PS Picks: Emahoy Tsegué-Maryam Guèbrou's Mystical Music - Pacific Standard

PS Picks: Emahoy Tsegué-Maryam Guèbrou's Mystical Music

PS Picks is a selection of the best things that the magazine's staff and contributors are reading, watching, or otherwise paying attention to in the worlds of art, politics, and culture.
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This PS Pick originally appeared in The Lede, the weekly Pacific Standard email newsletter for premium members. The Lede gives premium members greater access to Pacific Standard stories, staff, and contributors in their inbox every week. While helping to support journalism in the public interest, members also receive a print magazine subscription, early access to feature stories, and access to an ad-free version of PSmag.com.

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March is a tweener. A mix of warm, stately sunsets, frenetic snowstorms, and gray afternoons that look at you askance, it's a month that throws the notion of categorization off balance.

Emahoy Tsegué-Maryam Guèbrou's piano playing is similarly resistant to classification, and this is its magnificence. Her songs—always solo piano affairs—often recall the impressionism and romance of more familiar composers like Debussy and Chopin, evincing the European classical traditions she studied as a youth during stints in Switzerland and Cairo. But all is not as it seems. Guèbrou modulates playfully in and out of keys like a somnambulating Thelonious Monk, and runs her hummingbird fingers up and down the pentatonic scale in the great tradition of her church's liturgical chants. She's unbound by key, by tradition, by meter—sometimes, her right-hand melodies seem to float above the measures they're part of. I don't wish to count them.

She released two albums in the late 1960s and early '70s to fund an orphanage, compiled on the incredible Éthiopiques, vol. 21: Emahoy (Piano Solo). With songs like "The Homeless Wanderer," and "The Mad Man's Laughter," Guèbrou seems happily unmoored, and the more I listen—me as well. Sometimes gods are fallible, and you don't yearn for spring.

This PS Pick originally appeared in The Lede, the weekly Pacific Standard email newsletter for premium members. The Lede gives premium members greater access to Pacific Standard stories, staff, and contributors in their inbox every week. While helping to support journalism in the public interest, members also receive a print magazine subscription, early access to feature stories, and access to an ad-free version of PSmag.com.

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