Emahoy Tsegue Maryam Guebrou – Mother’s Love

This is one of two songs from Buda Musique’s Ethiopian music series that have been on pretty consistent rotation for me, with the other being Tezeta (Nostalgia) from Mulatu Astatke. While recorded in a very different climate, something about these two songs just feel good now that it is starting to finally get colder here at Orion’s Bastard HQ. I chose this one in part because the story of Esmahoy Tsegue is deserves a much wider audience, though whether a post on this blog delivers that is another, more embarrassing question.

She was born to a wealthy family in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa and was sent off to boarding school in Switzerland at the age of 6. Though the Ethiopiques series from which Mother’s Love is taken is meant to focus on Ethiopian jazz, Emahoy’s views her own music as the result of her blend of classical training and traditional Ethiopian Orthodox chanting, according to a profile in The Guardian. From the same Guardian profile:

In the 1930s, she returned to Addis: portraits from this period show a gorgeous young woman with a wry smile and a bold fashion sense. She went to high-society parties and sang for Haile Selassie. She had a car and raced a horse and trap around the city. She was a feminist: the first woman to work for the Ethiopian civil service, the first to sing in an Ethiopian Orthodox church, the first to work as a translator for the Orthodox Patriarch in Jerusalem. “Even as a teenager I was always asking, ‘What is the difference between boys and girls?’” she told me. “We are equal!”

That life was brutally disrupted when Benito Mussolini, with an eye on a potential colony, invaded Ethiopia in 1936 and three members of Emahoy’s family were killed. She was evacuated to Europe, but she was unfazed in her determination to become a musician and eventually found her way to Cairo to study with esteemed Polish violinist Alexander Kontorowicz.

After years of studying classical music, she became a nun and began focusing on her religious duties and playing music on the side. It was here that she developed this unique blend of classical music and the chanting mass of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, which started with the 6th-century Ethiopian saint Yared. You can hear examples of this kind of chanting, which is still practiced today, on youtube. Despite being 93 years old, Emahoy is still composing and recording music, though it’s not clear whether another album is in the works. In addition to the Buda Musique compilation available on their website (link above), Mississippi Records also released a compilation of her work that includes Mother’s Love as well as another great song of hers, Homesickness. I’m convinced Homesickness is an arrangement of the Mulatu Astatke song I mentioned above, but I guess you’ll have to listen for yourself to be the judge of that.

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Labi Siffre – My Song

This song might be titled My Song, but it is probably better known as the sample used on Kanye West’s I Wonder from 2007’s Graduation. Labi Siffre was born Claudius Afolabi Siffre in Britain, and has had a long career in both music and literature. My Song comes from his third studio release, Crying, Laughing, Loving, Lying, which was put out on Pye Records in 1972. It seems like Siffre is one of those artists better known for the work he inspired than the music he produced himself. Madness reached number 4 on the U.K. charts with a cover of It Must Be Love and Jay-Z, Eminem, and Wu-Tang Clan have sampled Siffre’s I Got The. While these may be more well-known, Crying, Laughing, Loving, Lying deserves far more attention because it is a joy from start to finish, blending Siffre’s beautiful tenor with an excellent ear for melody and guitar that is as smooth as it is soulful. In particular, Cannock Chase and the title track are both excellent tunes in the vein of My Song. He recorded a number of albums in the 70s, including participating in the 1978 Eurovision context, and continued at a slower clip through the 80s and 90s. Perhaps that has something to do with writing three books of poetry in the 90s along with a play and a collection of essays. This album was re-issued in 2016 by new-wave label Demon Records, which has put out a number of records from Marc Bolan & T.Rex, Elvis Costello, and The Jesus and Mary Chain.

Snoozer Quinn -Lover Come Back to Me/ On the Alamo

I found this track on a great post over on Dusted Magazine’s blog where American Primitive guitarist Glenn Jones laid out some of his favorite guitar pieces that don’t fit into the American Primitive mold. Despite being well respected by guitarists both of his day and since, little is known about Snoozer Quinn and very little of his playing was ever recorded. He was born Eddie Quinn in Pike County, Mississippi in 1907 and spent his young adult life touring Texas and the South as a guitarist in a number of travelling bands. He joined the popular dance band the Paul Whiteman Orchestra in 1928 and recorded with other well-known artists like Bix Beiderbecke and Jimmie Davis throughout his career, though some of those recordings have been lost. In case the sounds of Love Come Back to Me/On the Alamo weren’t mournful enough for you, this recording was made in a New Orleans charity hospital where he eventually died of tuberculosis. They are some of the only recordings that capture his playing by itself.

He was credited as a songwriter on the excellent Jimmie Davis song There’s Evil in Ye Children and perfomed on a number of other Davis recordings which survive today like Market Blues and Midnight Blues. I’d encourage you to look at Quinn’s Discogs to see where he performed, since only one compilation is dedicated to Quinn by himself. I suppose Quinn’s story serves as a reminder that if you are good at something, keep doing it because you might be forgotten and die of tuberculosis in New Orleans only to be written about on music blogs long after it can make any difference.