This show was rescheduled from December 13th, 2023 at Songbyrd. All tickets for the December 13th Songbyrd show will be honored for the new date and venue.
Berhana is intentional about not only his craft but his identity too. At this moment, life is too short for him to not authentically bring himself into every facet and every detail of his vocation. On HAN, his last project, Berhana toys with his name ‘Han’ forming a part of his artist and birth name. Across the subdued and kush amalgamation of R&B, funk, and jazz is a narrated feel, easing the listener through the project in a neat and formal way. It’s this form of perfectionism that Berhana says he’s drifted away from in recent years. “Everyone has experienced so much, the pandemic, real life — a lot has changed. I don’t feel as rooted to the concept of being perfect anymore,” he shares. “Now, I’m living in seeing how things go, and how they are able to change over time.” Precision is still a priority, but in the search for that, a wider and calmer approach to utilising that is now harnessed.
Born adjacent to Atlanta, Georgia Berhana has always been raised in a community that’s centered on his Ethiopian roots. From the matriarchs of his family, his paternal grandmother ushering him to learn his mother’s tongue as she flew back and forth between there and the United States, to tight-knit clans of Ethiopian friends and a mother who was quick to remind him of the richness of his ancestry and people at large. “I’ve been so blessed to be raised by people so connected to where we come from, seeing that has always been super integral to who I am,” Bethana notes. This maturation then, paired with his ancestral grounding, forms the impetus of Berhana’s upcoming era — a fusion of who he’s been and who he has become through a quite natural metamorphosis and a more holistic sense of identity, culture, and manhood.
A catalyst in a loss within his family in 2020 spurred Berhana on to reaffirm his yearning for his cultural identity and re-establishing a connection to Ethiopia through language — he’s learning to read and write actively — and collecting cassettes and records from artists during a visit back to the region that same year. “I regained energy, it was really fulfilling to me to connect in these ways,” he enthuses. “It took me out of a dark place and reminded me that home is something I can take with me, wherever I go. It was actively doing these things that made me feel that sense of transportation.” Named Amén የዘላን ህልም (The Nomad’s Dream) Berhana’s sophomore album juxtaposes the love of his birthname (Amain Berhane), mothers tongue, and the concept of a transporting home and his conceptualisation of that and who he has become and acts as an apt and nuanced moniker all things considered. Shooting the projects cover in Harar, with the help of Ethiopian creators Anteneh Nida, Girma Berta, and Gouled Ahmed every component was thought about with care as and when it came up. The Nomad as a stylistic character was also created here.
Adhering to his more lucid approach to conception, however, Amén የዘላን ህልም (The Nomad’s Dream), the album, doesn’t feature an authoritative structure, however, does locomote the arc of the breaking down of a toxic, mirage of a situation, the reclamation of self and realignment and all embrace of new love, a holistic self and relinquishing former triggers in the realm of romance. “I wanted to touch on various experiences in life that have made me who I am today — my life, the various experiences of love I’ve had, and how I, as a man have grown in each and every experience,” he summarises humbly.
Part of Berhana’s formative aspects came from his childhood, in the relationship he had with his mother. She helped mold his infancy and crucial anchors that form parts of the album’s opener “Amén”. The hypnotic crescendo of downcast bossa nova, pop, and hip-hop adjacent to some of the early Neptunes, hones in on a tale of two worlds. Berhana’s mother yearning for more intellectual efforts at school, Berhana, almost conceives his Nomad canvas. “As a kid, I would always be trying to drown out my mother’s calls with music,” he says of his first-generation experience in the US. “I was always between my dreams and what was conventionally right.”
The other part of his sophomore’s first quarter, speaks to the imparting of his mother’s lessons on his people and Ethiopian legacy at large. Odeing the famous Olympian Abebe Bikila — whose story was a staple figure in the Berhane household — “Gone” aptly utilises inquisitive wordplay and double entendres to adequately convey Berhana’s appreciation for the sportsman. The hook, which speaks to Bikila’s 1960 barefoot Olympic win for the marathon, also speaks to the indulgence in situations disturbing the singer’s peace. The circus can be entrancing.
Berhana elaborates on this theme by toying with production on his second single “Like A Habit” that follows. Crafted by Mike Irish the funk-led, elasticated record is tinged in wide vocal stacking which acts as a theatric component added to help make it feel as tranced as the lyricism that sits atop the sonics. “‘Like A Habit’ sounds sweet on first listen, but it’s meant to do that as it’s really talking about something very harmful and destructive.” Berhame shares. Bound between the decision to stay or leave across the song’s summative and intentional bridge, in collaboration with Tanuki thrusts change into the singer’s lap — abruptly to both himself and the listener.
“Some Day” then is the harsh examination of self, Berhana candid as ever in his dissections of who he has become and in admitting that he’s not who he wants to be or where he wants to be on his journey. “It was like a prayer, yes. Like a melody just calling out in my lowest moments for the change. I removed ego here or wanted to,” Berhana begins. “It was that moment where you turn to an elderly loved one, or God and ask for that chance to be renewed.” The leadlines toward the end of the song allow his love of Ethiopian jazz to enter to the fore. Majestic and tender on the ear, the extended guitar runs harken back to purveyors within the genre such as Mulatu Astatke and Hailu Mergia whom Berhana tributes greatly. “Etho-jazz is so, so inspiring to me. It reminds me of home and whenever I get to play some, it reminds me of who I am and that part of my musicianship.” “Some Day” is the perfect intersection of Berhana’s studious approach to artistry and his persistence in understanding who he is and where he came from. It’s a beautiful display of a new era that prioritises authentic progression seamlessly.
