Israeli Singer AvevA Dese Reclaims Ethiopian Roots
AvevA Dese’s parents spoke Amharic to each other at home, but when her mother spoke to her in Amharic, AvevA insisted on replying in Hebrew.
Ethiopian-Israeli artist AvevA Dese is a powerful R&B singer and a songwriter whose Afro groove sound incorporates the Ethiopian rhythms of her heritage.
AvevA Dese’s parents are Ethiopian Jews who made a harrowing journey on foot from Ethiopia to a refugee camp in Sudan in 1984 during a famine. From there, they and thousands of other Jews were airlifted to Israel as part of Operation Moses.
AvevA Dese was born in Israel four years later. Growing up in Nazareth Illit, she rejected her Ethiopian heritage, along with the Amharic language. Her parents spoke Amharic to each other at home, but when her mother spoke to her in Amharic, Dese insisted on replying in Hebrew.
“I was trying to fit into the Israeli culture. As a kid I thought that the Ethiopian culture is holding me back and so I wasn’t interested in knowing more about it,” she said in an email interview promoting her North American tour that brings her to Toronto this month.
“Now as a mature woman I realize how wrong I was, that this is my identity and I should be proud of it. I learned more about the Ethiopian traditions through the music and through the stories my mom tells me.”
Another aspect of Dese’s musical education came from her older sister, who introduced her to American R&B singers like Etta James, Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder and Whitney Houston.
AvevA Dese’s development as a singer began when she and her sister sang classic R&B tunes around the house for fun. As she discovered her Ethiopian roots, Dese’s musical diet expanded to include traditional and contemporary Ethiopian artists, among them Aster Aweke, Gigi, and Tilahun Gessesse.