Jimma Hiwot Berhan Choir

Jimma is the largest city in south-western Oromia and is about 350 km from the national capital, Addis Ababa. The Hiwot Berhan Church is one of the numerically strongest Pentecostal churches in Ethiopia and was pioneered by Swedish Philadelphia Church Mission members in the 1960s.

Around 1970, Mulugeta Sebsebe and Girma Tibebu organized a group of gifted singers in Jimma. As the group continued to grow, they transformed it into the formal choir of the Hiwot Berhan congregation. Mulugeta, Girma and Tesfay Yohannes belonged to the primary songwriters of the gospel choir. Unlike many other ensembles in Ethiopia, the Jimma Choir had two clarinet players who accompanied the singing together with accordion and guitar players.

The choir made significant impacts both in terms of evangelistic outreach and spiritual growth far beyond Jimma. The singing tours took the singers through large parts of the country. They included even performances in two Ethiopian Orthodox churches in Addis Ababa—Holy Trinity around Arat Kilo and Raguel at Merkato.

Before the beginning of the Ethiopian Revolution in summer 1974, the Jimma Choir recorded their songs in Addis Ababa. They were never published as a cassette. However, the then biggest evangelical radio network in Africa, Radio Voice of the Gospel (Bisrate Wongel), often broadcasted their much-loved songs until its confiscation in 1977.

One of the choir’s songs, Kiber Yigebahal Yegya Amlak (‘You are Worthy of Glory, Our God’) is still sung among many Evangelicals in Ethiopia and the diaspora. It found its way even in the Amharic liturgy of the Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus.

In 1978, the local government took the Swedish mission compound and pressured the congregation to stop public meetings. All church groups had to stay underground until the end of the Ethiopian Revolution.

Album

The cassette ministry of Radio Voice of the Gospel recorded the songs of the choir in 1974 and broadcasted them. Unfortunately, no cassette with the songs was published.

Songs in hymn books

Mert Mazmurat (1975ff)

» See profiles of choir members Girma Tibebu, Mulugeta Sebsebe and Tesfaye Yohannes.

Audio (YouTube)

Old Amharic Gospel Song/ ክብር ይገባሃል የኛ አምላክ -በጅማ መዘምራን/Old Jimma Choir song

Pictures

Q: Are there pictures of the choir from the 1970s [e.g. at YDCS / RVOG]?

For further reading

Haustein, Jörg (2011). Writing Religious History: The Historiography of Ethiopian Pentecostalism (Studies in the History of Christianity in the Non-Western World, 17). Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz. [See pp. 205-209 on Hiwot Berhan Church]

Dinku Lamessa