Tilahun Gessesse

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Tilahun Gessesse
Background information
Born(1940-09-27)27 September 1940
Addis Ababa, Italian East Africa
OriginWaliso, Oromia, Ethiopia
Died19 April 2009(2009-04-19) (aged 68)
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Years active1955–2009
LabelsEthio Grooves
Associated acts

Tilahun Gessesse (Amharic: ጥላሁን ገሠሠ; 27 September 1940 – 19 April 2009) was an Ethiopian singer regarded as the most popular artist in the 20th century. Noted by his tenor voice, he was nicknamed "The Voice" during his country's "Golden Age" in the 1960s. Tilahun was an eminent singer whose works are attributed legacy to Ethiopian music. Beside his popularity, he raised money for aid during the famines of the 1970s and 1980s and earned the affection of the nation, being awarded a doctorate degree by the University of Addis Ababa and also winning a lifetime achievement award from the Ethiopian Fine Art and Mass Media Prize Trust.

In his later years, he suffered from diabetes. He died on 19 April 2009 in Addis Adaba shortly after returning from United States. Tilahun was honoured with a state funeral attended by tens of thousands of his fellow citizens.

Tilahun's works is often compared with Teddy Afro, who is also considered to have a huge impact on the Ethiopian music industry.[1]

Life and career[edit]

Early years[edit]

Tilahun Gessesse was born as Daandanaa Ayyaano Guddata to Getee Gurmu and Ayyaano Guddata on 27 September 1940 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. His parents later separated thus Gessesse and his mother moved to Waliso, Oromia region where he was raised. When his mother remarried to Gessesse Nigusse, Gessesse was baptized and used his baptized name “Tilahun” and his stepfather’s last name. As time went by, his interest in music became increasingly clear, although his grandfather urged him to concentrate on his academic studies. The Ras Gobena School principal Shedad (who was from Sudan), encouraged Tilahun's interest in music and urged him to go to Sudan to pursue his music career. Although Tilahun did not go to Sudan, he took Shedad's advice very seriously. When Weyzero Negatwa Kelkai, Eyoel Yohanes and other artists from the Hager Fikir Theatre came to his school to perform, Tilahun took the opportunity to discuss his interest in music with Eyoel. He was told to go to Addis Ababa if he wanted to pursue a career in the field.[citation needed]

Tilahun dropped out of school and tried to travel to the capital city to pursue his dream a journey he began on foot without his family's consent. Tilahun traveled fifteen kilometers on foot, he was caught in a small town of Tulu Bolo and stayed overnight with his aunt. The next day, he was forced to return to his grandfather in Woliso. Since his interest in music lay deep in his heart, Tilahun chose not to stay at his grandfather's house in Woliso. After staying only one night at his grandfather’s house, he again began his journey to Addis Ababa, this time hiding himself in the back of a loaded truck.[citation needed]

Achievements and career[edit]

Tilahun at the Washington DC Ethiopian Soccer Tournament in summer 2008

In Addis Ababa, Tilahun was first hired by the Hager Fikir Association, which is now known as Hager Fikir Theater. After a few years at the Hager Fikir Theater, he joined the Imperial Bodyguard Band where he became a leading star singer.[2] During his time with the band, Tilahun ran afoul of the government after the attempted coup d'état of December 1960 by the Imperial Bodyguard. He was arrested and put in prison for a time.[3]

Tilahun moved to the National Theater where his success continued. His tenor singing was regarded as the best Ethiopian pop voice of the 1960s. His popularity was such that he appeared three times in front of Emperor Haile Selassie I.[4] During a visit, the Emperor advised him not to abuse his talent.[citation needed]

Recordings made by Tilahun during the 1970s and 1980s helped raise large sums of money to aid famine victims.[5] The majority of his recordings were in Amharic, but he did also record in Oromo.[4] In 1975, Tilahun released eponymous LP Tilahun Gessesse, Amha Records served as the label. With Ethio Grooves, Tilahun released Tilahun Gessesse Vol. 1/Vol. 2 in 1992 as cassette release. The third version is released in that year.

When collaborating with The Walias, they together worked to re-recording the older version of LPs since 1983 under Misrach Music Group.

