Home > Music > The First Lady of Ethiopian Music

The First Lady of Ethiopian Music

Like eyerusalem and Axum Tsion
I saluted before his eyes and his teeth.
Woe unto me to fall for one who can’t be disclosed.
What mess did I involve myself in?
Loving one who belongs to someone else.
Have I come to yearn for him and even his wife at the same time!

Extract from “Ende Eyerusalem” (Like Jerusalem)

She has a combination of emotional depth and versatility.With a voice capable of evoking the joys and pains of life, she has carved a niche as a vocalist, Kirar player, theater actress, and storyteller for over 50 years. Today, 78-year-old and in frail health, Asnaketch Worku remains a living music legend, undoubtedly one of the most important singers in the history of Ethiopian music.

Asnakech Worku/Addis Journal

Asnaketch’s deep, rich voice, with her own Kirar (6 stringed bowed plucked lyre) accompaniment, has thrilled audiences for decades. Her tersely poetic, mournful songs and easily remembered melodies touched people’s emotions. Her appearance is striking as well. She usually wears elegantly that matched with her great beauty.
Asnaketch has had a brilliant career as a dancer and she became the first Ethiopian female actress. After her first acting role in 1952’s “Ye Fikir Chora” (Rays of Love), she has come to play over the years various roles from an angel in an Easter play to her portrayal of Desdemona in “Othello”. In her acting careers, she was noted for her willingness to play unsympathetic characters. In many of her roles, she has had angry audiences who came to throw insults, pen, and shoes in her face, even in one case a Coca-cola bottle. The full story at the Ethiopia Observer.

  1. Martha Tefera
    March 23, 2011 at 5:02 pm

    Asnakech is our Billy Holiday, so unfortunate the young generation Ethiopian’s don’t cherish such a great lady. I love her, I listen to her CD’s on day’s I get homesick. Thank you.

  2. March 23, 2011 at 7:56 pm

    It’s not the smartest idea, trying to translate “yezefen gitmochin” to English [or any other language, for that matter]. So much gets lost in translation. And is hardly rewarding. Still, it’s nice to see you blogging again. Ebakih.. when you come across things you feel are important to your Diaspora readers, like the “finger print/tax ID” thing I learned I missed out on by not being an avid reader of nazret.com, post it as soon as you can. Not all of us can stand the “atekara” on paltalk, or can afford to tune into VOA’s Amarigna program.

    • March 25, 2011 at 3:36 pm

      I agree this rendition fails even remotely to do justice to the power and flavor of the original. I was just trying to give a little taste of the essence of the lyrics.
      I haven’t the slightest idea about the finger tip stuff. I would definitely ask friends about it for you and let you know.

  3. rediet
    March 24, 2011 at 9:50 am

    Nice one dude!waiting for part 2!

  4. Silver
    March 24, 2011 at 11:01 am

    Arefe, its superb!!! Thanks for writing about the pearl of Ethiopian music.

    Minor correction, however, you wrote ‘age 76′ and ”was born 1931’. I don’t think it’s matching if whichever calender used.

    • March 25, 2011 at 2:04 pm

      Apologies for the error. As it was indicated in the Amharic biography of Asnaketch written by a close friend of hers and long- time colleague, Getachew Debalke , she was born in the Ethiopia year of 1926 (1933, in European calendar). Hence, she is 78-year- old now. Sometimes I should take a little more time and reread my blog before I post it. I will correct my blog post now! Thanks for being my editor.

  5. abel
    April 27, 2011 at 7:10 pm

    could you please post the lyrics in Amharic

  6. August 30, 2011 at 2:39 am

    Long Live Asnaketch and long Live Ethiopian Music!!!

  7. Rahel
    September 1, 2011 at 11:57 am

    We lack to appreciate our pre generation musicians and it is sad thing to see such a phenomena artist being under appreciated,I wish our idea of arts and culture changes, we have such amazing talents to display for the world!!

  8. rahel
    September 16, 2011 at 4:52 am

    I come with a sad new miss Asnkeche worku has passed away,she was indeed an iconic lady! RiP peace! Nefse yemar!

  9. Alem
    September 19, 2011 at 10:17 pm

    I would accord Bizunesh Bekele the title, First Lady of Ethiopian Music. Fitting, perhaps, to Asnaketch would be First Lady of Traditional Ethiopian Music. What do you say?

  10. February 5, 2013 at 10:07 am

    One of the greatest Ethiopian musicians, i watch a documentary made about her just before she passed away. It is very sad to see such legendary Ethiopian music stars ending up very poor and deprived. I just hope the living standard of the rest of our musicians become better.

  11. August 18, 2013 at 11:30 pm


  1. March 25, 2011 at 3:00 pm
  2. March 25, 2011 at 7:23 pm

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