Today we stay in East Africa. Ethiopia to be precise. The birth place of humanity, according to scientists and archaeologists, where some of the earliest human remains have been found. The country is certainly soaked in history, culture and legend, and the music draws upon this, having an awe inspiring primordial quality.
It is claimed the Ark of the Covenant is hidden in Axum, in the north of Ethiopia but has never been seen as it is stored in a treasury and guarded by priests. I never made it up to Axum on my trip but I did visit Gondar, which is slightly further south. Here I visited the small Debre Birhan Selassie Church, which was built specifically to house the Ark. Many years were spent painting the amazing frescoes (see the banner to my blog) only for the Ark to never arrive as Axum was a preferred resting place!
Let’s move on to a musical legend, Mahoud Ahmed, who started working as a shoe shine boy on the streets of Addis Ababa before working as a handyman at the Arizona club, which was where the legendary band of Emperor Haile Selassie I, Imperial Body Guard Band played. The story goes that Mahoud used to listen to the band playing whilst he worked. One day when the singer was unavailable to rehearse with the band Mahmoud filled in and shortly after became a regular in the band. Quite a step up, becoming the front man in one of the biggest bands in the country.
The song posted today is the first he released on his own label, Mahmoud Records, shortly before Haile Selassise’s clamp down on certain freedoms following the Marxist Derg staged a coup d’état in September 1974. This meant music was forced underground. Yalem Baytewarnegn (spelling differs on the label and the sleeve), is sparse and raw, with Mahmoud’s soaring vocals, and backing coming from the incredible Dahlack Band, providing guitar, rough percussion and incredible horns.
I pick myself off the floor each time I hear this. It hits hard!
I am working on getting a translation of the Amharic of the song, so will post any updates here.
Mahmoud Ahmed – Yealem Baytewar Negne / Tidar Lenuroachin (1974) – Mahmoud Records (MA-1)