Éthiopiques, Vol 7: Erè Mèla Mèla
Girl Trouble, on a Lofty Plane
Erè Mèla Mèla opens with questions, sung in the Amharic language of Ethiopia: "When? Today or tomorrow? When will we gaze into one another's eyes?" Even if you don't know that the song is about a faraway lover, Mahmoud Ahmed's voice gives it away: He sounds frustrated, unwilling to accept that a long separation might be in store.
He's like lovesick souls everywhere, with one big exception: He has a band pumping out wonderfully liquid beats behind him. The rhythms on this record are unlike anything else you're likely to hear from Africa—or anywhere else. Moving with a snakelike grace, the Ibex band layers tightly fitted guitar parts over tumbling ritual-ceremony drum pulses. Ahmed gets inside the bubbly flow of the music and dispenses wriggling, athletic, off-the-cuff-sounding vocals. Like other vocalists from his homeland, he seeks a speaking-in-tongues type of ecstatic state. His voice often trembles, kept aloft by the gentle but steady propulsion. Drawing on the psychedelic side of Jamaican dub, the traditional Amharic five-note scale, and traces of jazz and R&B phrasing, Ahmed describes love as a deep and unending devotion. He's one of those singers whose every chant seems to come from a spiritual place. Listen long enough, and that's where you'll end up too.
Genre: World, Ethiopia
Released: 2002, Buda Musique
Key Tracks: "Erè Mèla Mèla," "Fetsum Deng Ledj Nesh"
Catalog Choice: Almaz
Next Stop: Tlahoun Gèssèssè: Éthiopiques, Vol. 17
After That: Mulatu Astatke: Éthiopiques, Vol. 4
Book Page: 12