Retracing her roots: an interview with AvevA, Ethiopian-Israeli singer

Written by
Jennifer Greenberg

While Israel has a huge pool of musical talent, once in a while, a truly unique voice comes along that needs to be heard by everyone. Ethio-Israeli singer-songwriter AvevA Dese is that voice. She brings her own cultural flare to the table with her "Afro-Soul" style: a mix of powerful texts (in both English and Amharic) and traditional Ethiopian sounds.

Back from her North America tour, we sat down to ask AvevA a few questions.

How old were you when you first started singing & songwriting?

I’ve loved singing since I can remember, but the writing came a little after, around the age of 14.The first time I sang in front of people on stage was when I was 12 years old.

Do you play any other instruments?

I play the guitar. It’s the instrument I use when composing my songs.

Did you always know you wanted to be a singer?

Yes. I always wanted to be a singer, but I didn’t believe it could happen until today.

What genre of music did you listen to growing up?

I used to listen to a lot of soul music and R&B. Those were my favorites at the time.

Is anyone else in your family musical?

No one in my close family is, but my aunt and uncle both used to sing in Ethiopia.

Tell me a little about your Ethiopian roots.

My parents made Aliyah during the famine of 1984, after being airlifted to Israel as a part of Operation Moses. Their journey began with a long 3-week trek all the way from Ethiopia to a refugee camp in Sudan.

© Harel Dahari

Who are your greatest inspirations - both musically and non-musically?

My Mom is my biggest inspiration. She is a strong, brave and honest woman who gave everything to make our lives better (her kids and family). In the music world, I would say Stromae. His talent shines through in every aspect of his music: the lyrics, the sounds, his shows and his videos…everything is just so perfect!

Can you pinpoint some Ethiopian artists that inspire you?

My favorite Ethiopian singers are Aster Aweke , Gigi , Mahumod Ahmued, and Tilahun Gessesse.

How would you describe your sound?

I call it ‘Afro-Soul’ – it combines all of the different sounds that I have in my music into one cohesive genre.

How do you translate your heritage into your music?

It happens in different ways. It could be through the lyrics when I write about life in Ethiopia and about my family’s story, or it could be through the cultural sounds and instruments used.

I'm curious about Ethiopian instrumentation. What are the typical instruments used and which do you use in your albums?

In my album, you can hear three Ethiopian instruments in particular: Masenko (a single-stringed bowed lute), Krar (a five- or six-stringed bowl-shaped harp), and Ethiopian Flute.

How about your bandmates. How did the band come to be?

I met my bandmates during my 2nd year at Rimon School of Music; first I met guitarist Tamir Hillel, then Omer Lutzky (bass) and Elisee Akowendo (drums) joined us as we started working on my songs. About a year after that, Asaf Lavie (keyboards) was added to the mix and we've been performing ever since. Omri Skop has recently stepped in as the band’s new guitarist.

What is your native tongue?

Hebrew when I speak; however, singing is different. The music I grew up on was mostly in English, so I feel more comfortable singing in English…my ideas come through better.

What are the narrative arcs of your lyrics, specifically those of the track “Who am I?”

The songs that I write tell my story, my thoughts and beliefs. The song "Who Am I" tells the love story of two people that come from different backgrounds. They are too afraid to devote themselves to this love so they give up before they ever really try.

What are you most proud of in your life?

I'm proud of the choice I made to chase after my dreams of being a musician.

Zorba festival must have been exciting.

It was the first big band show that I did and I loved it.

How was your North American tour? Was this your first time touring Canada and the States?

It was a great tour. We were there for more than two weeks, and this was our second time in the U.S., but first time in Canada with the band. It was exciting to see the responses of our new North American audiences there; it really encouraged me to keep doing what I do.

© Harel Dahari

What are some main differences between performing abroad and performing locally?

I feel that each show is different in Israel and abroad. Each show has its own unique vibe and energy.

Have you taken part in any collaborations of recent?

I recorded a song with Haim Laroz and Judah called “Ya'alom” a few months ago.

Who do you admire most in the local music community right now?

I love so many it’s hard to choose. Balkan Beat Box, Marina Maximilian, Tuna, Gal De Paz, Adi Ulmansky and the list goes on....

Do you have a favorite local venue to play at?

I’m very much looking forward to my next show at Bascula on April 29. We haven’t played in Tel Aviv since we came back from the Tour.

What do you do when not playing music?

The main thing I do is music. If I’m not playing, than I’m managing, booking and doing everything else that revolves around the music. I do also like to read, be with my family and play with my nephews.

What’s your favorite album to listen to on a rainy day?

Lauryn Hill – Unplugged

Any projects in the foreseeable future?

Right now, I'm working on writing songs for my second album, which I hope to have out in a year or so.

Can you share some words for aspiring singers/performers?

Be true to yourself, work hard, and don't let anyone tell you what you can or cannot do.

AvevA performs at Bascula, in Tel Aviv on April 29, 21:00.

Check out the event HERE.


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