Aster Aweke Awakens NYC’s Ethiopian Soul

February 7th, 2011 | by addis portal |

The Queen of Ethiopian Soul still has it!  It’s been ten years since the great Aster Aweke graced a New York stage. So one had to wonder. Could her voice still explode in a heartbeat from shimmering, Amharic lyricism into full-on R&B belting? Could she still kick out deeply funky, deeply Ethiopian grooves capable of transforming a dancefloor into a sea of shimmying shoulders? Could she still pack a New York club with Ethiopians for a wee-hours set, and get her fans singing a ballad with the force of a beloved national anthem? Based on Aster’s showing at SOB’s last Friday (Feb 4), the answer to all these questions is an unequivocal yes. This is, quite simply, ecstatic music, loaded with pent-up spirituality and passion, but somehow light, ebullient, sweet and highly social.  And nobody puts all that across any better than Aster Aweke.

We are 20 years beyond the time when Aster had CDs on the mainstream world music market, and made regular appearances around the country from her base in Washington, DC.  (Afropop has fond memories of our program’s beginnings in the late ’80s, when we produced out of DC’s Ethiopia-rich Adams Morgan neighborhood, not far from a restaurant where Aster was a regular performer.  In fact, Aster was one of Afropop’s first on-air guests. )  More recently, Aster has returned to Ethiopia and established a new kind of stardom there.  The presence of such an outsize talent in the US was always driven by conditions at home.  Under the oppression of the Mengistu regime, which began bloodily in 1975, Aster was not free to pursue her vision of fusing ancestral traditions with international sounds–especially soul, funk, and R&B.  Aster faced indignities from those who considered such a calling decadent, immoral, whatever…  Time to leave and go to a place where contemporary art is respected.  But once Mengistu’s dreary regime fell in 1991, a long process of social, political, and cultural recovery began, and Aster decided to return to Addis and become a part of that national reinvention.

Of course, Aster is not alone in making this choice.  Maestro and producer Abegasu Shiota is another major player in modern Ethiopian music who made the move from DC back to Addis to establish himself as one of the country’s top producers.  Abegasu worked with Aster on here latest CD Checheho (Kabu Records).  We picked up a copy at the SOB’s show and highly recommend it as a compensation for those who missed this historic concert.  The CD delivers a bracing dose of all the groove, subtlety, bluster, and spine-tingling joy one would hope for from this Afropop legend.  It is excellent.  Find it on iTunes, and watch this site for a full review.  Of course, Aster is not alone in making this choice.  Maestro and producer Abegasu Shiota is another major player in modern Ethiopian music who made the move from DC back to Addis to establish himself as one of the country’s top producers.  Abegasu worked with Aster on here latest CD Checheho (Kabu Records).  We picked up a copy at the SOB’s show and highly recommend it as a compensation for those who missed this historic concert.  The CD delivers a bracing dose of all the groove, subtlety, bluster, and spine-tingling joy one would hope for from this Afropop legend.  It is excellent.  Find it on iTunes, and watch this site for a full review. 

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