I first heard Berhana’s music in 2016, after I had just moved to Bushwick, a neighborhood in Brooklyn. My friend Ariana had texted me, “Now that you’re an official Brooklynite,” with a link to Berhana’s song “Brooklyn Drugs.” The opening track on the Ethiopian American singer’s first EP instantly grasped my attention as I recognized Amharic dialogue in the intro and thought, “Wow, this is different.”
Bowling with Berhana, the Artist Being Compared to Frank Ocean and Donald Glover
We went bowling at Brooklyn Bowl with the genre-blurring artist
Born Amain Berhane in Atlanta, Berhana cannot be tied to one genre. His experimental projects blend hip-hop, R&B, alternative rock and electro-pop. Oftentimes compared to Frank Ocean, Donald Glover and Masego, the 27-year-old singer continues to set himself apart with influences from both Japanese and Ethiopian culture combined with funk, retro-pop, jazz and soulful melodies. Berhana recently released his debut album HAN, a work of instrumental genius. The album, embroidered with exhilarating effects and short fictional airplane announcements leading you into the next track, stands apart in creativity and storytelling. This sophomore project raises the bar with finely calibrated with soulful hooks and futuristic composition.
The Los Angeles-based musician is currently gearing up for his tour, which will last through December. One of his stops included Brooklyn, so we met up at Brooklyn Bowl to talk music and to bowl. I immediately warned Berhana that I was not skilled in this sport and to not judge my lack of upper body strength. He laughed and assured me that he wasn't a professional either. After losing, I whipped out my laptop so we could talk about his tour and more. “What I love so much about touring is that you get to play around with how long certain songs are, since you’re not stuck to one track,” Berhana told ONE37pm. “Just messing around with that and seeing what works has been really exciting.”
While this will be Berhana’s first time performing with a band, he’s no stranger to working alongside others on his music. While studying film at the New School, a friend asked him to sing vocals over one of his beats. “He had heard I could sing and it was received pretty well, and I just had a really great time doing it. After that, it all started to snowball,“ Berhana said. “It was actually during film school that I started simultaneously making music. I wanted to make movies and also write for TV, and it’s something that I’ve always loved and will continue to exercise on that muscle.”
Before sharing his music with a larger audience, the process was very personal. Berhana would write songs on his keyboard after school and sometimes perform them to friends. At an early age, thanks to the highly rotated artists that his mother and sister listened to, Berhana’s taste grew for legendary musicians like Stevie Wonder and Sam Cooke. His hip-hop favorites can be attributed to his older brother. “My brother loved playing Tribe Called Quest, The Love Below, Beastie Boys and Mos Def. So basically, I pulled from what was around me, and it became my childhood playlist.”
Berhana’s genre-blurring sound can be heard heavily on the songs on HAN. “Drnuk” leads with a classic R&B sound, transforming into a futuristic delight by the outro. “I Been” emotes funk-wave brilliance, and “California” layers cinematic lyrics over a pulsating beat. Fundamentally, each track differs from the previous yet still builds a story, marking the singer's most-compelling expression yet. Berhana’s favorite song on HAN is “G2g,” which he said felt like a mini project when making it. “I really got to hone in on the little things, all the specific details to make it feel like a cohesive project that lives on its own, but at the same time, together.”
Berhana prefers to take his time with his production, even if that means a two-year hiatus. “When I’m older and look back on this, it’s not going to be something that I just tried to throw out because I was trying to get on a playlist,” Berhana said. “But instead I can look back at all these things I created and be proud of them the way I want to be proud of them.”
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