Ali Birra was born on May 26, 1948 in Humbanna, Dirre Dhawa (Dawa), Oromiya . He is the only child of Mohamad Musa and Fatuma Ali. Growing up as a young boy, Ali had no recollection of his mother as the couple got divorced when he was at a tender age He was raised by a single father with the help of his aunt Meyram Abdullahi (Gragn) .
He started his education in an Islamic school at the age of six. He then was transferred to the general public school until the age of twelve. Going to public school, Ali showed an innate love for music and the urge to perform. As a child, he takes pride performing in front of an applauding classmates and friends. He enjoyed listening to Indian, Arabic and the western music. His father, a devoted Muslim worried about the route that his son is going, enrolled him in an Arabic school. Being witty and a quick learner, it did not take long for him to finish the Arabic schooling. At age fourteen, he found himself teaching young children the Holy Koran and the Arabic alphabet. Ali mastered Arabic Language very well and his linguistic skill assisted him in his forthcoming profession that enabled him to sing in Arabic, Oromo, Somali and Harari.
In 1962, while he was teaching, he got fascinated by a newly organized musical band called “Urjii Bakkalchaa” (Afraan Qalloo). Ali was recruited to join the band in 1963. He immediately left teaching Arabic to be with the group. During this time there were three Alis In the band. To distinguish him from the two Ali’s they named him Ali Birra. With this name, he composed and sang a song entitled, “Birra dha Naabarihe” meaning “ the break of Spring”. Ali Birra and the song gained tremendous popularity at that time, hence, the turning point of his musical career and early fame.
From 1964 to 1984 Ali had worked with various musical bands in different hotels in Addis Ababa. In September of 1966 he joined the Imperial Body Guard band performing for the Emperor and his high ranking officials. After three years with the Imperial Body Guard band he left and joined a number of bands one after the other. During these years, Ali was known to be one of the top and well known singers in Ethiopia. He was claimed to be the highest paid artist at that time. In 1982, Ali got married to a Swedish diplomat while working with the Ethio-stars band. In 1984, Ali was at the peak of his musical career but had to leave Ethiopia heading to the United States for his wife’s diplomatic posting.
Ali’s stay in the United States did not hinder his quest for his personal growth. He went to school learning English as a second language and then later pursued Music theory at the Santa Monica College in California. Between his wife’s tight diplomatic engagements and his schooling, Ali did not abandon the call of duty to perform when needed. During school breaks and weekends he would travel performing with other musicians for weddings and public shows in different states of America.
In 1989, he moved to Sweden from Saudi Arabia. While living in Sweden, he went to school learning the Swedish language. He also worked part time in a hospital where he recounts a beautiful experience working for the elderly. In 1992, after his divorce with his Swedish wife, he settled in Toronto, Canada. Presently, Ali is living with his lovely wife in Pickering, Ontario.
Ali Birra’s career in music is very well respected and loved not only in Ethiopia but also in Oromo and Ethiopian communities abroad. What makes his music distinct from the rest is his style, melodies that stand out with time and most importantly, his ability to deliver the message of his songs with all honesty. The theme of his music is universal. In one way or the other, he has touched so many people’s lives. Through his songs, he is able to connect with both the young and the old. Ali is now a multi –awarded artist/musician in oromo communities all over the world for his contribution to the development of Oromo art and culture. On June 12, 2010, Ali was awarded an Honorary Doctorate degree in Music by one of the well known University of Ethiopia, JImma University.