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?

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Estonia's Sing-Song Rebellion

I just saw "The Singing Revolution," a documenty chock full of historical insight by Maureen and Jim Trusty. The Singing Revolution emerged in Estonia in 1987, during Soviet rule. After Gorbachev introduced Glasnost and Prerestroika, Estonians held mass gatherings of thousands upon thousands of people, where they sang paeans to their land and patriotic anthems - some of which resembled arena-rock balladry. Fifty years after the U.S.S.R. staked claim on Estonia by signing the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, the Baltic peoples formed a singing human chain that stretched 600 km from Estonia, through Lativa, and into Lithuania.

Three words: Best. Revolution. Ever.