Renowned Ethiopian musician Mahmoud Ahmed is to receive France’s Chevalier of the Order of Arts and Letters, one of the country’s premier, national, cultural honour, Ethiopia Observer learnt. The artist is to be given the award on July 20 at the French Embassy in Addis Ababa, an award which was created in 1957 to recognize artists and cultural figures who have made significant contributions to society.
Ethiopia’s iconic musician and an international star, Mahmoud has been promoting Ethiopian culture at home and in the West for decades. With dazzling combinations of unforgettable Amharic lyrics, tone and melody, Mahmoud Ahmed’s soulful body of work –ranging from recordings like Almaz (1973), Alemye (1974 ), Ere Mela Mela (1975), Tezeta (1975)– 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.
The artist is a fan of France and he is no stranger to the country ever since he first went there in 1986 to appear at the Avignon Festival, which was arranged by Francis Falceto, originator and curator of the Ethiopiques series of cds and the music of Ethiopia’s greatest champion.
When Mahmoud Ahmed took the stage at Womad 2005 many looked at this grey bearded (yet regal) figure and wondered if he could still touch t
He heights of those immaculate recordings he cut from 1971-1975. No worries: as his band locked into one of those rolling, eerie Horn Of Africa-grooves Ahmed opened his mouth and that great, mysterious horn of a voice sailed forth just as it had done all those years ago.
Mahmoud Ahmed is both a living legend and something of a mystery in the West. Undeniably Ethiopia’s most famous singer of its “golden era”, the three albums reissued of his recordings by French label Buda Musique as part of their Ethiopiques series have captured Western listeners in the same way that, say, the reissues of Robert Johnson’s Delta blues did a previous generation. Yet where Johnson was long dead Ahmed is alive and in fine voice. Why then hasn’t he become a bigger star on the world music circuit? It appears Ahmed is so valued by Ethiopians – both at home and the Diaspora – he’s too busy singing for weddings and private events to give much thought to Western audiences.