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  • Born In

    Ādīs Ābeba, Ethiopia

Girma Beyene was one of the arrangers who made the Ethiopian music of the Golden Era different than the music of today. He was a lyricist, a music writer, an arranger, a vocalist, an accomplished pianist and finally a bandleader. To most, if any name comes to mind with the word arranger, it is probably that of Mulatu Astatke. Yet, according to Ethiopiques Series producer Francis Falceto*, in the heyday of vinyl records, Girma Beyene is credited to having arranged close to 65 titles, compared to Mulatu's 40. Girma left a handful of recordings as a vocalist, but it was as an arranger and pianist that he is fondly remembered today.

By Ethiojazz:
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 , 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 tour 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.

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