Earlier in the week, a friend tipped me off about the haunting solo piano music of Ethiopian nun, Emahoy Segué-Maryam Guébrou. An album by her is Number 21 in the magnificent Ethiopiques series of re-issues from the Ethiopian golden age (and you can listen to it on Spotify or YouTube). Remarkable music from a composer with a very personal style. She’s 93 now and lives in a monastery in Jerusalem.
What a dramatic life she has led. As a young woman, during Mussolini’s invasion of her country, she was a POW on the island of Asinara, off the coast of Sardinia. That titbit led me an unexpected discovery. During the same period, The Emperor of Abyssinia, Haile Selassie spent four years in exile in Bath of all places from 1936- 40.
What a contrast! The charismatic, exotic East African patriarch and his enormous retinue must have made quite an impression in that sedate, stately, rather sleepy Georgian spa town. My first thought was that he chose Bath as he was a great fan of Jane Austen. The truth is more mundane. The British government, who were trying to stay on the right side of Il Duce, felt that it was inappropriate for an exiled head of state, from a country he was at war with, to be based in London.
I enclose a link to a documentary about his stay presented by Benjamin Zephaniah. There are some marvellous anecdotes from citizens of Bath who had encounters with Ras Tafari. One lady, whose mum was the local cinam manager, remembers how he used to go to there to watch the newsreels about the war in his country.
King Haakon V11 of Norway also soon became an exile in London after his country was invaded by the Nazis ( the subject of a new Norwegian film, The King’s Choice). Trafalgar Square still get a Xmas Tree from Norway every year in thanks for those exile years.
Any other exiles who were fish out of water? Trotsky in Mexico…..????
What a shame that Haile Selassie and Jane Austen were in Bath at different periods. The possibilities that he would have given her fiction! Sensi and Sensibility. Northanger Rastas. Irie and Irritability….
I’ll get my cloak!