Emahoy TM Gebru
How the Cult Classic Recordings of a 96-Year-Old Nun Became the Soundtrack to Garrett Bradley’s New
The director discusses her heartrending film, which heavily features the compositions of Ethiopian pianist Emahoy Tsegué-Maryam Guèbrou.
By Alex Westfall, The Pitch October 27, 2020
"Time’s soundtrack ripples alongside Fox’s memories, propelling the black-and-white footage forward. The music is largely sourced from Éthiopiques Vol. 21, a cult classic 2006 collection of unaccompanied piano pieces by Ethiopian nun Emahoy Tsegué-Maryam Guèbrou. Existing in a gray area between blues, ragtime, Western classical, and religious hymn, the album’s singular compositions are a reflection of Guèbrou’s itinerant biography: from classical training in Switzerland to an immersion in Ethiopia’s sacred musical traditions to surviving her homeland’s occupation by the fascist dictator Benito Mussolini. These songs, most of which were originally released in the 1960s, are the sonic equivalent to infinity—untethered by conventional meter or rhythm, as if Guèbrou’s instrument holds more keys than it should. In parallel with Bradley’s atmospheric direction and Fox’s voice, which she uses to preach, motivate, and recollect, Guèbrou’s music takes on a new resonance: Constructs of distance and time melt away as we’re thrust into an elastic, liberated realm in which these three Black women take up the same cinematic space.
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