IMAGINE AN Islamic prayer sounding from a tall minaret with the voice trilling hypnotically over a droning horn. Now imagine that Eddie Kendricks of the Temptations is the singer and Jr. Walker is the horn player, and you get some idea of what Mahmoud Ahmed's new album, "Ere Mela Mela," sounds like.
It's Motown meets Islam, and the eerie (to our ears) quarter notes make a lot more sense (to our ears) linked up to a sax, guitar and organ combo with a funky beat. It has more in common with the Semitic music of Ofra Haza than most of the African music we're used to, and Ahmed displays a soulful confidence that the dance-floor diva Haza lacks.
Most of the African music we've heard in North America has come from South Africa, Zaire or West Africa, but Ethiopia's 45-year-old Ahmed has been a major star in East Africa for more than 20 years. This collection of Ahmed's original songs was recorded in Addis Ababa between 1975 and '78, and despite the language barrier, you can hear the urban swagger in his voice. The droning harmonies -- created either by the horns or by the unexpected, unresolved intervals in Ahmed's vocals -- soon become mesmerizing against the syncopated live drums. Those looking for the next world-beat revelation -- or novelty -- should check out Ahmed, the pop king of the largely unexplored Ethiopia.
MAHMOUD AHMED -- "Ere Mela Mela" (Hannibal). Appearing Friday with Tamrat Mola at Kilimanjaro.