Saturday, March 1, 2008

Musical Hero Mahmoud Ahmed Grooves to High Heaven

Anybody who has explored the epic Ethiopiques series would probably recognize the name Mahmoud Ahmed and the man's intriguing, seductive croon. Ahmed is one of the many legendary artists to have emerged from Ethiopia's nightclub scene of the '60s and '70s. He started out as a shoe-shine boy, then took a job as a handyman at the Arizona Club in Addis Ababa, and eventually he became the singer for the Imperial Body Guard Band. Over the proceeding decades, he would go on to sing for groups like the Roha Band, the Idan Raichel Project, the Venus Band, the Walais Band and the Ibex Band.

I just watched a short interview with this beloved Ethiopian band leader. Gotta love the guy's cool confidence: "This is the modern music, which is traditional music as composed by me and other composers and writers. So we arranged it and we played by that," he says. "Maybe if somebody wants me to play traditional music, it's my pleasure to play...I do everything."

The Ahmed hits I know are spooky and transcendent, in a groovy, R&B kind of way. Why, the interviewer asks, is his music so dark? "Not so dark," Ahmed says, smiling. "Bright. Everything is bright."

Here are some great videos: un festival-concert au Québec, un concert Parisian au Café de la Danse (où il chante ma chanson préférée), et une vidéo de musique. Also, tell me, is this the Ethiopian equivalent to a U.S.O. show?

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