Ethio-American singer Meklit redefines home through storytelling and music

As we move from one place to another, we carry with us not just our belongings, but also our cultures, backgrounds and heritages. On Thursday, Ethiopian American singer, songwriter and composer Meklit led a group of artists that honed in on the intersections of migration and music at Bing Concert Hall. The performance — “MOVEMENT Live” — was a powerful cross-cultural and cross-generational celebration of music’s role in the lives of immigrants.

Introducing the theme of migration, Meklit opened the show with a story pinpointing when she realized her idea of home had shifted from Ethiopia, where her family had immigrated from, to the United States. She glided into a moving rendition of her song, “This Was Made Here,” capturing the hopeful, but bittersweet feeling of reconciling two homes. During the show, she sang four more original songs in English and her native language Amharic, integrating cultural elements from her two “homes” and channeling a range of feelings from soulful to nostalgic. 

Meklit’s vivacious dancing amplified the energy in the audience and further hit home the fusion of her American and Ethiopian cultures. She bounced her shoulders forward and backward to the beat, recalling the Ethiopian dance Eskista where intense shoulder movement is a feature. The black cropped jacket she wore rippled with her shoulders to enhance these movements. 

Incorporating these movements not only honored the blending of cultures, but also made Meklit a dynamic force on stage. When the focus shifted to one of her musicians, she twirled her arm in their direction, seemingly tugging and releasing the sound so we felt it through the air. 

Three other musical artists performed, pouring out intimate first-person stories about how music had connected them to their cultures and past generations. 

Singer Diana Gameros, who immigrated to the US from Mexico, began her set by singing a poignant duet with the recorded vocals of her grandmother. In her performance, music was a thread linking her to the women who came before her. 

Gameros then gave an enchanting rendition of “Gorrioncillo Pecho Amarillo” (“The Little Goldfinch”) while playing the piano. It was one of the few moments in the show where the entire hall dimmed except for the spotlight on the singer, an apt choice by lighting designer Lee Fiskness that added to the intimacy of Gameros’ interpretation.

Music had allowed artist Clarissa Bitar to unearth previously suppressed family memories. On the oud, a stringed instrument played in Arabic countries, they gave a mesmerizing performance of the Arabic song “Ala Dalouna.” Strumming this song for their grandparents had moved Bitar’s grandparents to tell Bitar stories of their home back in Palestine, memories that Bitar had never known before. Demonstrating taqsim, a musical improvisation technique in Arabic music, Bitar gave us an uplifting glimpse into the connections that can be forged with music.

“MOVEMENT Live” not only gave these artists a stage but also an intimate space for conversations. Through an interview-style dialogue with Meklit, Cuban percussionist and vocalist Jesus Diaz spoke about how he longed for hearing music on the streets, which he has rarely experienced since he immigrated to the U.S. in 1980. This led to a lively performance of a song he wrote in Spanish, inspired by his return to Cuba 20 years later.

During the last song, as Meklit crossed a sliver of light on the floor, she completed a physical act of migration that embodied the themes and stories we had heard. Whether it was Diaz’s song that recalled his life in Cuba or Meklit’s memorable melodies that grappled with her multiple identities, Meklit and her fellow artists showcased this power of music to connect us to our cultures and homes through a heartfelt performance.

Editor’s Note: This article is a review and includes subjective thoughts, opinions and critiques.