Known and revered for his sonic mystical meanderings, Getatchew Mekurya was an Ethiopian jazz saxophonist, active in the early-1970’s.
Growing up with music he started off by playing traditional Ethiopian instruments such as the washint flute, the krar and the masenqo, later moving on to the saxophone and clarinet. Music was always an integral part of his life and by the age of 13 he began his professional career playing as part of the Municipality Band in Addis Ababa. In 1955 he joined the house band at Addis’ Haile Selassie I Theatre and in 1965 joined the famous Police Orchestra.
Not only was he a master on the saxophone, but a pioneer for a style of singing called the shellela. This is a genre of traditional Amhara vocal music sung by warriors before going into battle. Getatchew Mekuryawas one of the first musicians to record an instrumental version of shellela! In a completely unique way, he was able to give improvisatory voice on his saxophone to this singing style, often recreating its epic, harsh and war-like feel! He took the shellela tradition seriously, often appearing onstage in a warrior’s animal-skin tunic and lion’s mane headdress.
Mekurya’s music took him far and eventually he would work alongside many of the biggest orchestras in the Ethiopian capital, accompanying renowned singers Alemayehu Eshete, Hirut Beqele, and Ayalew Mesfin.
From what I can gather, there were only a couple of 45’s issued in the early 1970’s on the Phillips label, with a lot of his other music making onto albums a lot later….but there is a compilation called Getatchew Mekuria And His Saxophone which came out in 1972 – also issued on the Phillips label. Unsurprisingly, an original copy of this is quite rare and costly, but there have been represses, thankfully!
Akale Wube appears on this album and true to its name (if I have my translation right) means ‘beauty’, or ‘beauty of the soul’…Either way, this song fits its title perfectly! These soaring, serpentine melodies touch the soul with golden rays and flow with effortless grace, which makes for a very magical four minutes. Enjoy!..and if you want to hear the rest of Getatchew Mekuria And His Saxophone, you can find that here – this is well worth a visit!!