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Getatchew Mekurya

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Getatchew Mekurya
ጌታቸው መኩሪያ
Background information
Birth nameGetachew Mekuria
Born(1935-03-14)14 March 1935
Ifat, Shewa, Ethiopian Empire
OriginAddis Ababa, Ethiopia
Died4 April 2016(2016-04-04) (aged 81)
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
GenresEthiopian music, jazz, Ethio-jazz
Instrument(s)Tenor saxophone
Years active1949–2016

Getatchew Mekurya (Amharic: ጌታቸው መኩሪያ ወልደ ተክሌ; 14 March 1935 – 4 April 2016)[1] was an Ethiopian jazz saxophonist.[2]

Early career[edit]

Getatchew Mekurya was born on 14 March 1935, in Ifat, Ethiopia.[2] His father was a honey merchant.[3] Young Getatchew played traditional Ethiopian instruments such as the washint flute, the krar and the masenqo, and later moved on to the saxophone and clarinet.[4][3]

At age 13, he began his professional career in 1949 as a part of the Municipality Band in Addis Ababa. In 1955 he joined the house band at Addis' Haile Selassie I Theatre, and in 1965 joined the famous Police Orchestra.[2]

He was also one of the first musicians to record an instrumental version of shellela, a genre of traditional Amhara vocal music sung by warriors before going into battle.[5] Getatchew took the shellela tradition seriously, often appearing onstage in a warrior's animal-skin tunic and lion's mane headdress. He continued to refine his instrumental shellela style, recording an entire album in 1970, Negus of Ethiopian Sax, released on Philips Ethiopia during the heyday of the Ethiojazz movement. Getatchew continued to work alongside many of the biggest orchestras in the Ethiopian capital, accompanying renowned singers Alemayehu Eshete, Hirut Beqele, and Ayalew Mesfin.

Later career, collaborations with The Ex and others[edit]

Getatchew reached an international audience when his album Negus of Ethiopian Sax was re-released as part of the Ethiopiques CD series. Getatchew's playing style has been compared to free jazz, but developed in isolation from it during the early 1950s.[6][7] Getatchew has said he is unfamiliar with either Ornette Coleman or Albert Ayler.[7][8]

Dutch avant-garde/punk band The Ex caught the ears of Getatchew, and he invited them to play with him, which they did from 2004 on. Getatchew asked the Ex to be the backing band for his 2006 album, Moa Anbessa. The Ex and Getatchew toured The Netherlands, Belgium and France together in 2006 and 2007,[9] and then the United States in 2008 and Canada in 2009 with members of the group Fendika.[10] A second album with The Ex, Y'Anbessaw Tezeta, was released in 2012.[11]

Getatchew added his distinctive sound to collaborations with numerous other contemporary artists, including British Tamil singer Susheela Raman and Boston jazz ensemble Either/Orchestra.[7] He lived in Addis Ababa, and regularly performed at the Sunset Bar at the Sheraton Addis, and also at Fendika Azmari Bet.[12]

About Éthiopiques and copyright of Francis Falceto (Buda Musique record company), in an interview with Getatchew Mekurya published by Ethiopian Reporter in January 2012 he says: I think that is one of the reasons why Mulatu Astatke despises Frances Falceto. He does not want to see his face. Even if he was able to contribute to the recognition of our music worldwide, on the other hands he used us. He is making tons of money. I do not work with him; I work with other musicians and promoters and I think he is not happy with that fact.[13]

Personal life[edit]

Getatchew's wife Ayalech died in 2015. He died in 2016 of a leg infection caused by diabetes, aged 81. He was survived by nine children and numerous grandchildren.[14][15]


  • "Shellela" 45 (late 1950s)[6]
  • Ethiopiques Volume 14: Negus of Ethiopian Sax (recorded in 1970, originally released on Philips Ethiopia in 1972)
  • Ethiopiques Volume 20: Either/Orchestra Live in Addis (Mekuria appears on the track "Shellella") (recorded in 2004)
  • Moa Anbessa (with The Ex and other guests) (2006)
  • Gétatchèw Mèkurya & The Ex + Guests [DVD, Ethiosonic/Buda Musique] (2007)
  • Y'Anbessaw Tezeta (with the Ex and Friends, 2012)
  • The Rough Guide to the Music of Ethiopia (2012, World Music Network)


  1. ^ "Getatchew Mekuria (1935 - 2016) - A Lifelong History In Photos". The Ex. 26 November 2016. Retrieved 8 April 2020.
  2. ^ a b c Nate Chinen (11 April 2016). "Getatchew Mekurya, Ethiopian Jazz Saxophonist, Dies at 81". The New York Times.
  3. ^ a b "Gallery: Getatchew Mekuria's life in music". The Wire. London: The Wire. 2017.
  4. ^ "King of Ethiopian Saxophone Passes at Age 81". 9 April 2016.
  5. ^ Uhlig, Siegbert (2006). Proceedings of the XVth International Conference of Ethiopian Studies, Hamburg, July 20-25, 2003. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz. p. 185. OCLC 71298502.
  6. ^ a b May, Chris (28 September 2007). "Getatchew Mekurya: Negus Of Ethiopian Sax". All About Jazz. Retrieved 23 November 2010.
  7. ^ a b c "Ethiopiques Volume 14". Budamusique.com. Archived from the original on 2 April 2012. Retrieved 2010-11-23.
  8. ^ Nickson, Chris. "Ethiopiques, Vol. 14: Negus of Ethiopian Sax (Review)". Allmusic. Retrieved 23 November 2010.
  9. ^ According to the official The Ex website and the Bimhuis website, both retrieved 4 April 2016.
  10. ^ "An Extended Exography". Retrieved 22 November 2010.
  11. ^ Margasak, Peter (5 April 2016). "Great Ethiopian saxophonist Getatchew Mekuria dead at 81". Chicago Reader. Retrieved 8 April 2020.
  12. ^ "King of Ethiopian Sax Getatchew Mekurya Passed Away at Age 81 at Tadias Magazine". tadias.com.
  13. ^ https://fleurmach.com/2013/04/06/getatchew-mekurya-antchi-hoye/#more-7853
  14. ^ "Gétatchèw Mèkurya, Ethiopian Saxophonist, Dies at 81". JazzTimes.
  15. ^ Chinen, Nate (11 April 2016). "Getatchew Mekurya, 81, Ethiopian Saxophonist With Global Reach, Dies". The New York Times.

External links[edit]