Preview a track from Abinnet Berhanu’s breakout album. Then come hear him at the Spotlight Residency.

Poster by Laura Duval // click for hi-res

If you’re new to the D.C. jazz scene, the name Abinnet Berhanu might ring a bell, but it probably won’t evoke a face or a sound. The young drummer, a Virginia native, has been keeping a low profile for the past couple years. But chances are, that’s about to change. This month, Berhanu releases his debut album as a leader — and takes the stage at our Spotlight Residency.

Berhanu is bringing his band. Hebret Musica, to Local 16 on Friday, July 26 and Saturday, July 27 for two nights of powerful original music. For the Spotlight each month we turn a cozy room at this U St. bar and restaurant into a pop-up jazz club. The shows will each feature two sets, one at 7:30 p.m. and one at 9:00. Tickets are $5, or FREE for students. One ticket is good for both sets.


Berhanu’s vision for Hebret Musica, which translates to “community music” in Amharic, is for a creative trust of musicians from a variety of backgrounds, each bringing their own experiences and perspectives. His band at the Spotlight — Chris Barrick (vibraphone), Mike Cemprola (saxophone), Josh Espinoza (piano), and Cameron Kayne (bass) — certainly doesn’t want for skill or creativity.

But the first thing to listen for at a Hebret Musica show is Berhanu’s drumming: firmly grounded in the jazz tradition, with ample technique and a deep sense of swing, but also a special energy to it. Berhanu’s beat is agile, busy and constantly changing, driven by a mix of youthful exuberance and precocious wit.

Berhanu’s compositional style suits his playing well: Most of the tunes on Hebret Musica emulate the shimmering optimism of hard-bop and post-bop musicians like Bobby Hutcherson and Cedar Walton, characterized by modern yet familiar chord changes; lush, clear melodies; and decisive rhythmic “hits.” From time to time, Berhanu’s Ethiopian roots shift from background influence to the fore — particularly on “Beka,” the fifth track on Hebret Musica, which draws on modern Ethiopian instrumental music.

In advance of the Spotlight, we’re excited to present an exclusive preview of Hebret Musica, which will be released on July 24. “Ethiopiawinnet” is the third and final movement of a suite on the album entitled “Abate (My Father).” It follows Berhanu’s father, who was a progressive student agitator during a period of Ethiopian political turmoil, and his flight from his homeland to further his education. “Ethiopiawinnet” is an ode to how love of country and community must sometimes manifest in revolution, and even departure, all with a continued commitment to keeping the spirit of that community alive.

Join us this month at the Spotlight Residency to experience yet another unique, important voice that the DMV has to offer. We’ll see you there.



About Jamie Sandel

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Jamie is an organizer, musician and multimedia creative. He is a native of Silver Spring, MD, and returned to the D.C. area in 2018 after some time in Massachusetts, where he assisted the Amherst College Concert Office and the Amherst Symphony Orchestra. He graduated with a degree in music from Amherst College. Reach Jamie at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @wjsandel.

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