Home > Music, poems > Tessema Eshete’s Medina

Tessema Eshete’s Medina

A restored classic recording of the acclaimed Ethiopian musician and vocalist Azmari Tessema Eshete was reissued last month by the French label Buda Musiques.
The luxuriously restored and compiled CD was part of the 27th edition of éthiopiques, historic recordings made by Azmari Tessema in Berlin 100 years ago. This was the first ever Ethiopian music to be recorded.
This recently reissued CD was a collaborative effort of Tadele Tessema, Tessema’s grandson and French music producer Francis Falceto. This project has also gained the support of UNESCO as well as the Institute of Ethiopian Studies and the Alliance Ethio-Française.
Negadras Tessema’s songs are accompanied by the mesenqo, a one-stringed lute. The very first Ethiopian lyrics ever to have been recorded, they are mainly in Amharic, with two songs in Geez, and one in Amharic with some lines in Arabic.

Here is one of the lyrics taken from the CD, translated from Amharic to English by Dr. Haylu Habtu.Tessema’s lyrics utilize the poetic form of semennawerq (wax and gold) genre –the double meaning. The sem (wax) is the obvious or surface meaning, while the werq (gold) is the hidden or buried meaning.In this translation, the werq has been italicized after the sem – after the literal meaning. E.g. In the third stanza of line 4, “But there is no seamstress around” is the sem while line 5 “Good people are hard to find” is the werq.
In this stanza, the critical word with the double meaning is ’teqami or teqqami’. Geminated, ‘teqqami’ with the consonant ‘q’ doubled means ‘seamstress’.
Ingeminated with a single ‘q’ as ‘teqami’, it means ‘good person’.

Medina

By Negadras Tessema Eshete

Joachim and Hanna vowed that if God gave
them a child
They would bring it to the Temple.
God blessed them with the holy Mary,
Who bore but one,
Who never bore but One.
Who begat only the Savior Son.(Gospel of St. Mark 6:3; allusion to remarks about Jesus having brothers and sisters.)

I studied the Psalms:
Verse, phrase, word, and syllable.
They said I should I study the Hymns,
But I couldn’t manage to be a qene composer
And write verses worthy of a cantor.

On my way back from church,
A thorn tore through my clothes.
I found a needle and thread,
But there is no seamstress around.
Good people are hard to find.

I went to the marketplace on business,
And at the butcher’s whiled away the day.
I turned myself into a worthless wretch,
Fooled by all that meat, fooled by all that flesh.
Fooled by the body of the woman.

Ye Lord of the earth and Heaven!
All is found in your mansion.
After death you rise again,
For you are the Savior Son.
And you are on a par with your Father.

A spacious hall I had built
With fine fitting floor and ceiling;
But they tell me the roof is leaking,
So I’m going to pull it down.
Oh! Man’s fate! Dust thou are, and to dust returneth.

(courtesy of Francis Falceto)

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Categories: Music, poems
  1. ezra
    October 9, 2010 at 1:53 pm

    Arefe,
    Could you also please post the Amharic version?

  2. etetu
    October 11, 2010 at 4:09 am

    OH Please post the Amharic version.

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