As you know if you read the previous post, I was down in Washington, DC, this weekend to give a reading with younger experimental poet Megan Ronan and legendary language poet (and a major hero of mine) p. inman. I visit DC somewhat regularly, at least once or twice a year, almost always seeing a number of poet friends while I'm there.
I've long known that DC is home to the country's largest Ethiopian community, and I was certain I'd someday stumble onto an Ethiopian bodega or music store where I might pick up a few musical treasures, old and new. But it never happened. So, when Bryan Koen and Mel Nichols invited me to read for Ruthless Grip, I hinted that I'd be searching out Ethiopian music while I was there and--lo and behold--received an email back from Bryan with the address of Nahom Records Inc., situated a bit east of where I had spent the last decade trying futilely to find any of this stuff.
How excited was I? On Friday, the day of the reading, I sat bolt upright in bed at 6:00 a.m. and managed to Amtrak it down the nation's capital by 11:30. I was at Nahom's door at precisely 11:47. They weren't open. I called the number on a sign near the door and was told that someone would be in in about an hour. I walked down the street a bit and had a long, leisurely Ethiopian lunch.
An hour later, I emerged from the restaurant, my belly bloated with injera, the sponge bread that, unfortunately, you use in lieu of utensils. Unfortunately, as it means you wind up eating a lot of it. And injera expands throughout the day as it makes its way slowly down your intestinal tract.
So I go back to Nahom and I see that the lights are on and I can hear music coming out of the store. But the metal gate standing between me and the front door is locked. I stand there, frustrated, about ready to call the number again, when an older Ethiopian man comes up to me and asks me if I'm looking for Ethiopian music. I say yeah, but that I'm not sure if Nahom is really open yet.
"Across the street," he says. "At the market."
"They have music?" I ask.
He motions with his head for me to follow him as he crosses the street and leads me into Habesha Market & Carryout (1919 9th Street NW), which was packed with people, some having coffee at tables, others buying bread and other staples. My guide pointed to the barista area, behind which I saw a small but well-stocked section of the wall with a bunch of CDs and DVDs.
I don't care how nice a person is--and the women behind the counter were incredibly sweet and helpful--it's just frustrating when you're forced to have to point and grunt at CDs until you find a few things you think might be good bets. Especially in a hopping joint like Habesha; a line began to quickly form behind me, ensuring that I would feel more awkward than I already did, what with all of the pointing and grunting and clear lack of knowledge about what I was pointing and grunting at. Add 5 or 6 guys waiting for their coffee, and, well--let's just say I didn't stay there quite as long as I typically would at one of these places.
I did, however, come home with a few mind-blowing treasures, all of which I'll share over the coming days and weeks. This incredible CD is one of them. Listen to both of these samples, and let them go for a while. You won't be sorry.
Listen to "Shemanena Fetaye"
Listen to "Tewdemam"
Get it all here.