AMHA Records was set up by record-shop owner & band manager Amha Eshete during Ethiopia’s “golden era” of music between 1969 & 1975, after Eshete noticed a lack of appreciation for homegrown Ethiopian music from the country’s state-run & main music label Hager Fikir Maheber.
Eshete risked “imperial wrath” & imprisonment to set up the independent label and despite initial grumblings, was able to operate freely and with huge success till its closure in ’74. According to Ethio-music experts Funk Fidelity, most Ethiopian 45’s were released with a picture sleeve. The vinyl was mostly pressed in India, Lebanon, Greece and East Africa, however, the sleeves were printed in Ethiopia and cassettes were a popular format for local releases. Traditional Ethiopian music styles sung in Amharic began to be fused with “modern” sounds (aka Western instruments) under Selassie’s rule as the military introduced performing brass bands under Imperial control across the country.
Previously Abyssinia, Ethiopia is part of the Horn of Africa, and the the birth-place of mankind with some of the earliest human species remains found there. It has remained one of few African countries to resist colonisation by the Europeans. Italian dictator Mussolini invaded & held the country briefly 1935-1941 before Haile Selassie, god to the Rastafarianism religion was restored as Emperor of Ethiopia. Selassie ruled till a military coup and his death in 1974 ending the “golden age” of Ethiopian music, and leading to over 31 years of civil war, curfews, censorship and many musicians (including Amha Eshete) leaving their home-country for exile across the world. Eshete sold the AMHA licensing rights to French label Buda Musique in the 90’s enlightening the world to the almost suppressed sounds of the Ethiopiques series.
A selection of AMHA gold:
- Alemayehu Eshete – Kochen Messasate / Eruke Yaleshew 7″ (1973)
- Nicknamed the “Ethiopian Elvis,” Amharic vocalist Alemayehu Eshete has been performing Ethio-jazz magic since the early 60’s after he was scouted for the Imperial Police band by colonel Rètta Dèmèqè during Haile Selassie’s rule in 1961. Eshete is no relation to the AMHA founder, however, Amha claims Alemayehu, the label’s first client, was also the first artist to share the risk in breaking away from the state-run music industry with him.
- Hirut Bèqèlè – Almokerkum Nebere / Esu Naw Messelegne 7″ (1972)
- Hirut Bèqèlè was a female vocalist popular by Ethiopian music fans worldwide who began recording with AMHA and Eshete in the early 70’s. After the beginning of the civil war, Bèqèlè continued to record with AMHA competitor Ali Tango on his Kaifa label throughout the 70’s.
- Mulatu Astatke featuring Fekade Amde Maskal – Dèwèl – Ethio Jazz LP (1974)
- Composer and multi-instrumentalist Mulatu Astatke, is today arguably the most well-known Ethiopian musician outside his home country thanks to record diggers appreciation, Buda Musique and hip-hop sampling from big-weights NAS, Damien Marley etc in the 90’s. This is the first LP from Astatke on AMHA with vocalist Maskal. Astatke studied abroad in the US & London and was the first African student to attend Berklee University in Boston before returning home with a love for Latin, jazz music and traditional Ethiopian music, giving life to his new musical style of Ethio-jazz. The vibraphonist still performs today, more recently with Australian group Black Jesus Experience after leaving a Derg-run Ethiopia in the late 70’s.