George Jones, a British actor from the 19th century, portrayed the legendary fictional figure Hamlet, the Danish prince in William Shakespear’s play of the same name, in theatre. He was completely immersed. As time went by, Hamlet ended up being the only part he would accept. People loved him in the role. But soon the applause turned into jeers. Amidst the hoots, as manifestations of his dwindling performance, he was jeered off the stage, ending a promising career. This sums up life on the stages.

The same goes for the music industry. In a recent interview, one of the popular reggae singer-songwriters in Ethiopia revealed that, while making his album, which turned out to be all the rage of its time in the land, he was repeatedly taken to hospital. He was strung-out, with nerves and muscles losing their natural tension and tone, as a result of being very miserable from financial difficulties. Though he fought hard, he repeatedly gave in to the pressure.

After getting his strength back from his last bout, he was told by the last physician he had seen that if he does return with the same hit again, there was no way that he would come out alive from a hospital. He was able to hang on, just because a fellow reggae singer came in handy to produce his album. It is a pain and frustration few can comprehend.

In the same token, this tough and effortful process produces works of art that serve to encapsulate often indescribable moments in our lives. A long time ago, I used to frequent a wine bar with covers from the 1960s and 70s discography of Ethiopian music.

I used to listen to the sounds not from the DJ of a night club, nor from a comfortable seat at home. It was from a café that could best be described as a teahouse, which seemed then too far, yet only just across the dusty alleyway of our house. Its name was Birhan.

It was also because I was not old enough and able to go on my own to the club. As we did not have tap water in our house then, my mother used to fetch water from the teahouse's dripping tap. Usually, this was at night, coinciding sometimes with the DJ playing at the club. I would feast on a kind of pastry called chornaqewhile enjoying through the back door of the tea room a flash of the majestic voices of vinyl records from international and local stars.

After a while, the number of attendees to the show at the wine bar diminished, and it was stopped. Yet, the detailed knowledge of each and every cover song never stopped me from being amazed by a person that used to frequent the place. It was only later on that I found out that person was the man who pioneered the music of his era.

He was the enterprising Amha Eshete, who passed away recently. It was he who rubbed music with a sense of business here, instilling a sense of going concern to the industry’s main actors there, against all odds, through importing records and producing them here. It was a feat followed by the likes of Ali Abdela, aka Ali Tango.

His absence from the industry through his exile in later years was felt through the dearth of quality record production of the days of vinyl records. He was a gift to all of us here who loved music and were soothed by it in return.

Amha, founder of the first recording studio in Ethiopia, was asked once if he buys and listens to today’s locally produced music. The man, who only “talks and thinks in superlatives” adamantly answered that he buys all, yet listens to so few of them repeatedly. His legacy continues through his quality productions, as ascertained through the Éthiopiques collections, and they make the curtain call for years to come of a young man who turned his good taste of music and energy into an industry.

As most swingers, he burned brightly and contributed to the art scene more than most. But all that becomes classical often takes a great deal of energy, and such careers are often marked with a relative absence in later years. The only other time he was heard of, except for reminisces about Éthiopiques, was when he passed away late last month. One only hopes he has had a good rest all those years – it was well deserved.

PUBLISHED ON May 15,2021 [ VOL 22 , NO 1098]

Tadesse Tsegaye (, a polyglot with experience in multicultural-cum-institutional settings in resources management.

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