Listen to Mohammed Jimmy Mohammed – the blind genius of Ethiopian music

Once many years ago in Holland I met the great Mohammed Jimmy Mohammed- the blind genius of Ethiopian music whose voice soars of the brilliant rhythms that surge in the background.

He became blind as a child, supposedly as a curse for his parents’ decision to ignore the warnings of a fortune teller and baptize him, as God had willed him to be a Muslim. With this kind of background it’s not surprising that he  ran away and spent several years on the streets, homeless, begging for food, finding solace in the songs of legendary vocalist Tlahoun Gessesse (immortalized in several volumes of the amazing Ethiopiques series) who not only sang beautifully, but whose songs addressed the plight of the poor and suffering.

Mohammed was eventually discovered and cared for, enrolled in a school for the blind and raised by a kind hearted surrogate father. After money was raised to help restore his sight, he was heartbroken to discover the funds were stolen and his eyesight was never to be restored. Mohammed spent a brief stint in the national theater before becoming a nightclub singer, where he became more and more popular. Mohammed mostly sings Tlahoun Gessesse’s pop songs from the ’60s / ’70s, being as those are the songs that most affected him throughout his life, but it’s his voice and the unique arrangements that make him so special.

He appeared briefly on the Ethiopiques 2 compilation, then released the proper full length “Takkabel!”. The music of that album is squiggly and complex, dense and tangled, angular but so lovely. On that album Mohammed’s band is augmented by legendary European free jazz drummer Han Bennink, Massimo Pupillo from Italian drone jazz combo Zu, as well as the warm smooth sax from Ethiopian legend and Ethio-jazz innovator Getatchew Mekurya.

This is  a stunning almost spiritual music that drips pure beauty and you can get lost in it for days- and these are days that are well spent.



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