DCentric » Music http://dcentric.wamu.org Race, Class, The District. Wed, 16 May 2012 20:20:35 +0000 en hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.2.1 Copyright © WAMU Why Rock Bands are Playing D.C.’s Ethiopian Restaurants http://dcentric.wamu.org/2011/06/why-rock-bands-are-playing-d-c-s-ethiopian-restaurants/ http://dcentric.wamu.org/2011/06/why-rock-bands-are-playing-d-c-s-ethiopian-restaurants/#comments Tue, 07 Jun 2011 18:55:04 +0000 Elahe Izadi http://dcentric.wamu.org/?p=7733 Continue reading ]]>

Courtesy of Bora Chung

Brian Waitzman plays with pop-Americana singer Flo Anito at Almaz on Sunday. An Ethiopian flag hangs behind him.

On Sunday afternoon, Ethiopian music blared from speakers in the first floor dining room of 1920, a Habesha restaurant in the heart of Little Ethiopia. But the sound of a woman crooning in Amharic was overpowered by Bake Sale, a post-pop rock band playing on the second floor.

All up and down the U Street Corridor this past weekend, bands representing an eclectic range of rock music played in Ethiopian and Eritrean restaurants as part of the first Sweet Tea Pumpkin Pie Music Festival. Six Habesha-owned or themed restaurants took part.

Organizer Dave Mann said when he first hatched the idea to hold a two-day rock music festival, he asked the city’s more traditional rock venues to host shows, “but they weren’t into it.” Some already had booked calendars and this was the first STPP festival, so it was uncertain how much revenue it’d bring in.

Then Mann met Mike Naizghi, the Eritrean owner of Bella Café, who was looking for music to fill the second-floor of his café that serves American and Eritrean fare. He then introduced Mann to more Little Ethiopia restaurant owners, and soon six were on board. The restaurants made money through drink and food sales, the bands made money through merchandise sales and all shows were free. Mann brought more than 100 bands to the restaurants and he plans to hold a bigger festival in October.

“The consensus of all of the owners of the Ethiopian restaurants is, they say to me, ‘Look, there are tons of Ethiopian places in D.C., so obviously a lot of them aren’t going to have the same amount of business as the others. We need a different clientele,’” Mann said.

The festival kicked off just after news broke Friday that no charges would be filed in the death of Ali Ahmed Mohammed, which had initially been linked to rock club DC9 employees and sparked outraged among the Ethiopian community. While there is a considerable amount of pain and confusion in Little Ethiopia over the case, there wasn’t much resentment and anger to be found over the weekend. Concertgoers milled in and out of venues as bartenders were kept busy serving drinks.

Mann said no one brought up Mohammed’s death as he booked acts in the restaurants. And the festival’s aim wasn’t to focus on or ease any such tensions. “It’s about bringing the D.C. music community together,” he said.

Dave Mann performs with his band Mittenfields at Ghion on Saturday night. Mann brought a wide range of rock acts to D.C., including folk, post-pop rock and hardcore. Enoch Mihrataep takes a drink order from Josh Chapman at Ghion on Sunday while The Collaters played upstairs. Chalking along 9th Street, NW advertised the Sweet Tea Pumpkin Pie Music Festival this weekend. Concertgoers went from venue to venue to catch rock acts. Concertgoers filled Bella Cafe, an Eritrean restaurant, to watch rock band Hiding Places perform on Sunday. Ghion was one of six restaurants in Little Ethiopia that hosted rock acts over the weekend. Maaite Abraham serves a drink to Caroline North at Bella Cafe on Sunday. Owner Mike Naizghi said sales increased by at least 35 percent over the weekend. Brian Waitzman plays with pop-Americana singer Flo Anito at Almaz on Sunday. An Ethiopian flag hangs behind him. Aaron Lim stands outside of Ghion on Saturday night as rock shows took place inside. The Sweet Tea Pumpkin Pie Music Festival brought more than 100 bands to Little Ethiopia.

Naizghi spoke over the loud music playing at Bella on Sunday, saying he’s seen at least a 35 percent increase in sales thus far.

“It’s slow, but we’re trying to pick it up. At least this is going to pick up business,” he said. “We tried to make new business. So far it’s going OK. It’s the first time.”

Craig Keenan of D.C. came to Bella to support local bands, and he said the idea of the festival taking places in local Habesha restaurants “is awesome.”

“It’s in all of these neighborhood places,” he said. “I’ve been here once but knowing they have music, I’ll probably come back.”

Julia Eiferman had been to Bella once before, but said she probably wouldn’t have come back if it weren’t for the music festival.

“[D.C.'s rock clubs] get a lot of national acts, but they don’t get as many indie acts,” Eiferman said.

