Volume 19 of Buda Musique's Ethiopiques series focuses on some 1974 performances by Alemye Mahmoud Ahmed, one of the finest, most expressive and valuable singers to come out of Ethiopian pop. The '70s were a time of tremendous political turmoil for Ethiopia; Emperor Haile Selassie (who has been the subject of many reggae lyrics) died on August 27, 1975, and his death was followed by a long period of violence and instability. Despite all that, Ahmed made some classic recordings in the '70s -- and Ethiopiques, Vol. 19: Alèmyé illustrates his greatness during that period. In 1974, the influence of American recordings was being felt all over the African continent; that was true of artists ranging from Miriam Makeba in South Africa to Fela Kuti in Nigeria, and it was certainly true of Ahmed in Ethiopia. An East-meets-West approach prevails throughout this 55-minute CD, which finds Ahmed combining Ethiopian and Middle Eastern elements with the influence of American funk, soul and jazz. It's an intoxicating mixture that serves the vocalist well on hypnotic gems like "Nèy Dènun Tesèsh," "Tezeta," "Etu Gèla" and "Antchi Enén Wedèdjign" (all of which unite Ahmed with the Ibex Band). While some forms of African pop are known for a happy, giddy exuberance (soukous and zouk, for example), Alèmyé epitomizes the moodier, duskier approach that a lot of Ethiopian pop is known for. By 1974 standards, the sound quality of these recordings isn't great -- listenable certainly, but not great and not something that would delight a picky audiophile. Regardless, the vitality of Ahmed's performances comes through loud and clear, making Alèmyé a rewarding purchase for anyone who has even a casual interest in the Ethiopian pop of the '70s.
AllMusic Review by Alex Henderson