March 24, 2009

Gospel singer creating waves

By arefe

Zerfe Kebede is creating waves in Ethiopia with her new gospel songs. The 25-year-old Orthodox Church singer has enjoyed unprecedented success, breaking through to mainstream audiences. Her debut album, “Ruhama,” is a massive hit in Addis and other major towns. It was reported that 5,000 original CDs and 30,000 cassettes were sold in less than three weeks. The album is literally being heard everywhere, in taxis, cafés, and restaurants. Her smooth, warm, expressive voice seems to strike the right chords as praise keeps on coming from the media. Unusual for a church singer, she has become a cover girl in many secular magazines.

The album’s 12 tracks, written by well-known names like Begashew Desalegn, Tizitaw Samuel, and Gashaye Melaku, contains messages of love, hope and worship, God’s grace, salvation, affirmation and similar themes. The lyrics are strongly influenced by the Bible, particularly the Old Testament and other books like Taemere Eyesus. Described as an uplifting and rousing work, the album blends traditional Orthodox Church vocal style and contemporary vocal styles, giving her music a richness and vitality that make the popularity of her album understandable.

Zerfe first came to attention singing decidedly secular songs. She grew up in Asab until the age of 13 and moved to Dessie with her parents when Ehio-Eritria war broke out. By her own admissions, she wasn’t a church going girl and only recalls singing and listening to music constantly during her childhood. As she grew into her teens, music remained at the center of her life. When Zerfe was 16, she was discovered by the Amhara Region Music Squad. “They put me in test with other competitors; I stood first from the all of Woldia zone and Wollo,” she recalls. There, she started practicing scales and vocalizing to develop her ranges.

In 2000, she joined the Police Music Squad in Bahr Dar and quickly started playing music with a band. Her big break came when she got a chance to perform with musical giants like Tilahun Gessesse, Mahamoud Ahmed and Bisatat Seyoum in a bazaar organized by the Amahra region in Bahr Dar town. After watching her play live, Bistaet was so impressed that she asked her to work in her night club in Addis. That excited and thrilled Zerfe.

She came to Addis and started working at Bestaets’ night club where she started to build up a loyal fan base. She was performing the recordings of the established singers, like Aster Aweke, Hamalmal Abate, Fikire Addis Neka Tibeb. She later managed to get a weekly gig at Crown and Global hotels. An occasion took her to Tanzania with Abate Mekuria studio.

Months later, she found herself in Dubai performing in hotels known as Sandris Inn and later in Ejiman Holiday Beach, where she has been making more lucrative gigs.

Today though Zerfe is thrilled to be singing about her Lord, often dresed in white netela,swaying to the pulsing beat of gospel music.She has been doing that since the past four years, giving up the world and committing herself to God. She told Royal magazine that, ‘I think God for finding me worthy to carry these messages. I’m elated I’m able to do this at this stage.” The songs bear witness to her own personal salvation.One talks about a soul searching wanderer in the desert of sin.

Zerfe’s songs revealed a spiritual voice fairly steeped in the secular style. Some complain that her songs sound “too secular”. Others praise her for getting the message of the Gospel to a wider audience with the voice the Lord has blessed her.”

Whatever the case, the public affection for her doesn’t seem to wane.

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