Album Review: Emahoy Tsege Mariam Gebru – Souvenirs [Mississippi Records; February 2024]

Words by Lucas Keen


Released in what would have been her 100th year, Souvenirs by the late Ethiopian pianist Emahoy Tsege Mariam Gebru is a lo-fi time capsule showcasing the virtuosity and creativity of the much-storied composer.

The fourth release from her catalogue by Mississippi Records, it is the first widely available album to feature Emahoy’s vocals alongside her piano work and is at once grounded and ethereal, much like the late nun herself who left this life in March 2023.

Born Yewubdar Guèbrou in 1923 in Addis Ababa, Emahoy’s biography is as dappled as her music, with light and shade, home and exile, and deserves more paragraphs than this review can make use of. Let it be left here, though, that looking into her incredible life is as rewarding as further listens to this album.

Recorded in Ethiopia between 1977 and 1985, before Emahoy moved to the Kidane Mehret Monastery in Jerusalem where she spent the last three decades of her extraordinary life, Souvenirs has been intentionally left as intimate and immediate as when she first recorded it solo to cassette. At times, you might catch yourself holding your breath.

From the opening benediction of “Clouds moving on the sky” to the closing “Like the sun shines on meadows,” on which the last sound heard is Emahoy pressing the stop (or maybe pause button?) on her cassette recorder, every sound, from the creak of the piano bench to the percussion of the piano, is heard and felt.

This album may or may not be for you, and you will have to acquaint yourself with the spring rain sound of the cassette recording. However, the gift of this album is a seat in the room with Emahoy as her beautiful piano lines ascend and are answered by her own vocals in Amharic.

The pentatonic poetry of her piano reflects in the titles, with Emahoy’s penchant for asking questions when naming her compositions, such as the album highlight “Tenkou why feel so sorry?”

Emahoy wished to be known as (and shall be remembered) as a classical composer, but that might be reductive. The music on Souvenirs, like Emahoy herself, contains multitudes.



Emahoy Tsege Mariam Gebru's Souvenirs hit the shelves on 23/02 courtesy of Mississippi Records
Dive into her melodies and get your copy right HERE