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Biography

  • Born

    1950 (age 71)

Alemu Aga (b. 1950) is an Ethiopian musician and singer, a master of the bèguèna.

Born in Entotta, near Addis Ababa, Alemu became interested in the begena (a ten-stringed member of the lute family, also known as "King David's Harp") at the age of twelve, when a master of the instrument moved in next door to his family. The Aleqa Tessema Welde-Emmanuel (a highly educated member of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, as the title "Aleqa" signifies) and began teaching at Ras Desta school, where Alemu was a pupil. As well as studying the begena at school, Alemu carried his master's instrument to and from school, and thus benefited from more of Tessema's time.

He went on to study geography at Addis Ababa University, and after graduation went to work as a geography teacher at the Yared Music School, where for seven years he also taught begena. Alemu went on to become an acknowledged master of the instrument, first recorded in 1972 by Cynthia Tse Kimberlin for a major UNESCO collection, and performing and broadcasting around the world. In 1974, however, the Derg military junta came to power in Ethiopia; their anti-religious policies also included the banning of the begena from radio broadcasts, and the closing down of the Yared School's teaching of the instrument. As a result, Alemu Aga decided to give up his teaching post in 1980, and opened a souvenir shop in Addis Ababa's Piazza district.

For a time he played only in private, but the collapse of the Derg's régime led eventually to a change in state policy, and Alemu again began to teach and perform in public.

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