Ethiopian housemaid trades broom for song stardom in Iraq

Ethiopian housemaid Mahlet is changing her name to Maha and cutting her first video clip after proving to her Iraqi boss that she can sing better than she can clean.

Three years after she left her native Ethiopia to work as as a housemaid for prominent Kurdish musician Halcout Zahir, the 20-year-old woman is almost a household name in the northern autonomous region of Kurdistan.

Her break came when Iraq's musical phenomenon Dashni Murad - dubbed the "Shakira of Kurdistan" - discovered her.

Murad was sitting in the maestro's recording studio waiting to see Zahir when she heard Mahlet sing while cleaning the house.

Mahlet's voice enchanted her and she urged Zahir to audition the young woman.

"I asked her to sing for me and I couldn't believe my ears. Her voice is beautiful," said Zahir.

The rest is history. Mahlet became Maha.

Zahir composed the music while Iraqi poet Hama Hassan Ibrahim wrote the lyrics for Maha's first video clip, which is due to hit the airwaves soon.

"Part of it is in Kurdish and the other part is in Amharic (Mahlet's native tongue)," said Zahir.

The song tells Mahlet's story: how a maid journeyed from impoverished Ethiopia to work as a housemaid in Iraqi Kurdistan ... and a star was born.

Back home Mahlet sang in the church choir, but she had to give it up because of her financial woes, and her dream is to become a musical sensation in Ethiopa.

Luck was with her when she got a job working for a prominent musician.

"Many singers came around to the house and I would hear them sing and rehearse," Mahlet told AFP.

"I would listen and learn the lyrics and then sing them" while working, she said.

"I would like to be famous and if I make it hear then I will return home to pursue my career, because in Ethiopia a woman has the freedom to sing and I think my family will be proud of me."

Meanwhile, Mahlet is making a name for herself in Kurdistan where she has made the cover of several women's magazines and is preparing to be interviewed on television.

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