Andrew Laurence, president of the Ethiopian-American Cultural Center, has noticed many restaurants have renovated or added additional floors in order to host shows and private parties to help make ends meet. The revered Dukem, for instance, just opened a second-floor VIP lounge.

A few blocks away from Bella, Charlie Harrison Band bass guitarist Justin Cohen just finished up a gig at Almaz. He sat with friends, eating injera and vegetables and drinking Ethiopian beer. Cohen said that on his way to the show, he had thought how interesting it was the he was going to play country and Western music in an Ethiopian restaurant.

Stephen Carleton of Denver came to watch Cohen play in what was his first visit to an Ethiopian restaurant. Attracting such first-timers is what many of these restaurant proprietors are aiming to do. But some are slowly drifting away from serving Ethiopian cuisine altogether in an effort to be competitive.

Reggie Eliacin and his girlfriend recently bought Queen Makeda, which was once an Ethiopian restaurant on 9th Street, NW. They hosted shows during the music festival, and had hip-hop DJs and other bands in the past.

“There are so many Ethiopian restaurants here. We are going to do something a little different,” Eliacin said. “[Ours] is more like a bar. We don’t even serve Ethiopian food anymore.”

Eliacin said hosting new types of music can be good for other restaurants in the neighborhood.

“The diversity is important to just get exposure to their restaurants. Some people maybe never thought of coming into the area or a restaurant now have an opportunity to come in,” he said. “I always say, if you’re open to different ideas, it gets the name out there, and I think it’s better even for this sort of community.”

Laurence, considered Little Ethiopia’s unofficial historian, has mixed feelings. He welcomes any way to keep these restaurants alive.

“I love the fact that all these people are coming down for the first time. It is a way of marketing, of Ethiopia opening arms to the whole world,” Laurence said. “The diversity of America is a two-way street. Maybe this is what we should be aiming for. This whole U Street is happening because of this kind of energy.”

But Laurence also said it does take away a bit from the idea of a true “Little Ethiopia.”

Ideally, he’d also like to to see young professional Ethiopians also host their parties and events in Little Ethiopia’s restaurants, rather than go downtown to upscale clubs like The Park.

“After 10 [p.m.], if I come down here on a Friday or Saturday night, you don’t have the sense of Little Ethiopia. So that is sad,” he said. “It does, to me, take away somewhat from the block and the whole feeling, the smells, the tastes… It does detract somewhat of the ultimate dream, the fantasy. But on the other hand, this is a whole other fantasy that I’m beginning to appreciate.”

STPP festival was just hours away from wrapping up on Sunday night, with the sounds of hardcore rock still filling the air along 9th Street. But the smells that filled the air were still of tibs, spiced-lentils and key wot.

Photos courtesy of Bora Chung.

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Serenading the Red Line http://dcentric.wamu.org/2011/02/serenading-the-red-line/ http://dcentric.wamu.org/2011/02/serenading-the-red-line/#comments Fri, 18 Feb 2011 19:25:21 +0000 Anna http://dcentric.wamu.org/2011/02/serenading-the-red-line/ Continue reading ]]> image

Two distinguished African-Americans crooning a sweet harmony made popular by a late, Mexican-American teen (“We belong together“). Farragut North station.

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Go-Go Chuck Brown! http://dcentric.wamu.org/2011/02/go-go-chuck-brown/ http://dcentric.wamu.org/2011/02/go-go-chuck-brown/#comments Tue, 01 Feb 2011 15:47:03 +0000 Anna http://dcentric.wamu.org/?p=3849 Continue reading ]]> It’s a little early for “Tweet of the Day“, but we had to share this bit of news from our colleague, Patrick:

Is the D.C. Council 'bustin' loose'? Council to pass resolution calling Chuck Brown and Soul Searchers Band as "True Originators of Go-Go"
james patrick madden
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Teena Marie: Beyond Race http://dcentric.wamu.org/2010/12/teena-marie-beyond-race/ http://dcentric.wamu.org/2010/12/teena-marie-beyond-race/#comments Tue, 28 Dec 2010 18:45:57 +0000 Anna http://dcentric.wamu.org/?p=2981 Continue reading ]]>

Flickr: Live at J&R

Teena Marie in 2006.

I’m old enough to remember Teena Marie during her heyday; the singular singer-songwriter passed away on Sunday. Last night, while running errands, I overheard a conversation about the R+B musician that has been recurring since 1979:

CVS shopper #1: “Yo, did you know Teena Marie was white?”

CVS shopper #1: “What? I just thought she light-skinned! She sings like she’s Black!”

