Mahmoud Ahmed / Mahmoud Ahmed & Imperial Bodyguard Band

Ethiopiques, Vol. 26 (1972-1974)

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Éthiopiques delves into the catalog of vocalist Mahmoud Ahmed once more, this time to focus on his years fronting the Imperial Bodyguard Band and other institutional units between 1972 and 1974. Ahmed had been trained in the institutional band system of Ethiopia before the revolution ended its Solomonic monarchy, but left it in 1967 for a solo career. Military and institutional bands in Ethiopia were innovative and creative, as opposed to those in the West. They were responsible for much of the musical innovation that took place in the nation’s popular music. Ahmed returned briefly to the Imperial Bodyguard Band at the request of Philips Ethiopia after making a pair of solo albums for Ahma Records with the Ibex Band in 1973 and 1974 (documented on Éthiopiques, Vol. 6 and Vol. 19, respectively). The 14 tracks offered here are presented chronologically. The first eight sides comprised four 45s with the Imperial Bodyguard Band, with arrangements by the legendary Haylou Wèldè-Maryam. They include the Caribbean big-band flavor of “Eneman Neberu,” the bass-heavy “Esset Mera,” with its wildly swinging horns that engage in a call-and-response with a female backing chorus, and the deeply soulful strut that is “Feqer Bezebezegn.” The midtempo groover “Wubetwan Alesma” and the bubbling "Kantchi Gar Kalhone” -- with a smoking Wurtlizer organ solo -- were recorded with a pickup group from Aghèr Feqer Mahber, another institutional unit. The final four cuts on the set were all composed by the famous Lèmma Dèmissèwe. According to Francis Falceto's authoritative liner notes, the songwriter had written them to sing himself with the IBB, but Philips wanted Ahmed because of his popularity. All four sides are wildly innovative. The old-school R&B-tinged ballad, “Tchela Atbey,” uses strings and horns in a manner that not only harmonically complements the moaning Ahmed, but creates another lyric dimension inside the tune. On “Endet Lelefew,” Dèmissèwe's arrangement creates an otherworldly counterpoint between his piano and clarinets. The stomping “Alem Alem,” which walks a blurry line between Ray Charles and James Brown, is another standout. All of Ahmed's recordings are worth owning, but if one had to pare it down to two, it would be Erè Mèla Mèla and this one .

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