Further afield canvasses a playful and rap-led approach to Amén የዘላን ህልም (The Nomad’s Dream) with the self-proclaimed Nomad himself showcasing a slower more spoken cadence on ‘Break Bread’ focused on diligence in the realms of who to trust and discernment now being a Nomad protocol, Berhana juxtaposes his usual run of crooning with urgent warnings to himself about love, and being careful with indulging too soon, without scope for self-clarity. Towards the song’s end, a loftiness engulfs the listener, suggesting that he’s entering another lofty state of hypnosis. As predicted, “The Nomad’s Dream” follows answers his dreams in quick succession ushering him towards his eventual new relationship. Its lush and tranquil composition feels like a moment of intermission for Berhana to clarify his emotional synergies.
Where “Break Bread” acts as Berhana’s warning, “Don’t Go” instead tugs at the need for another person, the desire for the presence unapologetically. “It’s a fear,” Berhana says. “Of losing someone. But it’s not quite the love of them, just because of who they are, it’s more coming from a place of need for self.” Crafted with care, “Don’t Go” is the perfect amalgamation of dancehall-adjacent bassline and R&B melodies. Berhana sounding happier, more affirmed in his passion and embracing of potential love. “WOW!” quickly follows, which is the singer’s true euphoria. Toying with vocal layering and pitching — akin to a Kendrick Lamar on ‘King Kunta’ — Berhana’s internal voice pushes him to settle down, figure out his long-term game plan, and embrace the love for all that it is. The dream pop number is exuberant, sonically provocative, and ambitious, Berhana committing to his N.E.R.D and The Neptunes influences cherrypicked across his career to date.
It’s all of this that brings us to the beautifully idyllic ending comprised of the concluding Amén የዘላን ህልም (The Nomad’s Dream) number “Home”. Like a lullaby in its repetition, the soulful conclusion is Berhana’s optimism, belief in love, belief in his acceptance of it in all of its nuances, and juxtaposing greatness even when life isn’t perfect outside of that. “This is my favorite song on the album,” Berhana reveals. “The song is generational, it’s what loved ones gave to me when they passed away, it’s something I get to give to my children when I pass away, it’s a song of hope.” Extending his grace for the miracle of life, Berhana’s sophomore album is an abundantly ambitious collection of songs with deep, brave, and meticulous dissections of self. His poeticism on the record acts as a breath of fresh air illuminating a leap in his artistic discipline and decades of growth in just a few years.
Early on in his career, Berhana’s “Grey Luh” featured on the soundtrack to the seminal show Atlanta. Years later, with his sophomore album, Berhana has crafted a visual project of his own, with a bulk of the project acting as the soundtrack. Named የዘላን ህልም (The Nomad’s Dream) the visual component recontextualises the album’s core themes of identity, self-growth, love, and ancestral and lucid dreams tugging at Berhana’s film-making degree background. “This was created so loosely,” he affirms. “Between myself and the team, we zoomed for over a year just ideating the concepts and what I wanted this album to be before really getting to work. It was a labour of love.”
Honing in on “Gone”, “Break Bread”, “Someday”, “WOW” and “Going Home” the team was aligned once the formative pieces took shape. “I even went to stay with both of the directors in New York for a while, we were all hands on deck and I could see the album as I was recording it, it’s such a visual body of work,” Berhana explains. Its vast use of colour, re-arrangement of the central party hall used throughout the film, and cinematic, fluid dream sequences showcase a multi-disciplinary polymath who is able to accurately translate his desires utilising allure, texture, and dynamism. የዘላን ህልም (The Nomad’s Dream) will be premiered in first-generation heavy strongholds in Washington DC, Los Angeles, New York, and London, and in Ethiopia’s capital city Addis Ababa. “I wanted to bring some of myself to audiences who would appreciate the film’s messages and direction,” Berhana shares.
As a complete visual and audio package Amén የዘላን ህልም (The Nomad’s Dream) orients a globalised younger millennial, Gen-z and Alpha generation of curious minds willing to showcase their complete identities unapologetically. It speaks to urgent calls within the Black diaspora of understanding, listening, and receiving and a renewed interest in particularly the continent — however, it doesn’t feel performative. More so, Amén የዘላን ህልም (The Nomad’s Dream) is the portrait of complete acceptance outside of the realms of performativity, it’s an album that, in the context of so much superficiality, leaps towards nuance and flesh. Berhana not only transcends who he’s been as an artist, clawing at new terrains, but he reaffirms his love and embrace for self-actualisation.
In its simplest of forms, it is the most cohesive example of the transparency that comes from understanding oneself holistically — something that each and every one of us instantly feels once the record and its accompanying film reach their clarifying conclusions.
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