Moges Seyoum

Ethiopian liturgical musician/scholar
Black man wearing white turban and holding a cane with silver handle.

Photo by Michael G. Stewart


The son of an accomplished church musician, Moges Seyoum began his musical education in Ethiopia at the age of eight. He soon became an accomplished singer and an expert in the various genres of Ethiopian Orthodox Christian chant, sacred dance, and associated instrumental practices. In 1966, at an unusually young age, he received the title of qanhgeta or "the leader of the right-hand side," meaning the musician who leads the right side of the two choirs that alternate as they sing plainchant. By the time he arrived in the United States in 1982, he could perform from memory the complete Ethiopian Psalter, as well as other liturgical books such as the Ethiopian Hymnary. In 2006, he recorded and published a collection of six CDs containing the most complicated musical sections for the annual liturgy. Seyoum is also an expert on the Ethiopian Christian notational system, the only indigenous system of music writing in Africa, that has 600 signs. He also is viewed as the master of an elaborate style of movement of the prayer staff (takla), and he is known as the only practitioner living in the United States. Today, while holding down two jobs, he leads the performance of the musical liturgy at the Debre Selam Kidist Mariam Church in Washington, DC, at services that often number more than 2,000.

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