Ethiopian-Israeli musician Gili Yalo sings about Operation Moses, the evacuation of Ethiopian Jews from Sudan during the 1984 famine to the ‘Promised Land.’

By Jennifer Greenberg (Jerusalem Post) |

Many musicians share fond memories of a first piano recital – coiffed, quiffed and ready for one part charm, two parts humiliation. Others smile while remembering the first Arik Einstein song they clunked out on their brother’s hand-me-down guitar. Gili Yalo’s first performance took place atop his father’s shoulders in the middle of the desert.

His repertoire: the familiar village songs with which his mother lulled him to sleep.

His audience: a group of Ethiopian wanderers losing hope by the minute.

“The trek from Ethiopia to Sudan was long, especially for a four-year old.”

Yalo was recounting Operation Moses, the evacuation of Ethiopian Jews from Sudan during the 1984 famine to the “Promised Land.”

“We had no electricity in our village,” Yalo explained. “So I never heard the music of the world back then, only the live music my mother sang to me.”

Yalo’s mother was not a musician by trade, rather a musician by necessity.

“In Ethiopia, especially in the smaller villages, music was a way of life. While the men went to war, the women sang and drummed to uplift their spirits,” he said.

Boxed off from the world in a Sudanese refugee camp, Yalo, too, sought to uplift the spirits of his suffering beloved ones. After finally reaching Israel and settling in Safed, his horizon was broadened, and an affinity for Natan Yonatan – paired with a class trip, a crowded school bus and a crappy microphone – landed him an audition with Pirchei Yerushalayim, The Jerusalem Boys Choir.

Yalo recalled, “I went to the audition, sang the same song and the manager asked me if I had a passport. I told him that sadly I did not, to which he responded, ‘Well, go get yourself one, because in two weeks you’re coming with us to Paris’.”

Continue reading this story at Jerusalem Post
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