| ADDIS FORTUNE |Tewodros Kasahun, aka Teddy Afro, once said that the legendary Ethiopian singer, the late Tilahun Gessesse had carried him in his arms when he was a child and bought him Fanta. He praised Tilahun as “the other lion”, in line with Kenenisa Bekele – whom he honoured in an instantly popular single released immediately after his athletic victory at the 2004 Greek Olympics.
Tilahun was sitting beside him on stage as Teddy made this remark. Today, September 27, 2009, the late king of Ethiopian music, Tilahun Gessesse, would have turned 69, had he lived. His death, however, has not been a deterrent to his friends’ and fans’ determination to celebrate his birthday. It will be at this event that Teddy Afro will make his first public performance since gaining his freedom, August 13, 2009.
The performance by the young star and other singers may lure most of the 600 invited guests including family, friends, government officials, and artists, to the Hilton Addis ballroom. However, the organizers have been faced with the shocking discovery that Tilahun’s legendary career has not helped them get all the sponsors they expected. Up until Friday night September 25, 2009 the organizers had found only two confirmed sponsors, Hilton Addis and Dashen Brewery.
The preparation for his birthday has been undertaken by a loosely formed committee of artists, chaired by Roman Bezu, wife to the late performer. The committee means to make this event an annual happening to celebrate Tilahun’s contribution to Ethiopian music, culture and society, and pass it on to future generations.
The event organizers had unsuccessfully knocked on many doors to find sponsors for the event. Neither the artist’s friend and benefactor, Sheik Mohammed Al Amoudi nor the organizations headed by him responded to the committee’s request for support .
“The reason”, Roman told Fortune, “that the birthday celebration was not being organized at the Sheraton Addis was because all available places at the hotel had already been booked”. She also added that Tilahun had been friends with the community at Hilton for a long time.
Until late Friday, Roman had been waiting to hear from the Sheik’s circle and many other companies which she declined to name. However, no one had offered to provide any backing, she continued.
Invitations have been sent to Al Amoudi, who is not likely to be there because he is out of the country, Roman says.
Still, nothing has been clarified about the construction of her husband’s tomb, although she believes that it would be done in time for the anniversary of his death.
Many Ethiopian singers, long-standing and contemporary will be among those who will be performing today. The star studded list includes Aster Aweke, who has been singing for longer than any living female singer as well as Neway Debebe, the singer who said he was by the late singer’s bedside when he was hospitalized in South Africa and London. The acts will be accompanied by Dawit Band of Dawit Tsighe, according to Singer Brehanu Tezera.
The event will also include a photo exhibition of Tilahun using pictures collected from family and friends. Some of Tilahun’s recorded performances will also be played for the audience, according to Solomon Gezaw, singer and close friend of Tilahun’s and one of the committee members.
While alive, Tilahun did not mind young struggling singers performing his songs. He even publicly encouraged some of them to keep trying until they succeeded in the art. Some singers who advocated copyright protection had expressed their frustrations over his benevolent behaviour, which they considered to be a disservice to the copyright cause.
The artist had reigned on the Ethiopian music scene since the 1960’s, being a role model to many aspiring singers throughout his career. His later years were marred by a mysterious attempt on his life (he survived after his throat was slit) and diabetes, which led to the amputation of a leg.
His affliction had led him to start the formation of a diabetic association that aimed at the improvement of medical care for diabetic patients. The first meeting called for that purpose was attended by President Girma Woldegiorgis of Ethiopia. Although his ambitions seemed to have been cut short by death, the committee plans to open it for discussion at today’s event. The committee hopes something will come out of the discussion, in which government officials and wealthy individuals are bound to participate.
Tilahun was also working on his last album when he died. The album, to be released at an unspecified date in the future, includes a spiritual song, arranged by Elias Melka. Eias will still be the arranger, but vocalists will include the late artist as well as his son, Daniel, and a number of other performers.
Brehanu, in charge of bringing together vocalists is expected to perform. He declined to disclose the exact number, preferring simply to say, “They are many”.
However, he expressed high hopes that the celebration of the life and work of Tilahun will be an opener for the comparable treatment of other artists who pass away after years of active performance.
The committee is planning for the production of a documentary film on the life of Tilahun. The writing of the biography of Tilahun, which was entrusted to the Ethiopian Authors Association while Tilahun was still alive, is yet to be completed. The Association had faced a set back, because the artist had died before telling all, they said.
Tilahun’s death on April 19, 2009, en route to a hospital after suffering a sudden heart attack was a shock to many of his fans all over the country.
He had just returned from the United States to spend the Ethiopian Easter at home. He was buried four days later at the Holy Trinity Cathedral, attended by his family, friends, peers, colleagues not to mention thousands of his fans.