"Éthiopiques, Vol. 7: Erè Mèla Mèla"
Crammed Discs (1975)
1000 Recordings to Hear before You Die
Afropop is among the most ambiguous varieties of music, as we learned when looking at King Sunny Ade. It’s essentially what Westerners would consider pop music, but with more African influence, naturally. Mahmoud Ahmed, an Ethiopian contributor to this overarching category, is another example of this formula in motion.
The obvious difference between this and American pop is the language barrier. Ahmed’s use of the Ethiopian Amharic language automatically earns him the title “world music” in Moon’s book, an especially lame use of the already lame term “world music,” considering the alternative language is all that separates him from his American and European counterparts.
If I were to compare Ahmed to any Western star, at least lyrically, I would argue he mirrors Roy Orbison is his approach. Like Orbison, his pop is sad and sympathetic, often reflecting the emotions of a rightful man who has been wrongfully scorned (see tracks like “Ere Mela Mela (I’m looking for a solution)” and “Atawurulign lela (Don’t talk to me about it again)”). Also like Orbison, Ahmed is excellent at reflecting emotion with his voice; it often trembles as he hits what I can only imagine are particularly sad moments in the song. Naturally, he has his high moments too, as seen in songs such as “Abbay mado (Beyond the Nile).”
I should be careful about saying that Ahmed’s voice is the only foreign thing about this recording. His band, the Ibex Band, certainly has African qualities, but its music would’ve worked just fine with American acts. The African-style percussion adds to the skillful rhythm of the band’s music (which I suppose is inherently African in nature). Although the rhythms have an R&B feel, the bands’ horns are at the forefront, making the instrumentals equally jazzy. The horns also help illustrate Ahmed’s mood to those who can’t translate his emotions because of the language barrier. When he’s happy, they’re hopping, and when he’s sad, they are too.
I admit, you have to listen closely to pick up on the best parts of the band’s music. At first listen, Ahmed sounds like he’d be at home within the carpeted walls of a Vegas lounge. But, focus on the instrumentals underneath Ahmed's voice, and it will change the experience for the better.
INTERESTING FACT: Ahmed is a member of Ethiopia's Gurage minority, a group historians believe is left over from the abandoned military settlements of the Aksumite empire. I guess that means Ahmed is a Gurage rocker, huh? No? Sorry. Couldn't resist.