Asnaketch Worku Dies at 78
Thousands of mourners have attended the funeral of Ethiopia’s celebrated singer and actress, Asnaketch Worku, who died on Thursday morning, four days after the New Year’s Day. She was 78. Asnaketch was one of the last divas of Ethiopian music and was considered one of the finest musicians of her day. She had been in poor health in recent years, suffering from rheumatoid arthritis.
Many of the mourners had never even met Asnaketch –or had met her only long enough to shake her hand but her music has been heard on the radio and television for decades, making her a household name.
Early in the morning, Asnaketch’s life was also celebrated at an emotional vigil at the National Theater. There were reminiscences by her former collogues such as Debesh Temesgen, Selmawit Gebre-Selassie.
Living at a time when women were less likely than their male counterparts to have their music acknowledged as art, Asnaketch has come to build a solid reputation for her clarity of tone, her rhythmic perfection and melancholic love poems. In 1998, she was given a lifetime achievement award from the Ethiopian Fine Arts and Mass Media Prize Trust.
Getachew Debalke, fellow actor who has known her for 60 years and has written her biography, described her as a maker of melodies that are a joy to sing and could readily reach the hearts of her audience. “She is an open book that many people have read and praised. I never knew anyone who was less protective of her spirit. She gave everything away,’ he said.
Living during a time of great change, Asnaketch was the first Ethiopian female stage actress. Yet it is for her music that she is best remembered, for many of her tunes that became standards over the years. “It was not Asnaketch’s brilliant career as an actress and dancer that established her popularity, but rather her talent for public speaking, accompanied by her Krar, preferably in a small group, for example at a party among friends,” wrote French musicologist Franics Falceto who reissued her old recordings in the Ethiopiques compact disc series, entitled “The Lady with the Krar”. As a body of work, the songs were a compilation of her twelve songs originally released on a Philip-Ethiopia in April 1974 and ten songs from a Kaifa LP released in 1976. “After Mary Armede (who died in the early 1980s) Asnaketch is the last great singer, story-teller and free-thinker to carry on the tradition of “poetic jousting,” Falceto wrote. By poetic jousting, Flaceto meant singing the praises of a friend, or weaving verses improvised around a theme by the host at a party where the guest artist is compensated for his powers of improvisation, the wit or clanking weight of his or her puns.