Race is a complicated minefield of a topic, and exploring it takes a gentle touch plus a Costco-sized vat of sensitivity. That’s why I enjoyed reading Ta-Nehisi Coates’ “The Indomitable Blackness of Teena Marie”:

Teena Marie died on Sunday, and on every Martin Luther there was a collective wail. That line—”I’m a black artist with white skin”—is the kind of comment that usually causes black people to suck their teeth and groan. But Teena Marie died with an eternal hood-pass. The term “blue-eyed soul” is presently being affixed to her, but it borders on disrespect. It”s like Negroes “liked” the Eurythmics, we “liked” Madonna and some of that Hall and Oates, but Teena Marie was beloved. She was not simply in that George Michael “Father Figure” category, she was of that Chaka Khan/Freddie Jackson/Jeffrey Osborne/Denise Williams stamp. You did not hear Teena Marie and say, “I thought she was black,” you said, “No, seriously, I’m sure she’s black.”

It’s like Eminem is a great, great rapper. But in part because hip-hop has a different relationship to black people then R&B, and in part because Eminem is the best selling artist of the last decade, I never lose sight of his whiteness. Teena Marie never crossed-over, and never seemed to much care about crossing over. There was no sense that she was—willingly or not—Elvising, and getting extra credit for being white. Part of that is her own aesthetic, and part of it was just the times. I’m sure, like any artist, she would have liked to have won a grammy and sold more. But as it was, Teena Marie sung pariah music for a pariah people. In doing so, she offered testimony, once again, that blackness, like all culture, is not biological.

When I heard her as a child– songs like “Square Biz” and “Ooo La La La” seemed to be everywhere– I thought she was Black too, not that I’d dwell on such questions. Her voice was so pretty, it obscured everything else.

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And what a tux it will be! http://dcentric.wamu.org/2010/12/and-what-a-tux-it-will-be/ http://dcentric.wamu.org/2010/12/and-what-a-tux-it-will-be/#comments Fri, 03 Dec 2010 15:49:50 +0000 Anna http://dcentric.wamu.org/?p=2443 Continue reading ]]>


Chuck Brown, shooting his "Block Party" video.

Congratulations to Chuck Brown, who was nominated for an Emmy! TBD has some words from the Go-go legend, himself:

“It’s the most wonderful thing ever,” Brown says. “I never dreamed of this, I didn’t even dream of this. This has been a great, great year—the greatest year of my career.

“After some 40 years in the business, running around and singing in different parts of the world, I never thought it would be like this,” he continues. “I give all credit to God, my manager, and my family. My wife and children have been such an inspiration, so encouraging.”

Although the Grammy ceremony isn’t until February, Brown, known for his amazing sartorial choices, already has an idea of what he’ll wear on the big night.

“I’m going to wear a tux,” he says. “I have a bunch of suits, but I know I can’t go wrong with a tux.”

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Rock The Bells 2010: Worth the Wilt http://dcentric.wamu.org/2010/08/rock-the-bells-2010-worth-the-wilt/ http://dcentric.wamu.org/2010/08/rock-the-bells-2010-worth-the-wilt/#comments Tue, 31 Aug 2010 18:45:45 +0000 Anna http://dcentric.wamu.org/?p=399 Continue reading ]]>

Lauryn Hill at Rock The Bells on Sunday

I’m on a bit of a D.C.-high after learning about new Zoo babies, so I can’t resist crowing about another recent surprise which put the “Delightful City” in D.C.

On Sunday, I was at the final concert date for the 2010 Rock The Bells tour, held at Merriweather Post Pavilion. Rock The Bells is an annual hip-hop festival which always promotes “surprise performances” at their engagements and this year, they delivered, pleasing a crowd filled with 13-year olds– and their parents.  This year’s show was notable because each of the headlining acts performed one of their most popular albums in its entirety (interesting aside: three of those albums from A Tribe Called Quest, Wu-Tang and Snoop were all released in November 1993).

At the end of an abbreviated set that featured songs from her hit solo album, “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill,” Hill drew a cheer from the wilted crowd by bringing out rapper (and last year’s headliner) Nas to perform “If I Ruled the World”. It was the highlight of her act. Nas also made an appearance during the Wu-Tang Clan’s raucous performance of “36 Chambers”, later on.

Oh, and about Lauryn Hill…she may not have as many fans in Chocolate City as she did before this weekend, not after making the crowd stew for hours in steamy summer heat. The show’s organizers initially announced that she would not perform because was sick, but the Washington Post reported that she was actually backstage, getting a manicure and pedicure while her fans waited in sweltering, near 100-degree temperatures. After two hours of no music the crowd was thrilled to see A Tribe Called Quest take the stage.

For me (someone who had the “Midnight Marauders” cassette in her car from 1993-1996), Tribe’s joyful performance of that album was the highlight of the festival, which only visited four cities in the United States this summer (LA, SF, NYC were the others).

The music. Reason #4 why I love living in Washington D.C.

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