Best Venue for Live African Music

There's no shortage of African restaurants in Seattle—these days, from the Central District to Belltown, you can get your paws (sometimes literally) on cuisine from all points of the continent—but Hidmo, uniquely, offers entertainment with your injera. The Eritrean restaurant, which in 2004 moved from West Jackson Street to a larger space between the Central and International districts, offers a weekly music series that goes the distance in diversity. Environmental scientist and African music enthusiast Rob Pastorok (pictured, with basket) has organized the shows since early 2005, after meeting Hidmo owner Amanuel Yohannes through a gig with Pastorok's world fusion band, Maya Soleil. Yohannes asked Maya Soleil to perform every Sunday, but Pastorok's desire to showcase the talents of the African diaspora won out.

Since then, his connections in the music scene have helped fulfill Yohannes' wish that Hidmo become not just a dining but a cultural destination. While Hidmo's menu focuses on favorite Eritrean dishes like zegni beghie (lamb in hot pepper sauce) and alicha derho (chicken with potatoes and garlic), the music has come from all over Africa: Ghana, Uganda, Nigeria, Cameroon, Zambia, Chad, Egypt, and Sierra Leone, among other places. From the djembe and sabar percussion of Thione Diop, from Senegal, to Atlantic Melody's Guinean pop and Guillaume Mpacko's Sol Afrique, each week features a distinct style. "The nice thing about the musicians working together is there might be a group here from Nigeria, but someone will walk in the door and dance with them. Or somebody else from Senegal will sit in and drum with them for a number," says Pastorok of the atmosphere in the showroom. He arranges a guarantee for the groups, which accept donations at the free shows.

Yohannes would like to widen the space, and is interested in moving toward nonprofit status in order to expand both Hidmo's size and scope. Lora Chiorah-Dye, vocalist for Maya Soleil and founder of the Sukutai Marimba and Dance Ensemble, has been instrumental in Seattle's African music scene since the 1980s, and is a frequent performer at Hidmo. "Lots of new things are being born because of this," says Chiorah-Dye. "[African] artists always needed a forum to go and create, and now they have it."—Rachel Shimp

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