Festival dedicated for veteran artists
Getachew Debalque, a veteran stage personality and lyricist, has seen the best and worst of times, has lived through monarchy and revolution. He has acted in a number of early plays, charmed audience with vocal instruments, and composed some beautiful lyrics that his generation has come to know by heart. He has made the most of some not pleasant experiences. During the Derg era, after thrown in to jail for offending the regime through a song, he has come to form a band at the prison. In what at first seemed an audacious adventure, Getachew has brought some artistic inmates, including the late Tigringa singer Kiros Alemayehu and other young people together and organized a band, by collecting musical instruments from the prison office. The impudence paid off and soon his band started entertaining prisoners and guards, even going as far as getting permission to go out of the jail compound and perform at the stadium. While President Mengistu Haile Mariam came to visit the prison, Getachew and his band welcomed him with an especially prepared piece.
The life of this formidable man who has achieved a lot through strength of will and through sheer toil has been celebrated yesterday at the National Theatre in conjunction with the ninth edition of the Ethiopian Music Festival.This year’s music festival was dedicated to him and to another musician and arranger, Merawi Sitot, in recognition of their long and versatile musical and stage career. On the occasion, Ambassador Mohamoud Drir, Minster of Culture and Tourism, praised both for their tremendous contribution for the cultural treasure of the country. He also appreciated the cultural institutions, especially the Alliance for taking the initiative to honor the musical and stage icons while they were alive.
Spanish and French ambassadors to Ethiopia, who have taken the major part in the preparation of the festival, also spoke highly of the two artist’s extraordinary career.
Ato Getachew later told me that he was pleased with the recognition particularly because it was held at the National Theater, where he grew up and had been nurtured professionally. “This is like my home, I turn up every day here.”
Getachew has maintained close ties with the institution that has helped launch his career, even long after he has retired. “I was happy that I was given this tribute in the presence of Culture and Tourism Minister, Spanish and French ambassadors and many other guests,” he said. A young clarinet player Dawit Frew paid his own personal tribute for the two artists, by playing superheated “Ambasel” performance.He told the artists that he holds them with great esteem.
Born in April 28 1936, Getachew has spent his childhood in Addis Alem and came to Addis Ababa when he was 13.As a teenager, while walking on Arat Kilo Street, he happened to see the marching Municipality Band, which was led by Nerses Kevork Nalbandian. He followed the musicians and was later chosen as drummer for the band.He was only 17 when he got his first real break in a play “Dengetegna Tiri” (Accidentally Caught). Success came early to Getachew, who has drawn praise for his powerful and expressive voice, clear diction, natural acting ability, and genial personality.When Haile Selassie I Theater (today National Theater) was inaugurated in 1955, Getachew has had an acting role in a play “David and Orion” which was set for the grand opening.He has come to play a variety of theater roles including as servant in Molire’s production of L’avare, as priest in the adaptation of Tartuffe and has participated in Abune Petros, Kimegnaw Bahtawi, and Hannibal. His was a career that would last more than five decades.Getachew has written number of simple and instantly recognizable songs including Girma Negash’s “Yene Hasab” and Minilik Wosenachew’s “Aderach Arada”.
Getachew is also an invaluable source for anyone researching in the history of Ethiopian music and he has been collecting and carting original papers and photographs from what is often-called the golden age of Ethiopian music. He has published a biography of Asnakech Worku, an actress, dancer and singer whom he has known and worked with for decades. He is currently working on the biography of Ababa Tesfaye.
The Ethiopian Music Festival in the past nine years has been paying tribute for the great musical personalities of the country,which so far included Asnakech Worku, Mahmoud Ahmed, Tilahun Gessese, Girma Beyene, Sahle Degago, and Lemma Demissew. Organized by the Alliance Ethio-Française with the support of various embassies and institutions, the event brings together master and young musicians for performances, ensemble playing, eskeista and choral singing. Directed by Francis Falceto, a specialist in the Ethiopian music and author of the celebrated book ‘Abyssinia swing’, the festival has become fixture in the city’s cultural scenes. This year, various groups from all different parts of the country and abroad are represented in the programs. The Gamo traditional Band with twelve musicians from south of Ethiopia and Eth band, a foreign group, inspired by Ethiopian music of the 70’s would be playing this week. The Nubian Ark, including musicians Henok Temsgen, Jorga Mesfin Nati Tessema, Misale Legesse, and an urban bass music from Brazil would play hip hop, funk, jungle raga, skewed electronic beat and Ethio grooves are also part of the program.