London's secret scenes

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  • Ethiopian music

    The famine-ravaged African country is a vibrant presence in the capital that is well worth searching out. For discerning world music fans, Ethiopian music is increasingly popular with stars like Mahmoud Ahmet, who was one of the main highlights at this year’s African Music Festival on the South Bank. Other major artists to watch out for include Aster Aweke and Gigi; the best introduction to the music is the series ‘Ethiopiques’ (Buda Musique), a panoramic selection that includes strange and wonderful Ethiopian jazz.

    You can also catch Ethiopian music in one of several restaurants dotted around town – there are a couple in Fortress Road, Kentish Town, there’s Axum on Wandsworth Road, a nice one in a basement next to Ladbroke Grove tube and the Menelik on Caledonian Road.

    Eating in an Ethiopian restaurant can seem a little intimidating – you eat with your hands, for one thing. You get a plate of sourdough injera bread and take pot luck with the menu (tibs are cubed lamb, doro-watte is curried chicken) and your dish is tipped over the bread, which you roll up. You get a selection of salads and should wash them down with honey wine or Ethiopian beer. And don’t miss the coffee; they make a ritual out of making and serving it, and Ethiopian coffee must be among the best in the world. Service tends to be slow but friendly, so make an evening of it.

    At weekends in the restaurants (at Menelik, for example) you’ll often encounter singers playing Ethiopian pop on old synths after the dinner dishes have been cleared away. Watch out, too, for Zewditu in these places – she’s a fabulous singer and dancer.
    Axum, 266 Wandsworth Rd, SW8 (020 7622 0455); Menelik, 277 Caledonian Rd, N1 (020 7700 7774).

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