Arts Desk

This Weekend in Global Music: Mahmoud Ahmed, Skah Shah, and More

Mahmoud Ahmed

Can’t jet away for the Memorial Day weekend? You'll find plenty of live and DJed international sounds in the area, including groups from Ethiopia and Haiti and selectors from Jamaica, Brazil, Ghana and Angola. I spoke on the phone with renowned Ethiopian guitarist Selam Seyoum Woldermariam, who'll back up Ethiopian stars Gosaye Tesfaye and Mahmoud Ahmed Saturday night at the Howard Theatre.

Woldermariam, also known as Selamino, is now a Virginia resident. He's played with Ahmed since 1974, including the recording sessions that became Ethiopiques No. 7, part of a series of recordings of Ethiopian music beloved by collectors. Because of his stage presence, Ahmed has been likened to Otis Redding and James Brown; Selamino, in his understated manner, says his colleague “has entertained five or six generations.” While the 71-year-old should display his Amharic wail over plenty of horns and guitar-led funk and  Afropop-influenced Ethiopian music of the 1960s and '70s—this will be more than an Ethiopian oldies show. Selamino says most of Ahmed’s band is young, and he excitedly thanks God he'll also be backing 37-year-old singer Gosaye Tesfaye. When I observe that much contemporary Ethiopian music relies on syrupy synthesizer sounds, he responds, “We’re trying to defuse that. Technology should help bring out our talent; we should not be dominated by it.”

Other weekend events include tonight’s “Axe—an African and Afro-Brazilian Dance Party at TABAQ's Roof Top Lounge, which features a kizomba-semba dance lesson from DJ Oscar BA, live percussion from D.C.’s Afro Bloco Samba Trovao, DJ Underdog mixing Brazilian sounds and African rhythms, and Congo Earl of  D.C.'s Rhythm n' Dance Collective offering African drumming. On the last Friday of every month, including tonight, is Soundclash, the Jamaican oldies-but-goodies DJ night at Marx Cafe. This evening, longtime hosts Mark “The Kaiser” Williams and Toby “Rice ‘n’ Peas”  Gohn, will be joined by guest DJ Zach Pleasant. They'll be paying their respects to Lloyd Brevett, the acclaimed Skatalites bassist who recently died.

On Saturday night, young Miami-based Haitian act Harmonik and Haitian legends Skah Shah are at  Rio's Lounge in Laurel. Since their ‘70s prime, Skah Shah has dispensed easy-going but danceable polyrhythms. Along with Tabou Combo, which was in D.C. last week, they are pioneers of Haitian konpa music.

On Sunday night, the 15th Annual Reggae Music Awards will offer awards to local dancehall and roots-reggae performers alike at the Sutra Lounge. Guests include Ruth Ann Brown, Tony Roy, Renewed Gospel Singers, Aku Benjamin, and Johnstone. If contemporary African electronic dance music—like kuduro,  kwaito, hip life, naija, and Coupe-Decale—sound more intriguing, than there’s the Sunday Swenka party at the Wonderland Ballroom with locals including DJ Munch (Hedrush Music, Africa Underground),  Mothershiester (Africa is not a Country, Anthology of Booty) and Ghanaian-born host Brian Senyo (

On Monday you can rest.

Axe—an African and Afro-Brazilian Dance Party takes place at 8 p.m. Friday at TABAQ's Roof Top Lounge, 1336 U St. NW. Free. $ 10 donation to Capoeira DC Kids Program.

Soundclash takes place 10 p.m. Friday at Marx Café, 3203 Mount Pleasant St. NW.  Free.

Gosaye Tesfaye and Mahmoud Ahmed perform at 11 p.m. Saturday at Howard Theatre, 620 T St. NW. $40.

Harmonik and Skah Shah perform at 10 p.m. Saturday at Rio's Lounge, 13501 Baltimore Ave. (Rt. 1) in Laurel. $35.

The 15th Annual Reggae Music Awards take place 7 p.m. Sunday at the Sutra Lounge, 2406 18th St. NW. (202) 829-9783. $10.

Swenka takes place at 10 p.m. Sunday at the Wonderland Ballroom at 1101 Kenyon St. NW. Free.

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