Ever heard of GB? 72 Comments

Ethiopiqes.jpgA lot is known about our famous singers. Through written biographies or TV and Radio interviews we are aware how they got started and where and when they sang a particular song. What is less known though are the stories behind the songs. The lyricists (yeGitim Derassi), the music writers (yeZema Derassi), the arrangers (aqenbabari) and the Bands. Rarely do we see these unsung heroes credited for their contribution. And so, my entries will concentrate on these faceless giants.

In the 1960's, Addis was going through a transformation, a transformation that was influenced by Soul, Funk and Rock. The '50 saw the Imperial Bodyguard, Police and Army Orchestra's as great contributors with the likes of Tilahun Gesesse, Mahmoud Ahmed, Alemayehu Eshete, Bizunesh and Hirut Beqele. After the attempted Coup in 1960 though, the Big Bands gave way to the smaller bands (though by today's standards, these small bands would be considered huge.) Along with the various military institution bands, the smaller bands made a huge inpact in the development of what is termed as the 'Golden Era' of Ethiopian Music.

One of these bandleaders had the great distinction of encompassing the true gift of what most muscians dream off. A lyrcist, a music writer, an arranger, a singer and finally an a accomplished pianist, guitarist and drummer. Unless you're a true lover of Ethiopian music or was a teenager in the the late 1960s and early 1970s (G.C.), you probably have never heard the name Girma Beyene. When the word arranger comes to mind the name that probably pops in one's mind is Mulatu Astatqe. According to Francis Falceto, the famous French producer whose Buda Records is responsible for bringing the Ethiopiques Series, in the heyday of the LP (Vinyl or Shekla) Girma Beyene is credited as arranging close to 65 titles to Mulatu's 40.

Born in Addis Ababa, Girma Beyene completed his primary education at the Nativity Catholic Cathedral School.  He started his career as a musician when he received rave reviews for his performance with Girma Bogale on acoustic guitar at the Haile Selassie I Theatre. He was in high school at the time and the critical acclaim he received led him to practice with the Haile Selassie I Theatre Orchestra during his school breaks.  In 1961, Girma Beyene and Bahta Gebrehiwot (known for his song "Anchim Endelela") were picked to join the Ras Band at the Ras Hotel from a pool of about 70.  According to Bahta, in an interview with Addis Live Radio, he and Girma Beyene were a lot younger than the rest of the band members. When the first Ras Hotel Band renamed themselves The Ghion Band and moved to the Ghion Hotel, the self taught Girma Beyene (he never had formal training in playing music instruments or arranging music) stayed and formed the second Ras Band. He maned the piano while Tesfamariam Kidane was on sax, Feleqe Kidane on trumpet, Hailu "Zehon" Kebede on bass guitar and Girma Zemariam on drums. Seyfu Yohannes and Menelik Wossenachew joined the Ras Band as vocalists.

In 1969, Girma Beyene recorded four tracks for Amha Records:

Set Alamenem (Lyrics by Girma Beyene, music by Girma Beyene and Arranged by Mulatu Astatqe) (it is said that Girma Beyene, an extremely shy person actually went through this heartache, thus a masterpiece was born)

Enken Yelelebesh (Lyrics by Getachew Degefu [a famous Piano player who contributed to the Ethiopian Airlines Instrumentals], Music by Girma Beyene, Arranged by Mulatu Astatqe)

Ene Negn Bay Manesh (Lyrics by Getachew Degefu, Music by Girma Beyene, Arranged by Mulatu Astatqe)  

Yebeqagnal (Lyrics by Bahta Gebre Hiwot, Music by Bahta Gebre Hiwot, Arranged by Girma Beyene)

(These four tracks were remastered and release on Ethiopiques 8: Swingin Addis.)

After his departure from the Ras Band, Girma Beyene along with Girma Zemariam formed The Girmas Band. It's probably in the mid '60s that he wrote gems such as Tsigereda (No it was not Shewandagne Hailu that sang it first,) Qurtun Negerign(Tewedjign Endew), and Tirulign Tolo (Fitsum Fitsum)  (unfortuantely, these tracks were never recorded with the same quality as the above four.) His departure from the Girmas Band led to the formation of The All Star Band (1970-1972) and The Alem-Girma Band (1972-1974) respectively. The Alem-Girma Band was formed by Alemayehu Eshete and Girma Beyene. Both shared the taste of music and clothing fashion that was coming from US (James Brown & Elvis Presley to name a few.) It was during these years that Girma arranged Alemayehu Eshete's famous songs such as Addis Ababa Bete, Yewoine Haregitu, Teredchewalehu, Man Yehon Teleq Sew, Eruq Yaleshew, Alteleyeshegnem, Shegitu Mare, Hiwote Abate New, Qotchegn Messassate, Telantena Zare, Tchero Adari Negn, Eskegizew Berchi, Ayalqem Tedenqo. In an interview Alemayehu Eshete gave to Addis Live Radio he acknowledges that the band that he felt contributed the most was the Alem-Girma Band.

