Inspiration Ethiopian music

50 Years of Music with Mahmoud Ahmed

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Ethiopia’s legendary musician Mahmoud Ahmed has been making music for the greater part of his life, and five decades later, epically, he’s still at it.

The regal looking 74-year-old charming soul musician doesn’t show any signs of stopping, evident from a video clip showing his enrapturing performance –a feature of his richly textured vocal power, in a common custom way, riding a loping Amharic rhythm– at an extravagant 50 years of music celebration, held in his honor at the luxurious Sheraton hotel in Addis-Ababa, Ethiopia. This significant celebration is unprecedented and respectable given how, historically speaking, celebrating Ethiopian artists is rare tradition.

To honor the legend’s tireless achievements, it is said that the evening was thick with musical entertainment as well as various gifts, awards, and praise packed speeches.

Mahmoud Ahmed, dubbed as the “Red Sea’s most seductive soul singer” is of Gurage descent (an ethnic group in Ethiopia) born May 8, 1941 in Addis-Ababa’s Mercato district. From an early age, his inspiration for music was birthed during a period of time when he was enchanted with the music he heard on Ethiopian radio. At the same time, his sub-performance at school turned into a blessing that led him to work as a shoe shine boy before eventually becoming a handy-man at the Arizona Club –an after hours hangout of Emperor Haile Selassie I’s Imperial Body Guard Band. Fate deciding his course, on the night of 1962 when the band’s singer did not show up, Mahmoud persuaded the band to sing. In no time he became a member of the band’s regular line-up and remained with them until 1974.

According to critics, Mahmoud’s popularity soured in Ethiopia in the 1970s, and a few years afterwards reaching great heights he achieved International stardom. In 2007, he was the recipient of the BBC World Music Award.

With dazzling combinations of unforgettable Amharic lyrics, tone and melody, Mahmoud Ahmed’s soulful body of work  –ranging from recordings like Almaz (1973 LP); Alemye (1974 LP); Ere Mela Mela (1975 LP); Tezeta (1975 LP)– is not only part of his personal legacy but also part of a wider heritage collection; a valuable part of Ethiopia’s musical history and cultural heritage. hg