Art & CultureMusicSubfeature

Sweet Honey in the Rock performs in Ethiopia

Addis-Ababa continues to preserve its Jazz pulse rooted in Ethio-Jazz and sustained by traditional styles, giving the modern Ethio-Jazz sound a unique twist.

After being away from home, often, I return to a city growing its traditional folk music and traditional-modern Jazz scene. New clubs or Jazz bars come up in familiar locales. Mama’s Kitchen is the latest mixer for socialites and Ethiopian music aficionados; an intimate venue that hosts Ethio-Jazz legends like Alemayehu Eshete and popular contemporary bands like Addis Acoustic Projects.

One evening, in the middle of the week, Mama’s kitchen was surprisingly packed for a Wednesday. They were hosting a special guest. Sweet Honey in the Rock, the internationally acclaimed ensemble rooted in African American history and culture, in a one-off spirited performance graced Mama’s kitchen’s stage. Their very first time performing in Addis-Ababa after their Bahir Dahr performance that saw 1200 people, and an upcoming performance that was to be held at the African Union.

A unique occasion, both for Ethiopians and for Sweet Honey in the Rock.

At Mama’s kitchen, the diverse crowd –a rare mix of Ethiopians and expats– was eagerly in attendance. Sweet Honey in the Rock did not disappoint the eager. Collectively, their soulfully commanding cappella singing, along with American Sign Language interpretation for the Deaf and hearing impaired, entertained the crowd with lyrical content deeply imbued with fervor.

Through Jazz, folk, gospel-like, and blues fused music, it was an immense opportunity for the group to connect with the Ethiopian native, at the same time communicate to the crowd “critical issues of our time, while celebrating our common humanity”. Furthermore, for the listeners, this was a significant extension of the “traditions of African American vocal music”.

Sweet Honey in the Rock delivered heartfelt messages with quotable lines like “I don’t know how my people survived” to “I’ll raise my voice to justice” to “let there be peace on earth”, spreading knowledge, courage, and peace. The night was an affirmation that the arts can be a vehicle and an advocate for our stories, and a bridge we need to help weave our stories and unite the greater diaspora. An opportunity to declare our oneness.

The night showed a warm welcome to the soulful Sweet Honey in the Rock.

Photo credits: Indrias Getachew

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