I spent the better part of my adolescent years at the public library. While my friends were occupied with video games and school activities, I was busy ransacking the library's music collection. I would grab anything that looked interesting and I wouldn't leave until my bag was overflowing with CDs, LPs and cassettes. This is how I first encountered Ethiopian music.

Flipping through the cassette section one day, the cover of a Mahmoud Ahmed tape caught my eye. Curious, I stuck the tape in my bag and proceeded to checkout. I'm not sure what I expected Ethiopian music to sound like, but I certainly wasn't prepared for the sensuous, soulful and psychedelic grooves that emanated from my boombox after hitting play.

Swirling organs, throbbing bass and jazzy horn arrangements provided the backdrop for Ahmed's passionate and mysterious voice. The melodies were dark and restless, and the sound Ahmed and his band created seemed to encompass everything I loved about music. There were bits of funk, jazz and psychedelic rock, all filtered through the unique Ethiopian musical scale, which sounded very exotic and intriguing to me as a teenager stuck in the suburbs of Indianapolis.

I was instantly hooked and I immediately set out to find more. After quickly exhausting the library's collection of Ethiopian music, I ventured out to the west side, exploring the shops and eateries of Indianapolis' growing East African community.

Fortunately, nearly every grocery store and restaurant I visited had a small collection of music for sale and in the shops that didn't sell music, the workers were eager to assist me in my search. I remember visiting a now-closed Somali restaurant near Lafayette Square. After informing me they had no music for sale, the waiter quickly rushed into the kitchen to collect a few tapes from his personal collection, which he generously gave me.

The amount and location of East African retailers constantly fluctuates, but there are a couple locations that have had a consistent presence in the scene: Abyssinia restaurant on West 38th Street and Hana Market on West Washington Street.

Listen to a mini-mix of Ethiopian and Eritrean music I made using CDs I purchased at Abyssinia and Hana Market:

Ethio Soul - A mini-mix of funky Eritrean & Ethiopian soul - DJ Kyle Long by CulturaCanibal

Abyssinia is best known as the city's longest-running Ethiopian restaurant, but the owners operate a small grocery in the adjacent shop. You can always find an excellent variety of Ethiopian CDs here. If you're interested in checking out contemporary Ethiopian sounds, I recommend any volume of the Nahom Favorite series, which chronicles the more traditional side of Ethio-pop; if you're looking for classic sounds, you can't go wrong with any title in the amazing Ethiopiques collection.

Hana Market is home to the city's only Eritrean market. Once a part of Ethiopia, Eritrea declared independence in 1993. Both countries still retain many cultural similarities, including their music.

Hana is thick with atmosphere, as the market has become a social center for Indy's Eritrean community. On my last visit, a small group had gathered in the shop to play cards and enjoy some traditional foods. I felt like I'd arrived at a really cool house party, and far from being annoyed that I'd disrupted the card game, the group was pleased to help me choose CDs from the shop's modest selection of Eritrean music.

Contemporary Ethiopian and Eritrean music is not easily accessible online, and you won't find many of the titles carried by Abyssinia and Hana on iTunes or Amazon. Hana and Abyssinia offer a tremendous musical resource to Indianapolis, and the staff at both shops are excited to share their culture with neophytes.


Kyle Long pens A Cultural Manifesto for NUVO Newsweekly and in 2014 began broadcasting a version of his column on WFYI.

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