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Ethiopian singing great Aster Aweke is appearing at DC Star tomorrow night. Aweke, who is approximately 50 years old (she might be a year or two older or younger, depending upon which website biography you go by) is performing in support of her 23rd album, Checheho. Often called “Ethiopia’s Aretha Franklin,” Aweke first received acclaim as a teenage vocalist in the capital city of Addis Ababa, where she began creating a distinctive style that melds traditional Ethiopian singing with strong-voiced American soul and jazz influences. She soon released several singles and a host of albums.
Around 1981, she became frustrated with Ethiopia’s anti-democratic government and moved to the United States. After two years in Northern California’s bay area, she moved to D.C., home of one of the largest Ethiopian expatriate communities in the country. While living in D.C. in the ‘80s she often appeared at local restaurants several times a week. By the late ‘80s she had signed to a small British label, Triple Earth, and her 1989 and 1991 albums were picked up by Columbia Records and marketed to a non-Ethiopian world music audience. Columbia eventually dropped her and she began releasing records on Ethiopian and Ethiopian-American labels. Aweke’s albums and recent YouTube videos showcase a singer with a stunning vocal instrument. She seamlessly moves up and down the scales and can dazzle with either sweet-voiced crooning over smooth jazzy playing, or dynamic, husky, and speedy vocalizing with occasional North African sounding trilled couplets over more robust rhythms.
Aweke performed in Ethiopia for the first time in sixteen years in 1997 before a crowd of at least 50,000 people. In 2009, she appeared at a “Peace through Unity, Unity through Music” concert in Addis Ababa. However, a few Ethiopians have called for her concerts to be boycotted, as they allege that she recently appeared a concert for the Amhara National Democratic Movement (ANDM), a political party which they maintain is pushing an anti-Amhara agenda on behalf of other Ethiopian ethnic groups and Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, whose most recent election was considered controversial. Most website coverage and YouTube commentary on Aweke is enthusiastic though, and tickets for the D.C. show are available at a number of local Ethiopian restaurants.
Aster Aweke and Genene Haile perform tomorrow at 10 p.m. at D.C. Star, 2135 Queens Chapel Rd. NE. $35 (in advance online and at Dukem, Habesha Market, Bati, Dama, and Addis Abeba). Price at the door to be announced. For additional information contact promoter EthioStar Entertainment at its website or at (301) 957-1116.