Mahmoud Ahmed was born on May 8, 1941 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Mahmoud shined shoes in that city before becoming a handyman at the Arizona Club, where he first sang professionally in the early 1960s. He sang for the Imperial Body Guard Band until 1974, and recorded with other bands for the Amha and Kaifa record labels throughout the 1970s. He opened his own music store in Addis Ababa’s Piazza district during the 1980s while he continued his singing career. In addition to the Imperial Body Guard Band, Mahmoud has sung with the Ibex Band, the Venus Band, the Walias Band, the Idan Raichel Project, and the Roha Band over the course of his career.
Since the late 1990s he has enjoyed a resurgence in popularity in Europe and the Americas since Buda Musique launched the Ethiopiques series on compact disc, leading to new recordings and tours in Europe and the United States with Boston’s Either/Orchestra & Badume’s Band.
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. Mahmoud Ahmed is the winner of the BBC Radio 3 Awards for World Music 2007 in the category African artist of the year.