What do you know about the country of Ethiopia? There are many things that make this African region unique from a global perspective, including being the home of one of the world’s oldest Christian denominations, and also being a country that, unlike many others in Africa, was never colonized by Western Europe. Well among the many other things that there is to celebrate about Ethiopia, is the fact that it was once home to a once overlooked, now world-renowned composer! Hi there – I’m Loki Karuna, and on today’s edition of Noteworthy I’d like to introduce you to composer Emahoy Tsegué-Maryam Guèbrou.

Emahoy Tsegué-Maryam Guèbrou, or Emahoy, for short, was born in December of 1923. When she was about 13 years old, her family became prisoners of war, being sent by the Italians to an island near Naples. After the war ended, Emahoy found herself studying music, and eventually returned to Ethiopia where she became a nun, living in seclusion in an Ethiopian monastery. Although she rarely gave live performances, she did record many of her own works, including this one called Ballad of the Spirits, recorded in 1963.

Emahoy eventually made her way to Jerusalem, where she died in 2023 at age 99. Since her death, many have raised awareness about her life through documentaries, recordings, and even radio features, like these, to shine a light on this long overlooked figure in western classical music. Long live Emahoy Tsegué-Maryam Guèbrou – one of history’s most Noteworthy composers.

Noteworthy is a production of WDAV classical public radio.