The 1974 Revolution extinguished the Addis Swing era. Lead singers such as Alemayehu Eshete, Tilahun Gesess, Bizunesh Beqele and Hirut Beqele were forced to sing in the military bands. Amha Eshete and other notable musicians fled Ethiopia to save their lives. It was during this time that Girma Beyene joined the Walias Band (There will be an upcoming post about the various bands during the 'Golden Era' and thereafter). It was here that he composed, "Musiqawi Silt," a tune remade by various US bands such as The Either Orchestra and The Daktaris. In 1981, while the Walias Band was on t
our in the United States, some members including Girma Beyene decided to remain in the US. It was soon after that Girma Beyene lost his beloved wife. It's said that his grief was such that it led him to leave the music scene altogether.

Today, he still lives in the Washington D.C. area. This giant of a man who is remembered as a humble man, a wonderful husband and father lives in relative obscurity. Its time that we acknowledge this genius for his contribution while he's still with us.

***Most of the information here comes from the liner notes to Ethiopiques 8, Addis Live Radio's interview of Bahta G/Hiwot and Alemayehu Eshete, Radio Fana special on Girma Beyene and various conversations with musicians of that era.  The picture was taken from the liner notes to Ethiopiques 1. 

72 Responses to “Ever heard of GB?”

  1. 1 nolawi

    amazing.. seriously an amazing read… we probaly have to publish this some how…..
    i have never heard of GB? before!!

  2. 2 Mimi

    Interesting and enjoyable article, hope there is more to come!

  3. 3 Anita

    I love your site.. specially the jazz.. and the oldies.. keep it up!;)

  4. 4 Mesfin

    You gotta love the lyrics of Bahta Gebrehiwot, none like him, hope in the near future you reintroduce him to the public;

    this was really nice, thank you for sharing, keep up the good work.

  5. 5 Ethio Jazz

    Thank you all for the kind words. I’ll try to post more stories as often as I can.

    Mesfin, Bahta Gebrehiwot is truly a legend. I’m thinking that he’ll be part of a post that deals with the singers of the Golden Era. But, that will have to wait until the music writers(probably one post,) bands and producers(probably one post.)

  6. 6 Doro Mata


  7. 7 Ersasu

    A timely and fitting tribute to Girma Beyene. Set Alamnim is an awesome piece–and as you indicate, one for the ages. Some of the saddest lyrics I've heard in Ethiopian music (the song leaves no room for hope) but GB also throws lines that throw you in stitches. GB removes his gloves in the opening lines:

    Embayen Hulu banchi hazen afesesku

    Bezih alem mefeTeren amarerkugn

    Embaye feso alfolignal yanchi emba gen yekeTelal!

    Mejemeria anchin sagegn tedeseche!

    Ewnet meslogn leben seTehush Teznaniche!

    kesetochu hulu ableCHe anchin wededku tesasiche!

    I hope Girma Beyene will read Bernos.org and Ethio Jazz's extremelly well written tribute. Please make sure to send a copy to Revolutions Per Beat (http://rperb.blogspot.com/). Good luck, Wegenoch.

  8. 8 tsegasaurus

    very nice post!
    since i don’t have the liner notes for ethopiques Vol 8, i never knew all this histroy about GB.
    i have Yegle Tezeta with Mulatu on 45 . premium stuff.

  9. 9 Mesfin

    ok, enamesegenalen, ethiojazz

  10. 10 Merkato

    What an amazing job.
    Even though Girma Beyene was way before my generation, as a music lover i am so glad to know there is some one like you who remembers the true Ethiopian music legends. Your true passion for music shows through this great story that you wrote, please continue to inspire us.

    Best of luck…keep up the great job!

  11. 11 Ethio Jazz

    Thank you all for the wonderful responses…

    Ersasu, wow someone who actually knows the lyrics. ‘Set Alamenem’ is definitely heartbreaking. It would be great if Girma Beyene reads the blog but I highly doubt it. Who knows maybe his daughter, one of his friends or himself will stumble into it.

    tsegasaurus, that 45 is beyond premium. If it has Girma Beyene’s ‘Yebeqagnal’ on the flip side, it goes for about 400 Euro’s.

    Merkato–thank you for your kind words. When I decided to write about the past regarding Ethiopian Music, I was hoping that I would reach the younger generation that never experienced the music. I’m estatic that my hope is coming to pass. I’ll try not to dissapoint you and others with my upcoming posts.

