Asnaketch Worku Unveiled

On January 20, 2014, a brilliant documentary on Asnakech Worku, titled "ASNI, the life of Asnakech Worku. Courage, Passion & Glamor in Ethiopia", on her trials and triumphs, was launched at the National Theatre filled

Asnaketch Worku On January 20, 2014, a brilliant documentary on Asnakech Worku, titled "ASNI, the life of Asnakech Worku. Courage, Passion & Glamor in Ethiopia", on her trials and triumphs, was launched at the National Theatre filled to capacity. There were historians, academicians, people in the movie industry, in the media, in the corporate world, civil officials, students, retirees, and those from the international community all with common denominators--the incredibly gifted and light hearted Asnaketch Worku and passion for the Ethiopian music. The documentary was above all educational and wonderfully presented and told an exceptional story of a rare gifted human being and treasure of Ethiopia. It told a story of love, passion, courage, defeat and a great deal of gains. Asnaketch died in 2011 after battling a long illness but through her story telling and with thought provoking interviews done by the producer, she took the audience through memory lane. Those others in the documentary who were there to tell about Asnaketch also re-oriented us to the mystery and wonders of the Ethiopian music and about its eclectic and original instruments. We learned about the modes (notes): tezetabatiambassel, and anchihoy.

Ethiopia’s music is as diverse as the many ethnic groups with unique sounds.  Three additional modes are variations on the above: tezeta minor, bati major, and bati minor. Some songs take the name of their “qenet”, such as tizita, a song of nostalgia and longing. When played on traditional instruments, these modes are generally not tempered but adaptive and tempered when played on Western instruments such as piano and guitar.  The major musical instruments are Begena, Kebero, Krar, Masinko, and Washint. Asnaketch was adept at all the modes and played all instruments with such precision…no one like her, they said! Telling her story became our conscious and enlightened us about our hidden treasures asking us to continue and develop the music culture.

This all happened because of one conscious and courageous young woman, Rachel Samuel. Rachel is an Ethiopian American who resides in Los Angeles but does business in her homeland.

Rachel left for USA in 1992 to further her education. She first studied business administration to abandon the commercial world to return to her childhood passion of observing and interacting directly with people from all strata of society. Rachel became a portrait photographer and through this medium she is able to express her love of people and exuberance for life. She has taken photographs all over the world, most recently completing documentary work for the Annenberg Foundation in Tanzania, Ghana, and Ethiopia.

Joined with her husband Adam Overturn, she has created SAMUEL | OVERTON Photography.

Together they work internationally as documentary photographers and film makers, as well as producers in the United States and Ethiopia. Their focus is on global humanity and on regional issues that resonate universally. Rachel and Adam have worked on projects for the Annenberg Foundation and NGOs in India, Tibet, China, Morocco, Ghana, Tanzania, Canada and Ethiopia.

Commenting on her work on Asnaketch, Rachel said, "When I was 4-year old listening to my father’s radio, I heard a singer who mesmerized me. Decades later it was an almost pre-destined privilege to direct a documentary on this extraordinary artist who is as much a cultural icon to Ethiopians as Billie Holiday is to Americans and Edith Piaf to the French. Asnaketch Worku lived her life on the edge of her artistry, over the edge of her passions. But to separate Asnaketch from the social and political climes of conservative Ethiopia, particularly in 50’s and 60’s was impossible. Artists in that time were called derogatorily, ‘Azmari’, which the church deemed as, “...those not going to heaven. So this doc is as much about my country, my music, my culture as it is about this original being, Asnaketch, who is a substantive part of the fabric of Ethiopia, past and present".

Rahel continues… “Asnaketch became an aunt we regularly visited every time we went to Ethiopia. We became family although seeing her deteriorating rapidly as the years went by was heart breaking. Even with that reality, we approached her to sing while she was in bed. At first she thought it was a ludicrous idea.  However, as I slowly pushed to do the last recording and offered to bring the recording studio into her house, she agreed.”

When we asked Rachel what drove her to tell Asnaketch’s story in such a profound way to touch all hearts, she said that she never thought that following her four-year old promise to herself would have led her into this deep profound experience of being part of Asnaketch’s life. “When I started the documentary, I kept asking myself the reason why I was attracted to this beautiful soul. Maybe it was her transparent nature. Maybe it was the artistry in her. Maybe it was her frank and candid nature. Maybe it was the love for life she possessed and the only thing that made sense to her. And I am forever grateful for her gift, which lives on within me.”

We salute you, Rachel for being courageous and unrelenting to follow your dream. We appreciate you for your immense contribution through this documentary to bring attention to the forgotten and neglected artists and their part to the development of our society. We call that conscious leadership and we thank you for showing us a glimpse and for making us part of your world. We celebrate you for reaching your pinnacle--no doubt one of the many to come.

AWiB Team

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