Why Rock Bands are Playing D.C.’s Ethiopian Restaurants

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.

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Go-Go Chuck Brown!

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

Teena Marie: Beyond Race

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.”

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And what a tux it will be!


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.”

Rock The Bells 2010: Worth the Wilt

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).

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