The most honored and celebrated Ethiopian Afaan Oromo vocalist Ali Birra has passed away.
He’s been hospitalized repeatedly in recent times and stayed admitted at Adama General Hospital until his death was pronounced last night.
Ali Birra was diagnosed with colon cancer in 2009 and underwent surgery.
Ali Birra is an iconic and most venerated Afaan Oromo artist who can be said to be a pioneering recording vocalist in the Afaan Oromo language. He has stayed in the Ethiopian musical platform for about 57 years.
He was born in 1948 in Gande Kore, Dire Dawa, Eastern Ethiopia. Though his full name is Ali Mohammed Musa, his nickname ‘Ali Birra’ stuck after he sang his first song, Birra dha Bari’e.
He has recorded more than 260 songs in his musical profession that spanned more than half a century.
Ali Birra started his musical endeavors when he joined an Oromo cultural group called Afran Qallo around 1963.
His honorable musical journey spiraled when he later joined the Imperial Bodyguard Band, when he was selected by Eyoel Yohannes, a known musical figure of the 1950s who was also the head of the band.
At the time, the band hosted prominent Ethiopian singers such as Mohammed Ahmed and the late Tilahun Gessese.
Since then, Ali Birra had been fortuned to reign as a towering artistic figure in the Ethiopian Afaan Oromo music.
Ali’s discography contains his popular albums such as Ali with the Adu Band (1975), Amalele (2012) and Barnoota.
Awash, Hinyaadini, Ammalele and Nindeman’indima are among his most memorable songs. Singing and recording Oromo songs during a time where recorded ethnic songs were almost unavailable, Ali lent his voice to the then repressed Oromo community.
“I was lucky to be a singer at a time with few Oromo singers around. I got the chance to influence people and their thinking. To be a teacher. To engrave my thoughts in people’s minds. The young Oromo musicians now are tough but they have not achieved this yet,” Ali told a popular arts magazine during the time he returned to Ethiopia.
Ali Birra received the Toronto African Merits Award in 1995 and an honorary doctorate from Jimma University in 2010.