who worked for Etege Hotel during Atse Minilik known for his kindness

In an interview with ETV weeks ago, he said he will continue creating music but death called in.The master is gone but his voice will live forever.

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Categories: In Memoriam
  1. ethio
    December 26, 2008 at 4:02 pm

    RIP Gash minilik! you will always be remembered.

  2. Girum
    December 28, 2008 at 1:06 pm

    He had a special melody and grace on stage, always to be remembered.

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