Creator of “Astawesalehu”dies
One of the most successful musicians of the 1970s and 80s Colonel Lemma Demissew has died at the age of 68 on Saturday, August 24.A pianist, composer, singer and arranger, Lemma was the leading musician of Armed Forces band, a band that has entertained the army and visiting heads of states for decades. Among his appreciative audiences were Fidel Castro of Cuba, Libya’s Muammar al-Qaddafi and the Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak.
His songs such as “Astawesalehu” “Adrashas Tefabegn” and “Des Balagnalech” are still popular hits.
Lemma also maintains reputation for arranging many of Mahmoud Ahmed’s and Alemayehu Eshete anthological vinyl records.
Born in Welisso in 1940, Lemma studied high school at Hailemaryam Mamo Secondary High School in Debre Birhan town and at the age of 15 joined the music section of the Armed Forces. There among other things he taught himself to play clarinet. Lemma impressed his superiors with his unique vocal style, demonstrating both outstanding range and the influences of western music. During his time in the Armed Forces, he has taken many musical courses, including a six-year-training in conducting in Soviet Union.
Lemma has composed a number of official army songs by frequently abandoning the traditional rules and disciplines. He created new harmonies and pioneered new musical forms in which to present his musical ideas. Part of his success was the result of his mastery of the pleasant, tuneful style of piano. The single “Astawesalehu Mech Eresalehu” was his first hit and his talent for melodious, sentimental ballads became his most distinguishing feature. This music remains Lemma signature work and a favorite hit on local radio stations.
Starting as simple soldier in 1974 he became an army commander and conductor of the roving marshal band. His advancement was rapid. His personal charm and his artistic abilities were partly responsible for his rapid advancement in the army.
When Lemma resigned in 1993 after the army was disbanded, he was colonel.
Even after that, he was much sought as a piano teacher by many, and his long list of students was a roster of the young and the old.
In May 2009 when the Alliance Ethio-Francise organized the 8th Ethiopian Music Festival has chosen to honor Lemma and Sahle Dagago, another notable arranger and composer who is at present in poor health. Comparing it with Sahel Degago, Francis Falsetto described Lemma’s music as a feverish modernist, deeply inspired by the electric wave born on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean.
Getachew Debalqe, a renowned stage personality, described Lemma as a hardworking and diligent musician. Getachew told Addis Journal that he was able visit Lemma two days before his demise. “I was lucky to be able to see him on Thursday. He didn’t say much but was able to utter some words.” Lemma had a stroke few years ago that has left him paralyzed.
Bahata Gebrehiwot, a musician of Lemma‘s era, said Lemma was a great musician. “He has had a tremendous musical achievement yet remained very modest and reserved.” Bahta remarked though Lemma was able to lead his family autonomously, he hasn’t much of financial fortunes. “Like many other musicians, he hasn’t made much use of his music and hasn’t got the recognition he deserved,” says Bahta.
(Photo courtesy of Sendek newspaper)