Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Mahmoud Ahmed

  • Ere Mela Mela [Crammed Discs, 1986] B+
  • Soul of Addis [Sterns/Earthworks, 1997] Neither
  • Almaz [Buda Musique, 1999] B+
  • Alèmyé [Buda Musique, 2005] B+

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Ere Mela Mela [Crammed Discs, 1986]
Because taste leads to knowledge, I enjoy fair familiarity with the West African music that's second cousin to rock and roll and none with the distant relatives in North Africa and the Middle East. But where knowledge ends, taste rules. Ahmed is a singer of unmistakable authority, and maybe an album of the "many standards" he's contributed to "modern Ethiopian music" would expand my horizons. Or maybe this is that album--I don't know. I do know that soon I lose the charge I get from the lead cuts, generated less by the "strange, almost Indonesian-sounding scales" of the vocals than by the two-sax horn section, which (maybe because it utilizes those scales) could be Afro-Brilliant Corners or ill-tempered synthesizer or avant-garde blues. For tastes that run to the Master Musicians of Jajouka and Om Kalsoum, he may be Elvis. B+

Soul of Addis [Sterns/Earthworks, 1997] Neither

Almaz [Buda Musique, 1999]
Full-voiced and emotional, the strong Middle Eastern cast of his delivery evoking soul shout as well, Ahmed is the biggest singing star Ethiopia has produced, a young comer who negotiated the insane political particularities of his ancient land to become a respected pro. These muscular early recordings from 1972 or so, a/k/a Éthiopiques 6, sound rougher but no less fevered and distinct than the circa-1975 stuff collected on his certified classic Ere Mela Mela. On both I love the sour two-man sax sections and crudely insistent rhythms. On both I wish I knew what he was trying to tell his world. B+

Alèmyé [Buda Musique, 2005]
In 1974, a world-class singer in a small world made a pretty darn good album in his local style. Am I smart enough to distinguish said work, marketed here as Éthiopiques 19, from the 1973 and 1975 Mahmoud Ahmed albums that have caught my ear over the years? No. Do I listen with pleased attention as his commanding and arresting if never quite unique or exquisite voice declaims over the Ibex Band's two-sax tchik-tchik-ka from scene-setting "Alèmyé" to relaxed, drawn-out "Tezeta"? Almost every time. B+