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 Workneh.

American 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.”

When 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 explains warmly.

One 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.”

Hollingsworth’s 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.

Abyssinian 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 at: jjhollings@aol.com

Liben Eabisa is the publisher of Tadias Magazine.

JJ Hollingsworth (center) with her husband, Alemayehu Mergia (left) and oboe player Phoebe Low (right)

United Nations 50th Anniversary Concert in San Francisco

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