The celebrated Ethiopian pianist and nun Emahoy Tsegue-Maryam Guebrou has died in Jerusalem aged 99, the Ethiopian patriarchate said Tuesday. Guebrou composed more than 150 works and recorded four albums during her career, according to a foundation created in her name. The musician died Monday and “many people will attend her funeral” from abroad, a secretary for the patriarchate said.
Born in 1923 to a wealth family in Addis Ababa, Guebrou was sent to Switzerland aged six where she learned to play the piano and violin. She returned to Ethiopia and during the 1930s was taken prisoner along with her family and sent to Italy by the country’s invading forces. After the war, Guebrou lived in Egypt where she studied under Polish violinist Alexander Kontorowicz before both relocated to Ethiopia and worked for emperor Haile Selassie.
She became a nun at the age of 21 and later gained permission to leave her convent in Addis Ababa to compose music for the violin, piano and organ. The proceeds of the four albums Guebrou recorded during the 1960s and 1970s were used to educate orphans. Her music was revived in a 2006 album, as part of the “Ethiopiques” series featuring musicians from the country.
A year later, a charitable foundation was created in her name to support disadvantaged children in Jerusalem, Ethiopia and the United States. In 2020, US singer Norah Jones told The New York Times the album was “one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever heard”. After moving to Jerusalem in the 1980s, Guebrou lived in an Ethiopian convent where she worked as a secretary. She continued to play the piano and liked drawing, said Sister Zeina who cared for her in recent years. “She was in good health,” the nun told AFP. Guebrou’s funeral is expected to be held later this week.—AFP