Mahmoud Ahmed and Ali Birra: An electrifying celebration of Ethiopian jazz
(Art Centre Melbourne) — The Red Sea’s most seductive soul singer, Mahmoud Ahmed, and the king of Oromo music, Ali Birra, will join forces with Melbourne’s own Ethio-jazz band The JAzmaris, performing their respective classics as well as tributes to contemporaries from the bustling Ethiopian music scene.
Undeniably Ethiopia’s most famous singer of its 1970s golden era, Mahmoud Ahmed rose to fame amid a turbulent political climate in which he did all he could to keep singing. Influenced by the swagger of Pat Boone, Elvis Presley and Sam Cooke, Mahmoud is celebrated for his free-wheeling vocals, quavering Amharic rhythm and mastery of the krar.
Since the late 1990s Mahmoud has enjoyed a resurgence in popularity since the Buda Musique reissued three of his albums as part of the Ethiopiques series of CDs, which did for Ethiopia’s music scene what the Buena Vista Social Club did for Cuba’s.
Ali Birra has been described as a national icon, a pioneer, a legend, a hero, a doctor, and the undisputed king of Oromo music. A trail-blazer in many ways, Ali Birra self-produced the first known album in his mother tongue of Oromo.
With the ability to sing in Amharic, Arabic, Harari and Somali language, Ali rose to fame across Ethiopia in the 1970s before a storied career to that took him to Sudan, Sweden and the United States.
When these two legends of Ethiopian jazz take to the stage, expect Horn of Africa-grooves, trumpets and lots of eskista – a dance that involves shaking and quivering from shoulders down to the legs and feet – from both the performers and the audience.
”Ethiopia is so diverse; there are lots of different religions and tribes living together. Music helps pull them all together as one and it generates an economy.” Mahmoud Ahmed
“It’s the quaver that makes Mahmoud Ahmed’s voice so arresting. That quaver is coupled with emphatic rhythm and grainy determination” The New York Times