  12. 12 shtoni

    im ecstatic to know that this blog exists! it gives me hope for the future of Ethiopian music. keep on keepin man cause what you’re doing is priceless.

  13. 13 erm

    I am really thrilled to know more about Girma Beyene. I used to ask a lot about him too. I am really happy to see this posted. I am 40 and a big fan of Alemayehu Eshete since childhood. I still remember singing his ?Tizaz makber wotader tegebinew? in my child hood in mid seventies (a very rare but, authentic song loved by many at those times, I suppose) Also I remember reading ?Alem Girma Band?at the Phillips and Amaha record labels from the records survived years after recoding on 45/33 was stopped in Ethiopia. I wish many knew about Girma Beyene, specially those who heard his ?Siet Alamnim? replayed toward the end of the 80?s thinking the singer was the genuine one. Even if it took long, it would be very considerate to write for and about Girma Beyene and his golden and ever lasting works. I also would like to thank the organizers of ethiopiques for reviving the golden era music of Ethiopia.
    Thank you very much.

  14. 14 Seife

    Thanks….for recognizing a LEGEND!!!

  15. 15 Semashachew

    Falceto made untoward comments about GB, but he’s managed to find him in DC. He was “surprised” about how modestly he lived considering his glorious past. It’s true apparently the man lives in obscurity but just like Bahta was brought back by the Either Orchestra, so too will GB. The man has lots of say about eth. music, he headlined the golden era…

  16. 16 Ethio Jazz

    Shtoni and Seife–much thanks for the recognition.

    erm: I’m a huge fan of Alemayehu Eshete, but I’m afraid to admit that I’ve never heard of the song you mentioned before. Is there a website that has that song posted?
    Great story by the way. The singer that revived “Set Alamnem” in the late 80′s and early 90′s is non other than Dawit “Messay” Melesse. It’s sad to know that a lot of people thought that he was the first to sing it. 

    Semashachew: Falceto’s comments toward GB were a bit harsh. From my understanding Falceto’s is trying to get GB back to perform. I wish him luck in this endeavour. Bahta’s comeback with the Either Orchestra (though I think one song seems minute to be termed a comeback)is huge. My hope is that it would create an opportunity for Bahta to re-record his past hits with a full band.
    I was hoping that we acknowledge GB by organizing a night of rememberance for his achievement by putting together a full band and inviting vocalists to pay tribute to him and if we’re lucky have him perform a couple of songs. It was done for Melkamu Tebeje-celebrating his 40th anniversary in the music business, why not for GB.

  17. 17 nolawi

    I was present at Melkamu’s Tebeje’s anniversary,.. I was not familiar with his music till that night. I do feel we dont support our artists enough., especially the ones that reside in diasporah.

    Anyways if you want to get the ball rolling on acknowledging GB, then i will be willing to help. Especially press and so on.

  18. 18 Ethio Jazz

    Nolawi-thank you for your offer and who knows that maybe done in the near future.

  19. 19 erm

    HI, Ehio Jazz. I am not very sure whether or not this song is posted sofar. I even have tried many sites and it was only in vain. But I assure you it was played around early seventies. I even remember the other side of the record having another rare song called “Min Tichiy Midritu” a rather sad song about life.

    Let me try a few lines of its lyrics

    Tizaz makber wotader tegebiw new
    Atikefi miste mouch meguaze new
    Yilik tseliy kangetish astawshinge
    Yetazezkut endisakaligne
    Wotader negne, wotader negne

    Begziabher sim miyalehugne amrire
    Limutlat lewiditu hagere
    Wotader negne, wetader negen….

    I surprised myself for remembering them. Please don’t confuse me being a soldier it is a respected job, but I am not quite borne for that.That is the very list thing I want to be. But as I was once a child like other children I used to play as a soldier. And probably that is why I still like the song.

    At present I’m in Philadelphia, but if I was in addis I know where to go and get it. Mecato!! where everything gets sold and bought. I even don’t have the song at present, I lost the cassette on the run. I hope the ethiopiqes peple get the rest of the songs played by Alemayehu Eshete. There are still many titles they haven’t coverd that were on records.
    Thanks for let me say more.

  20. 20 Ethio Jazz

    erm: You have an amazing memory. Even after reading the lyrics I don’t recall the song. I’ve never heard of ?Min Tichiy Midritu? for that matter. As you, I also hope that they will surface on an Ethioiques issue. Believe me, I totally understand why you like the song.

    I’ll have to ask someone to look for these songs for me.

    Again thank you for leaving your comments.

  21. 21 erm

    Ethio Jazz, I’m sure when you come accross the where abouts of these titles you would let us know all. I really can’t spot the place, but I remember some older music shops in Merkato which used to keep records from the seventies and if you have a connection I am sure you will get what you want there. (At least a copy of course)Thanks.

