The Kennedy Center



It has been said that Grammy-nominated, Ethiopian-born, singer/songwriter, Wayna has a voice as pure as it is passionate. Stevie Wonder says “she’s incredible.” Essence Magazine says she is “one to watch,” and Billboard Magazine calls her “a stand out on the indie front.” With two Billboard chart-topping singles from her sophomore LP, Higher Ground, and a coveted Grammy nomination in the Best Urban/Alternative Performance Category for her remake, “Lovin You (Music)” featuring Kokayi, Wayna’s star is on the rise. The remake, which she also co-produced, is a fitting representation of her unique vocal style, a blend of Minnie Riperton, Lauryn Hill, and Billie Holiday.

The Expats is the third and latest LP from this innovative artist and represents a new and daring departure from her previous work. The project is named after its Toronto-based backing band and production team hailing from various parts of the world Ethiopia to Japan, Israel to India, Germany to Jamaica. Drawing from diverse musical influences, Wayna and the Expats create a unique blend of African and Reggae-inspired soul, fused with classic and alternative rock -- Sade and the Police meets Lauryn Hill and Radiohead. This new sound, which Wayna calls “world soul” was the result of a creative journey, jamming, writing and recording with “the Expats” in Toronto over the past 2 years.

Lyrically, Wayna continues to push the envelope, with a visual storyteller style of writing that addresses unique subject matter. “Fate can only be delayed, so why even make her wait,” she says on “I Don’t Wanna Wait” -- a sonic blend of Bob Marley, Motown, and golden era Hip Hop, produced by German beat maker, Fahrot, (also known for his work with Nneka). The haunting and ambient “Yo Yo” summons an emotional ride using an afro beat backdrop merged with dance rhythms and alternative rock guitars. “A Time Will Come” addresses racial and economic inequality and is made more poignant by an Amharic excerpt from Haile Selassie’s famous 1936 address to the United Nations, while “Send It Away” invites listeners to live more authentically, letting go of what does not fit. “He brought it with my water, a life I didn’t order, why live to please the waiter, send it away.”

Wayna’s new sound, both progressive and retro, appeals to world, rock, reggae, and soul enthusiasts. Mixed predominately by multi-Grammy® award winning engineer Russell Elevado (Voodoo, Mama’s Gun) who contributed a psychedelic classic rock interpretation of the compositions, the Expats celebrates individuality. “I’ve always been a bit of an Expat,” says Wayna “feeling different from the dominant culture around me. For years, I tried to minimize those differences, but I realized that those contradictions make me who I am. I want this album to be about exploring and expressing all the ways in which I and every one of us are unique, culturally or otherwise, and to celebrate those differences unapologetically.”

Watch Past Performances

Video 1/8/2014: Wayna

The D.C.-based, Grammy®-nominated Ethiopian singer/songwriter brings her mix of soul, rock, reggae, and world music.