Photograph by Charles Steck
Since August 2016, Selam Seyoum Woldemariam, the guitarist nicknamed “Ethiopia’s Jimi Hendrix,” has quietly led a band every Friday night on the small second-floor stage of Crystal City Ethiopian restaurant Enjera. Woldemariam—who has lived in the D.C. area since 2000—isn’t flashy like Hendrix, but his role in Ethiopia in the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s (playing in the groups Black Soul, Ibex Band, and Roha Band) had a sizable musical impact in the East African nation. Moreover, it endeared him to music nerds elsewhere thanks to his appearance on the collection Éthiopiques 7: Erè Mèla Mèla
. Decades later, Woldemariam and his band alternate between sets of funky instrumental lounge takes on soul classics and jazzy, Afro-psychedelic soul renditions of songs from his own catalogue and those of other Ethiopian and Eritrean songwriters. His sets feature guest Ethiopian vocalists like Habte Awolam as he impressively picks his trademark Gibson guitar, all while shouting out greetings to pals in the crowd.