Renowned Ethiopian singer Mahmoud Ahmed has been awarded one of the highest honours of France, the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres (the Order of Arts and Letters), at a ceremony held at the Residence of the French Ambassador to Ethiopia in Addis Ababa on Tuesday 19 July.
The musician was honored for his prominent representation of the culture of his country and for being an emblem of the strong links between Ethiopia and France in the field of arts and culture.
The 75-year-old Mahmoud Ahmed has been a central figure on the Ethiopian music scene for decades. Born in Addis Ababa's Mercato district, Mahmoud was enthralled with the music he heard on Ethiopian radio from an early age. One night in 1962, when the Imperial Body Guard band's singer didn't show up, Mahmoud asked to sing a few songs. He soon became part of the band's regular line-up, where he remained until 1974. He subsequently performed with various bands but it was in 1986 that his music reached a wider audience when Belgian label Crammed Discs released the collection Ere Mela Mela, drawn from two Kaifa LPs that Mahmoud had recorded in Addis with the Ibex Band a decade earlier.
Mahmoud Ahmed’s body of work – including landmark recordings like Almaz, Alemye, Ere Mela Mela and Tezeta - is not only part of his personal legacy but also part of a wider heritage collection; a valuable part of Ethiopia’s musical history and cultural heritage. In 2007, Mahmoud was the recipient of the BBC World Music Award. In 2015 he embarked on a world tour with French group Badume’s Band, which has been touring with him for more than 10 years, also backing other Ethiopian veterans such as singer Alemayehu Eshete.
France's equivalent to a knighthood, the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres (Order of Arts and Letters) was established in May 1957 by its Ministry of Culture. Its supplementary status to the Ordre national du Mérite was confirmed by President Charles de Gaulle in 1963. Its purpose is to recognise significant contributions to the arts, literature and film. Other musicians to have received the honour over the years include Bono, Ringo Starr, Quincy Jones, Elton John, Dexter Gordon, Van Morrison, Philip Glass and South Africa's Johnny Clegg.
The French Ambassador to Ethiopia, Brigitte Collet, bestowed the insignia of Officer of the Order of Arts and Letters upon Ahmed. Lauding the artist for his dedication to music, the French ambassador remarked: "Your contribution to Ethiopia and world music is tremendous. You have laid the foundations for an original music which synthesizes the most diverse influences - soul, rock, funk, jazz and so on, with, of course, traditional Ethiopian melodies."