The Nun Pianist: Emahoy Tsege Mariam Gebru

Emahoy Tsege Mariam Gebru performed for the first time in 35 years at the Jewish Community Center in DC on July 12, 2008. (Photo: Makeda Amha)

Tadias Magazine
Arts News

Published: Saturday, March 20, 2010

New York (Tadias) – The 85-year-old nun and renowned classical pianist and composer Emahoy Tsege Mariam Gebru, whose music has been popularized in recent years by the Ethiopiques CD series, is attracting younger audiences.

“Every time I have put this on at least three new conversions occur, where the listeners go on to permanently install this woman’s music on their stereo,” Meara O’Reilly notes in a recent highlight on Boing Boing. “My neighbor even stalked me once just so she could listen to it more, until I just gave her my extra copy.”

Here is the rest of Meara O’Reilly’s post:

Emahoy Tsegué-Maryam Guèbrou is a nun currently living in Jerusalem. She grew up as the daughter of a prominent Ethiopian intellectual, but spent much of her young life in exile, first for schooling, and then again during Mussolini’s occupation of Ethiopia’s capitol city, Addis Ababa, in 1936. Her musical career was often tragically thwarted by class and gender politics, and when the Emperor himself actually went so far as to personally veto an opportunity for Guèbrou to study abroad in England, she sank into a deep depression before fleeing to a monastery in 1948. Today, she spends up to seven hours a day playing the piano in seclusion and even gave a concert to some lucky ducks in Washington D.C. a few years ago. A compilation of her compositions was re-issued on the consistently great Ethiopiques label. You can read more about her life at the Emahoy Music Foundation.

16 Responses to “The Nun Pianist: Emahoy Tsege Mariam Gebru”

  1. 1 syoum gebregziabher Mar 21st, 2010 at 12:53 pm

    I am thankful for the deserving recognition of “the Nun-pianist:Emahoy Tsege Mariam Gebru”. Her spiritual life and her piano play has inspired and motivated my grand children to play the piano that had been dormant for several years.

  2. 2 Gigi Mar 21st, 2010 at 10:59 pm

    I just found out about this lady and her music on TADIAS here and now.

    Thank you.

    I love this piece and the way she plays it is very simple and sweet. I have been listening to it again and again.

    Thank you TADIAS.

  3. 3 Melissa Apr 2nd, 2010 at 9:33 am

    This article and the music featured in it really, truly moved me.

    I’m trying to find contact information for Tadias, so I may ask someone where I can find more of her music.

    This music went right to my soul, I’d love to be able to hear more and share this new wealth.

  4. 4 Addiswork May 3rd, 2010 at 10:30 am

    Thank you for introducing me to this great Lady Emahoy Tsege and her music.


  5. 5 Metsat May 4th, 2010 at 9:21 pm


  6. 6 Öiechä Öni_Öné May 5th, 2010 at 12:53 pm

    She comes from one amazing family! The Best thing you can do to know some more about the family is to read the book by the late Colonel Dawit Gebru, her eleder brother, the Biography of Kentiba Gebru. It is really the biography of the this great family and Ethiopia as well. Master piece.

    Almost all, including second and third genration from the family, have dedicated thier lives for public service. The two elder sisters were among the founding and fighting members of the Black Lion Group that opened the first organized resistance against the fascist occupation of Ethiopia in 1935.

    Great to hear this amazing grace of a Nun, Our Own Amazing Grace ! And gratful to Tadias for the great public service!

    Öiechä Öni_Öné

  7. 7 Tizitaw Abebe May 6th, 2010 at 4:00 pm

    Well done! Tadias

    You have done a great job here by bringing out to light to many, introducing Emahoy and her superb works. Emahoy not only that she is talented, but, blessed with unique style of playing Piano. As someone put it here, her music relays that special deep-seated message to each listner; the message that touches souls in its own way at all times. I am proud to say that I have been listening to Emahoy’s instrumental music for years. Thanks to “Ethiopiques” and earlier, the Ethiopian Radio many, many years ago.

    May God give her strength these days as her music gives solace to many.


  8. 8 Mike Kumela May 8th, 2010 at 12:57 pm

    Sweet!! What a talented lady! Truly beautiful music. I am grateful for discovering this amazing sound! May god continue to bless the nun with even longer life!!

  9. 9 Dereje Abebe May 9th, 2010 at 7:56 am

    Here work transcends generations.

  10. 10 misgana a.k.a chuni May 10th, 2010 at 4:38 pm

    Where else can we find her music? I love it! Very peaceful. Thanks Tadias!!!

  11. 11 Daniel May 17th, 2010 at 8:26 pm

    This song has been around for many years. I thought it was created by Dr. Ashanafi Kebede {who has a version of it}. But now I know it was Emahoy Tsigie-Mariam Gebru’s original work.

  12. 12 Fegegta May 20th, 2010 at 5:40 pm

    Thank you Tadias for this timeless piece, I’ve heard it once before but never thought it was played by the Nun! AMAZING!!!

  13. 13 yegeta Gebru May 28th, 2010 at 6:01 pm

    Alula Kebede of the VOA has interviewed her back in 2006 or so. I was greatful to hear her tell her story- just amazing! She deserves all the credit Alula and Tadias gave her and even more! I recommend to anyone who is intersted to find her intreview with Alula may be Archived or I am sure if you goggle both names, you will find it. Yemiyagelglute Amlak Edmewotin Yarzimilin!

  14. 14 pmo Jun 4th, 2010 at 4:57 am

    God bless you!

  15. 15 Bergude Jun 26th, 2010 at 12:53 pm

    I feel her pain, and for some reason she might be disappointed of this artificial world. I think she followed the right track to follow God’s way.

  16. 16 Dessalegn Aug 14th, 2010 at 3:04 am

    I wish I were there at her concert and feel the incredible spirit of the the evening. I’m proud that she is ‘the’ Ethiopian nun pianist. I listened it so many times and I will continue to do so. When I listen to her compositions, I always become “Normal”, be myslef, got myself and be ready to work something positive. I try to write poems. But if I am backed by the nun’s piano, I can concentate upto the heaven, really, and express my feelings through my poem.

    I love it


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