Ethiopian Music Festival in Washington D.C.
The D.C. area is already home to the United States’ largest Ethiopian population, but this week brings a surge of Ethiopian culture thanks to theÃ‚Â 30th Ethiopian Sports Federation in North America (ESFNA) TournamentÃ‚Â that runs through July 6.
Take note, Horn of Africa fans: This is going to be one of the year’s best chances to see a lot of Ethiopian musicians who don’t play in town very often.
Tonight:Ã‚Â Munit & Jorg Ethiopian singerÃ‚Â Munit MesfinÃ‚Â and German guitaristÃ‚Â JÃ…Ârg PfeilÃ‚Â began performing what they call Ethiopian acoustic soul in 2007 during the Ethiopian Millennium CelebrationÃ¢â‚¬â€it was the year 2000 on the Ethiopian calendar. “When we met and had our first jam session, it was clear that we were musically very much in sync, with very similar taste in jazz, soul, rock, and reggae,” Mesfin writes via email. Mesfin traveled between Ethiopia and the U.S., playing music with his partner when she could, but finally moved back to Ethiopia two years ago after 20 years away from home. Munit has lived all over the worldÃ¢â‚¬â€India, Namibia, and the United States, always singing in choirs. She lived in the D.C. area for a while, singing as a background vocalist for Ethiopian singerÃ‚Â Wayna, amongÃ‚Â others. Her colleague Jorg, who moved to Ethiopia more than seven years ago, attended music schools in Germany and Holland. Inspired by seeing theÃ‚Â Circus Ethiopia in Germany 15 years ago, he organized a project called theÃ‚Â Sounds of Saba,which included Ethiopian traditional musicians and singers. HeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s now working on a music book which includes the duo’s songs and techniques on how to best perform Ethiopian scales on the guitar. Live, they mix their own material with adaptations of traditional Ethiopian music and covers ofÃ‚Â Tracey Chapman,Ã‚Â Bob Marley, andÃ‚Â The Police.
Tuesday: Fendika Traditional Ethiopian Azmari music and dance groupÃ‚Â FendikaÃ‚Â returns to the area for a show, this one at theÃ‚Â Smithsonian Museum of African Art. This six-member troupe includes two dancers, a singer, and a drummer, a one-stringed bowed fiddler, and a lyre player. Founded in 2009, the group borrows its style from history, but it’s far from staid; its athletic dance in particular. Fendika performs at 2 p.m. at the Smithsonian Museum of African Art. Free
Thursday: Jano Band Ethiopia isn’t known for its rock bands. But this ensemble (shown above), formed two-and-a-half years ago, has gottenÃ‚Â coverage on CNNÃ‚Â for its unique take on the genre. The bandÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s lead guitarist and musical directorÃ‚Â Michael HailuÃ‚Â says the first rock band he heard wasÃ‚Â Metallica, and his group’s other members dig the mainstream sounds ofÃ‚Â ColdplayÃ‚Â andÃ‚Â theÃ‚Â Red Hot Chili Peppers. But Jano doesn’t just mimic Western rock; according to Hailu, Jano melds Ethiopian melodic structures with heavy guitar and drum sounds. The combination has attracted criticism from more traditional listeners. But Hailu saye he hopes to win over the naysayers by showing them that “we believe in our music.” Jano Band performs at 11 p.m. at the Howard Theatre. $30-$35
Friday: Haile Roots and Kuku Sebsebe at Howard Theatre; Mahmoud Ahmed and Teddy Afro at Echostage Ethiopian reggae singerÃ‚Â Haile RootsÃ‚Â blends roots reggae with Ethiopian synth sounds.Ã‚Â Sebsebe, who first established her name in Ethiopia, lived in the United States from the late 1980s until 2003 when she moved back home. While stateside, Sebsebe spent much of her time in D.C., where she was best known for her appearances at Meskerem in Adams Morgan. Her traditional vocals seem to combine Arabic, Asian, and African approaches while utilizing contemporary programmed beats. Acrobatic vocalistÃ‚Â Mahmoud Ahmed,Ã‚Â now in his 70s,Ã‚Â is known as the king of Ethiopian music. He adds a touch of old-school R&B but his vocals mainly stay true to his traditional Ethiopian roots.
Teddy Afro, who shares the bill, has been hailed as EthiopiaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢sÃ‚Â Bob Marley. But Afro’s sound is much more polished than Marley; his lyrics sometimes veer into the political, but he smooths them out with a loungey, R&B vibe.
Plus: All week, Dukem Restaurant on U Street hosts Ethiopian singersAregahegn WorashÃ‚Â andÃ‚Â Abeba Desalegn,Ã‚Â who will perform with localÃ‚Â musicians on certain nights through the 7th. The restaurant’sÃ‚Â Facebookpage has more details.