Almaz Belihu

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Introduction

aka Almaz Belhu

Almaz appears to have been 16 years old when she submitted her song Mən aynät fəqər näw? (‘What kind of love is this?’) around 1970 (year of copyright according to the LC-MS’s “Lutheran Service Book”).

She might have been a member of Light of Life Girls’ School Choir.

Almaz had several other songs. “What kind of love is this” and Ləgwaz käʼantä (‘Let me travel with You’) were great favorites of [Grace Bible Institute] students in Jimma in the 1970s (L. Balisky).


From the Finnish hymnal website:

907 Onko suurempaa ihmettä [Is there a greater miracle]

Oh his love
Jemooteliñ Geeta’en [Mən aynät fəqər näw]

Hymn 907 was written in the 1960s by a young Ethiopian woman, Almaz Belihu (aka: Belhu). It is said that she won a hymn competition with her hymn Mən aynät fəqər näw when she was only 16 years old. The first version of the hymn was a C-cassette recording, from which the tune was later notated. The hymn was originally sung without accompaniment. The hymn was translated into English and German by teachers at the Mekane Yesus Seminar in Addis Ababa at the turn of the 1980s. The hymn has been a very popular communion hymn in the Mekane Yesus Church in Ethiopia.

Jaakko Löytty, who wrote the Finnish text, says he first heard the hymn during a visit to Ethiopia in 1976. He had got hold of an Ethiopian collective songbook [Kälǝb ǝnəzämǝr, 1972] with the notes and words of the song “O his love” in Amharic. Löytty based his lyrics on a straightforward translation by a missionary [Q: Juha Kauppinen?]. Löytty also writes about his memories of the harmony of the hymn used in the Mekane Yesus church and the ‘Semitic’ tone created by the harmony. The second voice follows the pentatonic scale in fourths and tenths below the melody – – Nowadays, the harmonic concept seems to have become a little more westernised with the advent of European keyboard instruments.”

The Ethiopian hymn in praise of God’s love brings an international flavour to the Thanksgiving hymn repertoire and its swaying rhythmic element is new to traditional Thanksgiving melodies. The words highlight the events of Good Friday, but the hymn is also suitable for everyday use and a wide variety of occasions. The hymn is well known internationally and is sung in many languages. It is a testimony to the fact that missionary work in Ethiopia has also been an enriching work for Western culture.

Almaz Bel(i)hu (born around 1950) is an Ethiopian songwriter about whom there is little written information. In the 1970s, the Mekane Yesus Church sent this energetic woman, aged around 20-25, to the diocese of Hossana to work with young people and women. [Almaz] Belihu composed songs and inspired others to sing. It is said that she has since moved to England.” [Translated with www.DeepL.com]

— Jenni Urponen and Samuli Koivuranta

Songs in hymn books

(1) AMHARIC

Kälǝb ǝnəzämǝr (1972)

  • 14 songs use the name of Almaz Belihu
    (either text, music or both)
AlmazhBelihu-in-Kelib-2Songs_800px

Səbhat laʼamlak (1973)

  • No. 56 (English and Norwegian version see below) and
  • no. 246

Wädase Amlak, vol. 1 (mimeograph, no date [before 1991])

  • p. 1 (Mən aynät fəqər näw)
  • p. 83

Ǝnzämǝr, vol. 2 (mimeograph, no date)

  • p. 30 (Mən aynät fəqər näw)

Mäzmur bäpiyano (1996/97)

  • p. 83 (Mən aynät fəqər näw)

Səbhat laʼamlak (2007)

  • No. 50, 382
(2) ENGLISH

God is Here (1981)

Lutheran Service Book
(Ed. Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod.
Saint Louis, MO: Concordia Publ. House, 2006)

[Stanza 4 by Joseph Herl]

Set free: A collection of African hymns.
(Ed. Howard S. Olson. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993.)

Howard S. Olson, a Lutheran missionary in (today’s) Tanzania,
used Almaz’s tune when publishing the song No. 24,
“When Jesus worked here on earth.”

This songs was republished in other hymnals,
including the Catholic Ritual Song, No. 797.


(3) FINNISH

Virsikirjan lisävihko
(Helsinki : Lasten keskus ja Kirjapaja Oy, 2016.)

  • No. 907: Onko suurempaa ihmettä
    Finnish translation by Jaakko Löytty (1983, 2014).
(4) NORWEGIAN

Norwegian hymn book (N.N.)

Audio

English:

"When I Behold Jesus Christ" Lutheran Service Book LSB #542

Video

Amharic (with lyrics):

Min aynet feker nw by Zamar music Ministry

Finnish version:

Ei mitään pelättävää!

Further reading

Koivuranta, Samuli, and Jenni Urponen (eds.). Laulun matka virreksi. Helsinki: Kirjapaja, 2017, pages 49–51, 219.