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|Birth name||Ali Mahammed|
September 29, 1947 |
Dire Dawa, Ethiopia
|Years active||1961 - present|
Ali Birra was born in Dire Dawa (Ganda Kore).
His parents were separated when he was three years old, after which he was brought up by his father. He attended Arabic school as a child where he learnt Arabic language. He then enrolled in local academic school and pursued his education till the sixth grade.
In his early years, Ali used to do small on-sreet business so as to support himself as a means of livelihood. When he was 13, he joined Afran Qallo cultural group which was then oprerating unofficially to promote the Oromo music and culture. The first song that he sang on stage was called "Birra dha Bari'e" so that the people nicknamed him "Ali Birra," meaning "Ali the Spring". The Haile Selasie regime banned the group in 1965 and arrested some of its members. Ali escaped arrest and moved to Addis Ababa.
Life in Addis Ababa
After he settled in Addis Ababa, he was engaged in different activities along with singing. On this occasion, Ali came to know the nationalist Ahmad Taqi, and the latter bought him a guitar so that Ali could sing more widely. His fame increased dramatically throughout the city. He had ability to sing in Amharic, Arabic, Harari, and Somali languages, in addition to Oromo, his mother tongue. This had gained him appreciation from different personalities including Eyoel Yohannes, at the time the head of Kibur Zebegna, so that Eyoel recruited him as a solo singer in Oromo. He joined other famous singers such as Mahmoud Ahmed, Tilahun Gessesse and Bizunesh Bekele.
While he was within the group, he could travel to all regions of the country and show his talent to his admirers. He also traveled to the Sudan repeatedly and sang with well known celebrities like Mohammed Wardi. When he was in Addis Ababa, he would perform in large venues such as Hager Fiker and Ras Teyater, but following a discussion with his father, he left Addis Ababa. In the early 1970s, at the breakout of the Ethiopian revolution, Ahmad Taqi was killed in eastern Ethiopia while fighting the government army. Ali Birra mourned deeply and sang metaphorically,
Yaa Hundee Bareeda
Yaa Finxee Midhaga
(Hundee was another name for Ahmad Taqi.)
Ali Birra continued his career both as a musician and a composer. He produced his first album in 1971, the first in the history of Oromo music. He then recorded successful hits such as "Hin Yaadin", "Asabalee", "Ammalelee", and "Gamachu". His albums included Sudanese songs such as "Al-Habib Ween" and Harari songs such as "Yidenqal".
Out of Ethiopia
A Swedish admirer of Ali Birra, who had been a vice-secretary at the Swedish Embassy in Addis Ababa, asked him for marriage. Ali agreed and married her in 1985, her name was Birgitta Åström born in Stockholm, Sweden (21 July 1942 – 13 September 2009). In 1986, Ali's wife was transferred to Saudi Arabia, and Ali accompanied her to the country. But Ali faced difficulties in Saudi Arabia, and proceeded to Sweden, where he lived for two years. In 1988, he went to the United States to attend the Los Angeles Arts Academy. He graduated in 1990, and by 1992, he had released his first two albums outside of Ethiopia amid increasing international fame. He also conducted many concerts and festivals in many countries, including the 2005 Enkutatash (Ethiopian New Year) celebration at the Addis Sheraton.
As of August 2009[update], Ali Birra reported that he had recently been treated for colon cancer, but planned to continue performing music, in spite of reports that his most recent album would be his last.