  22. 22 Paul

    Thank you so much for publishing about these amazing musicians. I only discovered Ethiopian jazz a short while ago. I’m in tears, it’s beautiful

  23. 23 Andrew

    Although I do not understand the lyrics this song has always moved me and I have always wanted to learn more about the singer Girme Beyene.I wish him good health. Thank you

  24. 24 Ethio Jazz

    Andrew–if you’re talking about “Set Alamenem” here’s a loose translation I did for a friend.

    Set Alamnenem–written and performed by Girma Beyene

    The first part is the spoken word

    I shed all my tears because of you
    I spite the day I was born
    I’m done shedding my tears
    But yours will start/continue

    At first I was happy when I met you
    I gave you my heart effortlessly, thinking it was true
    I mistakingly loved you above all other women

    You introduced yourself from where I was seated
    You told me to wait for you, only to leave me

    After you, I don’t trust women and
    I will not try anyone else

    [see the spoken words]

    What’s passed has passed, we won’t see each other
    I don’t think I’ll respect you as I did in the past
    Even if you apologized, i’ll not accept

    After you I don’t trust women

  25. 25 Walter

    You guys do a wonderful job! Keep up the good work!!!

  26. 26 anon

    Nol Home-Boy,

    What can I say? You are fab and doing a fab job for posterity. Keep it up. Thanks.

    ps: Could you also allow your viewers to suggest songs an stories of the past?

  27. 27 Alpha

    I didn’t get a chance to hear the song posted but just reading about it akunetenetegn…..

  28. 28 Abesha

    Wohooo I love Bernos

  29. 29 micheal

    It is about GB: great artist of his time. The Girmas band was consisted of two of them Girma B and Girma Zemariam the drumer and were playing at Etegue Hotel (Piazza)>Its after the became the Ras band and included Hailu on bass,tesfa on sax and Feleke on Trumpet. The singers besides GB were Seifu Y. and Menelik W. If I recall correctly Menelik is the first singer who sung Tizita. Tesfa Played a wonderful solo in it. That lifted the song to a higher level of appreciation. Previosly it was played by mostly accordion accompanied indivi..singers or Kirar,masinko players.Seifu took the song to the night club scene. After Getachew Kassa with Wallias .. from then on it is history. Back to GB: he grew listing to NatK.Cole Brook Benton and Frank Sinatra. It is amazing when he sings those type of songs. Iuse to listen to him at Ras Hotel and La Mascotte The only Cabarret in Addis.GB coms from a vast tradition Thats why they dubbed him the First Contemporary Ethiopian Singer. I would like to talk more about him. He is a giant.

  30. 30 Kir
  31. 31 fornetti

    I do not believe this

  32. 32 Romaniaman

    Hi all from Romania. Hellbi.

  33. 33 Addis Tunes

    Great read, as always. You can hear some of his track here:

    quality="high" bgcolor="#FFFFFF" name="Media Player" allowscriptaccess="sameDomain" info_button_text="Visit+Our+Site%21" player_title="AddisTunes.com - The Home for Ethiopian Music and Downloads Radio Player"
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  34. 34 jules andre brown

    I really like Girma Beyene, I put him on a radio-mix animation actually.


    – Jules Andre Brown

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  36. 36 Bobby Orner

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  37. 37 Jimmy

    Hi Bernos and fans,I am just a guest so it is easy to understand that this is almost my first time to be in this site page over music and musician.
    I would like to give you a little contribute to the history of Girma Beyene.
    I had the privilege to knew him personally in the first half of 1974 before the collapse of imperial Ethiopia and the beginning of the dark age of the communist Derg era which meant the end of genuine music.
    In 1974 Girma came in the city of Asmara with his band,that was a new formation with Tekle Adhanom on guitar and Habte on drums and himself playing keyboards and singing,the band got a contract at the Piccadilly night-club down town.There they played every night. I had the occasion to knew him closely and I can say he was a good piano and keyboard player and he had a fantastic voice,different from the average amharic singers. Asmara was at that time a laboratory of modern music,traditional music was not at home in night-clubs.This made that the local bands where though,and could compete with ordinary american or european bands. Girma felt comfortable in short time and everybody (the other bands musicians) liked him a lot,for his skill,for his stile and for his fantastic caracter.A great friend and man.So often happened that after midnight all of us gathered at Piccadilly to listen to his band. He could produce a lot of good music but there were no studios, very few good composers and no budget at all.How can a musician make a good job within these conditions? to day we could listen to a huge production if conditions and time had been different.I’ll always remember Girma. Thanks a lot to all of you.

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