|Aster Aweke at SOBs (Eyre, 2011)|
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.
But back to the concert. Aster was backed by a small band, the obligatory saxophone and keyboard creating the melodic and harmonic accompaniment--no guitar, other horns or traditional Ethiopian instruments. One could have hoped for a fuller band, but this outfit was certainly solid, and kept the focus very much on Aster with her playful moves, and titanic voice. The show drew an almost entirely Ethiopian audience, many of them too young to have attended Aster's 1990's concerts. Despite good PR, there weren't many non-Ethiopians in the mix, perhaps because the music didn't start until almost 1AM. Aster's first set ended sometime after 2, and there was more to come when Sean Barlow and I turned in. This is how it goes with the best Ethiopian concerts. To get a sonic and spiritual jolt of this intensity, you've got to be willing to sacrifice a night's sleep. This crowd was more than happy to do it. They sang along, danced, waved their arms high, and shouted out in ecstasy early and often. This was a collective experience of authentic East African ambiance rare in New York City. Here are some more images from this long overdue show. Let's hope Aster is back soon and often. She's a giant of her country's august musical heritage, and she's been too long absent from American stages.