Mahmoud Ahmed - Live in Paris
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Mahmoud Ahmed
Live in Paris
Cities/Long Distance

cd cover Recently a coworker of mine, upon hearing that a mutual acquaintance had once dated a model from Ethiopia, was prompted to ask, "They have models in Ethiopia?" Sadly, a lot of people can't shake the image of that country as a land of nothing but starving masses, barren landscapes and internal strife. Whatever truth those notions have, it's also a fact that Ethiopia is home to a singular musical culture. Because it was never colonized (although there were two brief occupations by Italy), they were able to absorb musical influences from all over without the pressure of a ruling European nation attempting to modernize them with an iron fist. Thus the popular music of Ethiopia is not Anglophone, Francophone, Lusophone or any other of the type. Rather, it is rooted in the country's own pentatonic scale traditions with pan-African rhythms, Arabic spice, Latin punchiness, plenty of soul and indomitable spirit thrown in. You can hear all of those in the music of the man who is arguably Ethiopia's signature voice, Mahmoud Ahmed.

Ahmed once shined shoes in the capital city of Addis Ababa, but through luck, skill and stubbornness eventually became one of Ethiopia's most consistently hit-making singers. Success on an international scale (including an American tour in the early '80s) followed, and he remains highly regarded today both in his homeland and elsewhere. This live disc, taken from a 1994 performance, captures Ahmed in peak form. Whether growling like a bluesman, wailing like a muezzin, crooning intimately or cutting loose with total abandon, he works his admittedly less-than-perfect voice with serpentine precision through songs that stomp, swing, jump and groove. His raw but solid band (guitar, bass, drums, keyboard and dual saxes) can rock cool and sinister or with fevered intricacy, always providing the tart, coiled intensity that Ahmed's singing (exemplified here by the likes of his popular "Mela Mela") rides so well. The recording quality is clean without sounding too polished, the performance is passionate (if a bit aloof in spots) and this satisfying sampling of a singer who represents the music of a great but misunderstood nation is well worth tracking down. - Tom Orr

Available at cdRoots

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