Remembering Tesfaye Sahlu, children’s television programme icon

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Tesfaye Sahlu, affectionately known as Ababa Tesfaye, who has died aged 96, was an Ethiopia actor, vocalist, lyricist, author, comedian, and a staple of the children’s television programme for forty years. A veteran of stage and screen, Tesfaye has come a long way from a small village, Kedo in Bale region to becoming one of the longest serving actors at the national scene. He resumed his career at the Ethiopian National Theatre the year it was officially opened, 1955 by presenting comic shows, and has appeared in a succession of 70 stage productions, as well as television programs.
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He is remembered for the roles in Alula Aba Nega, Ha Hu Be Sidist Wor, King Oedipus, Dawitna Orion (David and Orion), Othello, Ya Zawntoch kebeb, and Enat Alem Tenu. He played female parts convincingly in such theatres as “Gonderew”, “Tela shaich”, as there was shortage of female actresses. He also played musical instruments such as washint (bamboo flute), kirar (five string lyre), begena (great harp), trombone and accordion. As vocalist, he had also his own Amharic hits such as “Anchi alem”, “Tsehay”. His work during the period earned him good reception, and his popularity with the theatre audience’s grew dramatically. But it is his work for children that most of us remember: voicing every character in the weekly national TV show, presenting folk-tales with passion, imitating people, the sounds of various animals. He would get a weekly program called Ye Lijoch Gize, that would feature music, comedy skits, dance, jigging and pantomime. The show, geared towards children and teens, ran for forty two years.
Tesfaye grew up in Ginir, Bale and lived in Harar in his young hood. He attended the French Mission School at Harar which he attended until he was 14 and he moved to Addis Ababa and joined the Kokebe Tsibah School. He lost his parents during the invasion of Italian, and he had to fend for himself afterwards. It was during his time that he would discover his talent for entertaining. He joined the municipal City Hall Theatre, along with Getachew Debalke, Getachew Mekuria, Belay Meressa. Tesfaye was one of the Ethiopian artists who went to Korea in 1951 to entertain thousands of troops sent by Emperor Haile Selassie to fight as part of the American-led UN force supporting South Korea against the communist North and its ally, China. For this, he was given the military title of sergeant.
Tesfaye was awarded gold watches three times from Emperor Haile Selassie. He also received an award for his lifetime achievements from the Ethiopian Fine Art and Mass Media Prize Trust in 1998.
He published two children books, Ke’abbatoch lelijjoch (1986) and Lojoch, ye zare abebawotch, yenege frewoch (1972).
Tesfaye is survived by two children and five grandchildren.
Getachew Debalke, a colleague and long-time friend wrote an account of the life and work of Tesfaye Sahlu but was not published because of objection from family members about some details of Tesfaye’s love life.

Arefayné Fantahun
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2 Discussion to this post

  1. Alem says:

    Aref, we could do a better pic than this 🙂

  2. Alem says:

    Thanks.

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