Tilahun released his debut single "Yehagere Shita" in 1970, accompanied with 7", mono formats and Philp Philips served as the record label. With these formats, Tilahun continued to release singles and EPs, including "Tiz Alegn Yetintu" (1970), with Mulatu Astatke, "Kulun Manqualesh", "Min Libejegn" (1972), "Aykedashm Lebe" (1974), and "Yikir Yibelatchew / Leyito Blaskerew" (1974).[6]

He received an Honorary Doctorate Degree from Addis Ababa University, in appreciation of his contribution to Ethiopian music. He also received an award for his lifetime achievements from the Ethiopian Fine Art and Mass Media Prize Trust.[7] [8]

Death and funeral[edit]

Tilahun died on 19 April 2009 in Addis Ababa as he was being taken to hospital by his wife. He had just returned to Ethiopia from the United States. He had been in poor health for several years due to diabetes.[9] The Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi stated that "Tilahun stood out as an artist of great renown with his lifetime contributions to Ethiopia's modern music, which he popularized across the world".[10] The Patriarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, Abune Paulos said that "whoever is said dead is he who leave[s] nothing worthwhile behind. Tilahun left numerous, though secular, legacies behind to survive the mortal body for generations to come". As well as the United States Ambassador Donald Yamamoto stated that "Ethiopians owe a great deal to the late Tilahun Gessesse, who promoted Ethiopian music across the world".[11]

A candlelit vigil was held by friends and family in the garden of the National Theatre in Addis Ababa on the night of Wednesday 22 April.[12] On Thursday 23 April 2009, a state funeral was held. About one million Ethiopians, including government officials, and entertainers,[13] gathered in Meskel Square, Addis Ababa and heard messages of condolence from the Prime Minister and President Girma Wolde-Giorgis. A funeral mass was held in Holy Trinity Cathedral Church.[14] Messages of condolence from fans all over the world were posted on a memorial website.[15]


  • Greatest Hits – Ethio Sound ES-116 (2000)
Contributing artist

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Ethiopia' in Selected Lyrics of Tilahun Gessesse and ... - Core" (PDF). October 23, 2020.
  2. ^ "Tilahun Gessesse laid to rest". Ethiopian News Agency. 23 April 2009. Archived from the original on 25 April 2009. Retrieved 2009-04-23.
  3. ^ Francis Falceto, "Tilahoun Gèssèssè", Éthiopiques No 17, Buda musique, booklet, p. 5.
  4. ^ a b Dacks, David (21 April 2009). "R.I.P. Tilahun Gessesse". Exclaim News. Archived from the original on 25 April 2009. Retrieved 2009-04-23.
  5. ^ "Ethiopia bids farewell to legendary singer". EthioMedia. 22 April 2009. Retrieved 2009-04-23.
  6. ^ "Tilahun Gessesse". Discogs. Retrieved 2020-10-13.
  7. ^ "Tilahun Gesesse passes away". Zethiopia. 21 April 2009. Retrieved 2009-04-23.
  8. ^ "Tilahun Gessesse - ESFNA Guest of Honor". Ethiola. Archived from the original on 2008-07-08. Retrieved 2009-04-23.
  9. ^ "Ethiopian emperor's singer dies". BBC.com. BBC. 20 April 2009. Retrieved 20 April 2009.
  10. ^ "Meles pays homage to Tilahun Gesesse, dubs him epitome of Ethiopia's modern music". Ethiopian News Agency. 21 April 2009. Retrieved 2009-04-23.[permanent dead link]
  11. ^ "Patriarch comforts Tilahun's family, Ambassador Yamamoto expresses deep sorrow". Ethiopian News Agency. 22 April 2009. Archived from the original on 25 April 2009. Retrieved 2009-04-23.
  12. ^ "Vigil for Tilahun". Addis Journal. 23 April 2009. Retrieved 2009-04-24.
  13. ^ "Nation bids Tilahun farewell". Addis Journal. 24 April 2009. Retrieved 2009-04-24.
  14. ^ "Ethiopia holds state funeral for 'legendary' vocalist". EthioPolitics. 23 April 2009. Retrieved 2009-04-23.
  15. ^ "Tilahun Gesesse's Memorial Web Site". tilahungesesse.org. Tilahun Gesesse Memorial Web site. 23 April 2009. Retrieved 2009-04-23.

Relevant literature[edit]

  • Təlahun Gässäsä. Encyclopaedia Aethiopica, Siegbert Uhlig, (ed.), vol 4, pp. 911–912. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz. 2010.

External links[edit]