Abyssinian Journey: New CD Reflects Composer's Passionate Commitment to Ethiopia
by Liben Eabisa
The soon to be released CD by JJ Hollingsworth reflects her passionate
commitment to Ethiopia and its culture. In Abyssinian Journey,
Hollingsworth collaborates with music director, Alexis Alrich,
and Ethiopian-born talent, Elias Negash (also featured in this
issue of Tadias), to produce the stunning sounds of Ethiopian,
East Indian, Celtic and Jazz music. Some of her songs from the
upcoming CD are featured on the PBS soundtrack of Zemad’s Journey,
a new documentary by veteran Ethiopian- American filmmaker Belay
filmmaker Belay Workneh. Abyssinian Journey is dedicated to the
late Mulugeta Gerefa, an Ethiopian- American activist who served
as the first director of the Ethiopian Refugee Center in San Francisco
in the late 1980’s. “I wanted to honor the memory of my dear friend
who introduced me to Ethiopian culture,” says JJ Hollingsworth.
“He worked tirelessly for his community. He was the Godfather
of Ethiopians in San Francisco.”
In the early 1990’s, Hollingsworth, along with Mulugeta and other
Ethiopian- Americans, collaborated with the University of California
in San Francisco to collect and send medical supplies to Ethiopia.
However, the people assigned to take the equipment unexpectedly
canceled the scheduled journey. “So I jumped in at the opportunity,”
she recounts. “I never planned this trip, but instead I stepped
in at the last minute to cover for those who could not travel
to escort the medical supplies.”
she arrived in Ethiopia she was met by friends and families of
Mulugeta Gerefa and others from the San Francisco Ethiopian-American
community. Her first encounter with the land and the people would
forever change her life. “When I landed there, within 30 minutes,
I fell in love with the country, the culture and the music,” she
can not miss the heartfelt gratitude in her voice when she describes
the polite reception of her host country. “I believe hospitality
was invented by Ethiopians,” she tells us. “My hosts provided
me with the best time I’ve ever had.”
adoration of Ethiopians is not only mirrored in her music, but
also in her personal life. She is married to Alemayehu Mergia,
an Ethiopian-American research scientist.
JJ Hollingsworth holds a masters degree in composition from the
highly regarded San Francisco Conservatory of Music, where she
studied with Elinor Armer, one of California’s outstanding composers.
Hollingsworth has composed over one hundred works, including three
musicals, a symphony, and a film score. Her work has been performed
in Davis Symphony Hall and is regularly featured in various venues
in San Francisco. Recently, she was named one of the 2000 outstanding
musicians of the 20th century by the International Who’s Who in
Music in the area of composition.
In 1995, Hollingsworth was presented with an opportunity of a
lifetime. She was commissioned by oboe player Phoebe Low to write
a piece for the 50th anniversary of the United Nations. Of course,
she selected an Ethiopian subject for her artistic representation.
“I chose an Ethiopian theme because Ethiopia was one of the founders
of the United Nations,” she reminds us. “Emperor Haile Selassie
was an original signatory to the treaty of the League of Nations,
the precursor to the United Nations Charter”.
The piece was based on the lyrics of the great Assefa Abate and
was premiered at the UN celebration in a concert entitled ‘From
San Francisco to the World’. Asked why she chose Assefa Abate’s
work for her music, she responded: “Assefa Abate was to Ethiopian
music what Woodie Guthrie was to American culture.” She points
out that Guthrie, the Depression era artist, “is considered the
most influential American folk musician of all time.” She concludes
that “the same language can be used to describe Assefa Abate in
the context of traditional Ethiopian music.” This historic song
is included in her upcoming CD.
Journey is a product of an extremely talented American composer
with a passionate commitment to an ancient culture that she has
come to adore and embrace as her own. JJ Hollingsworth’s new CD
is highly recommended for all music lovers.
JJ Hollingsworth can be contacted
Liben Eabisa is the publisher of