R ahwa and Asmeret Habte were told many times not to open a business in Seattle's Central District. The neighborhood has its issues with crime,>"/>
Rahwa and Asmeret Habte were told many times not to open a business in Seattle's Central District. The neighborhood has its issues with crime, both small-time and serious, so friends and family members were concerned when the two sisters wanted to take over an Eritrean restaurant on 20th Avenue South and South Jackson Street. But Rahwa, 31, and Asmeret, 33, went against most of the advice when they took the title to Hidmo in December 2006 and set about creating a place local residents could call home, amid the changes and gentrification of the neighborhood.
Rahwa Habte, who cooks and organizes most of the restaurant's events, notes that "there aren't places in the Central District that have live shows. So we wanted something that's accessible, where people can walk in and see people that look like them doing art, and hopefully that inspires them."
They've got several rotating hip-hop monthlies; "Ladies First" and "Hip-Hop Period" to showcase young, rising talent; and a highly popular Pan-African music night which preceded their ownership and which is typically standing-room-only. Many local musicians, poets, and MCs got their start at Hidmo.
"There are people like THEESatisfaction, [R&B singer] Just Moni, Canary Sing, and Khingz—a lot of artists who weren't getting booked at major venues. And now they are," Rahwa says. "With Ladies First, even though it started at Re-bar, it didn't do well and the organizers stopped it. But when they moved it here, they started getting more names, and it's now seen as the premier all-female music showcase in Seattle. It brings awareness, not only about female artists but also of CARA [Communities Against Rape and Abuse], who sponsors the event."
Thanks to a grant from 4Culture, the Habte sisters just started a new Friday-night series, Live at Hidmo, free to the public, which will feature local musicians in all genres.
Crowds at any Hidmo show are typically multicultural and intergenerational, with elders and teenagers standing side by side. (It's an all-ages venue.) "We're a small-enough venue that even if 20–25 people are here, it's a show," says Rahwa.
That's especially true on Sundays. Starting around 7 p.m., Hidmo fills up as African musicians with kalimbas, djembes, koras, and gourds play songs from home. Ghanaian soukous, South African jazz, and Congolese soul are just some of the styles showcased by Claire Jones, who currently books the night in addition to teaching ethnomusicology at the University of Washington.
"Having the African night is what draws a lot of people to Hidmo," Rahwa says. "That existed before we bought it, so we can't take credit for starting it, but it's developed a large following in the two-and-a-half years that we've been in charge of it." As for why music events at Hidmo are so popular: "It's easier when you have a space for everyone...where art can happen, people can meet, people can greet, people can eat...in a formal and informal way. As far as we see it, that's a good thing."—Jonathan Cunningham