"Melancholy blues, piercingly minimalist country airs, brassy, danceable urban jazz, heart-wrenching, off-key crooners: a rich and stirring patchwork of sounds, crossing Afro-beat, Latino-swing moves and Eastern arabesques."
Such were the first -- informed and enthusiastic -- opinions of the music press when the first strains of modern Ethiopian music sounded on our shores. This was in 1984-1985. Such a positive note, struck about such a country at such a time, created plenty of reverb. The country had been so thoroughly trashed by the media's feeding-frenzy, which spewed out a mix of horror and pious pity, bitter denunciation and humanitarian appeals, wallet-tickling clichés and refusal of identity. In one brutal swoop, TV-reality transformed Ethiopia into a cursed nation, forsaken by God and by man.
In contrast to these tragedies, but in the same hackneyed tones, Mahmoud Ahmed's life resembles an edifying fairy-tale where destiny, talent and achievement combine to triumph over poverty, fate and the evil eye. Biography, history and legend, with the help of God, infallibly weave the lesson of merit rewarded. But who can argue, in spite of the mockery that celebrities invariably draw, when faced with one of the greatest voices in all of Africa? Once upon a time, there was a street urchin in Addis Ababa, who started off as a shoe-shine boy and went on to become one of his country's biggest stars, opening the door to Ethiopian music to Western audiences. --Francis Falceto