Saturday night was something of a triumph for vocalist Aster Aweke, who had been a fixture at local clubs for eight years before she was recently picked up by Columbia Records, the label that released her eponymous debut this fall. Performing her first club date here in several months, Aweke was greeted at Kilimanjaro by a packed house of adoring fans. And what was clear from the first trills of "Sengno" was that her area admirers have been hoarding a very good thing.
Backed by the supple Atlas Band, the Ethiopian-born Aweke proved to be a singer blessed with both extraordinary clarity and a warm, affable quality. As she sang in Amharic -- mostly, it seemed, about love and romance -- her vocals were alternately throaty and sweet yet were never rendered icky by the cloying disposition that can plague kittenish females.
A vision in silver-accented white robes, with her long braids swaying, Aweke was a compelling presence: sultry and emotive in the subdued "Tizita," then letting it all wriggle for the set's liveliest number, the infectious "Sebebu." And though she now sings for the biggest record company in the world, she wasn't too much of a big shot to smile and wave at familiar faces in the audience.