But for nearly 15 years, Rahwa was a key creative figure. A significant amount of this city's culture was shaped by her activities, which spread to various branches of the arts. Indeed, the flourishing of hiphop at the end of the century's first decade issued from a business she owned and ran with her sister, Hidmo Eritrean Cuisine. I first wrote about it in 2007. Back then, the place popped like nothing I had ever seen before in Seattle. It was a completely new and vibrant mode of being in this often colorless corner of America.
I am so devastated to learn of our dear Rahwa H’s passing. She was an amazing human being and I remember so clearly when...
Posted by Pramila Jayapal on Saturday, August 29, 2020
Hidmo connected black American culture with Asian American culture, with black African culture, with Iranian American culture, with black Caribbean culture, with LGBTTQQIAAP culture, with Latino culture, with Native American culture, with Pacific Northwest culture. It was hard to see how so many diverse points of American experience could find common expression in one place, a Central District bar and restaurant owned by Eritrean immigrants. But this is precisely what happened between 2007 and 2010. And this fecund period permanently transformed underground Seattle.
When Hidmo closed in 2010, an event hauntingly captured on OC Notes' 2011 masterpiece Secret Society, it found a new home at Washington Hall. Rahwa also worked for the city government as a culture builder and coordinator and also with a number of artists on musical projects, theater projects, and film projects. Wherever something interesting was happening in this town, it was hard not to find her there.
Personally, I owe a lot to Rahwa's soul-greatness. In 2010, she allowed me to hold small gatherings at Hidmo called Pop Life. Organized by Rich Jensen, another Seattle figure who was profoundly moved by Rahwa's movement through time, Pop Life was eventually synthesized (sociobiology, black cinema, Marxian economics, Spinozian sociology) into my main theoretical project that decade. Three pieces published by New York City's e-Flux (November 2015, February 2016, March 2017) all had their roots in Hidmo, in Rahwa's greatness and generosity. She was a very good friend. I will miss her. I will end with a piece that I wrote in 2007 that described my first encounter with her in time.
Near the end of the Central District and the start of the International District, in an area dominated by industrial bakeries, is the corner of 20th Avenue and Jackson Street. Here you will find Hidmo Eritrean Restaurant, housed in a plain white building that stands in sharp contrast to the decaying Wonder Bread complex nearby. Three months ago, sisters Asmeret and Rahwa Habte bought Hidmo from its founder, Amanuel Yohannes, and turned it into the center of underground hiphop in Seattle.
Hidmo serves Eritrean food, is decorated with traditional Eritrean baskets, has live African music on Sunday nights, and is patronized by local East Africans. It's also the place to be for leading local headz. Jace of Silent Lambs Project first introduced me to Hidmo two months ago by chance. I was walking home and he was there holding a meeting for the Dope Emporium show. He saw me through the window, impatiently knocked on the glass, and asked that I come in right away. Inside I found a group of local rappers and producers sitting at a table, drinking beer, and eating a variety of Eritrean dishes. On one side of the table sat Specs One, Silas Blak, Silver Shadow D; on the other side were WD4D, Khingz, and Jace, who urged that I join the feast and take in the music and conversation that filled the room. After accepting my decline—I was late for an appointment—Jace strongly recommended that I come back to Hidmo and check it out.
I didn't follow Jace's recommendation and instead passed Hidmo again and again, thinking it was just one of the many East African restaurants in the neighborhood. That thought changed two weeks ago when I met with Gabriel Teodros to talk about his new CD, Lovework. We were sitting at a high table in a new cafe on Beacon Hill when he offhandedly mentioned that Sabzi, the producer behind Common Market and Blue Scholars, was spinning at Hidmo. Registering my surprise, he then explained that the restaurant was happening. "Everyone hangs out there," he said. "Go there any night and you will see all the cats... Rahwa owns it, she bought it a three months ago, and when it gets busy she makes me wash the dishes."
The following Thursday night I was in Hidmo, drinking and eating with Rahwa. "You know, when Gabriel is here I do sometimes make him wash the dishes," she said. "That's what it's like around here. I know everyone so well."
Rahwa was born in Eritrea, came to America when she was 4 years old, has seven siblings, and attended Evergreen High School. The 28-year-old has lived in the Central District since 1983, and her ties with the East African community are as tight as her ties with Seattle's hiphop community. "It was weird," she told me over a mug of coffee. "It just happened. One day I learned the owner wanted to sell the place. My sister and I decided it was a great opportunity. We bought the place in December and it has been wonderful. I grew up here; this is my neighborhood. And I grew up listening to hiphop, being a part of the music. So my friends started hanging around here. You know, it's just like that. One day, this guy walks in and asks to spin records; I say sure. He spins reggae on Thursday nights. It just happened."
DJ Duncan is not just spinning any old reggae; he is spinning the best of the best—recent Linton Kwesi Johnson, rare Gregory Isaacs, and old Heptones. As he plays, in walks Amos Miller, who produced most of Teodros's new CD and also "Heavy," the best track on Choklate's self-titled CD. At the bar is Sabzi, who is eating with his brother. "He comes here every night," Rahwa says with a hint of pride in her new business and the fresh scene it has spawned. "He also spins here every Friday with DJ Daps One. I'm also very excited about starting Ladies' Night, which used to be at Re-bar but is moving here on March 3. It's an all-women rap show."