Atlanta-born singer Berhana is coming home

Following his Tiny Desk Concert, the artist is kicking off his North American tour at Terminal West.
Singer and songwriter Berhana performs during a set for NPR's Tiny Desk Concert series. Berhana grew up in Atlanta.

Credit: Courtesy NPR Music

Credit: Courtesy NPR Music

Singer and songwriter Berhana performs during a set for NPR's Tiny Desk Concert series. Berhana grew up in Atlanta.

It’s fitting that singer and songwriter Berhana’s upcoming series of concerts is called “The Nomad’s Tour.”

In conversation, he references metro Atlanta, New York City, Los Angeles and Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, as places that are considered home. The local kid born to Ethiopian immigrants is kicking off his run of nine North American tour dates with a show at Terminal West on April 11. The show is both a homecoming and a celebration of his latest album, “Amén (The Nomad’s Dream),” which was released in October 2023 to critical acclaim and landed him on NPR’s coveted Tiny Desk Concerts series.

Born Amain Berhane, the album title, “Amén,” is a play on the pronunciation of his first name. The stage name Berhana is the phonetic spelling of his last name. The album is, thematically, the story of a nomadic, creative constantly in motion, searching for self-discovery and connection. It’s driven by the idea that even when you’re far from your comfort zone, there are totems — family, friends, traditions, spaces — you can refer back to in times of loneliness. “One of the things I was doing with this album was trying to get across this point of home being something you can bring with you wherever you go,” he said.

Berhana grew up in Marietta, guided by the strong matriarchs of his family. A first generation immigrant, the local Ethiopian community felt like one giant family, raising each other. “Every kid you meet is your cousin,” he remembers.

Berhana was raised in a tight-knit Ethiopian community in metro Atlanta.

Credit: Girma Berta

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Credit: Girma Berta

After spending his formative years in metro Atlanta, Berhana landed in New York, studying television and film at The New School. Jamming and connecting with students in the school’s jazz program eventually led him to take music seriously as a career.

In 2016, he released a self-titled EP. The 6-track offering drew attention for the standout, “Janet.” The cheeky R&B bop is an ode to Janet Hubert, the actress originally cast as Aunt Viv on the show “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.” The lyrics find Berhana equating his own rejection from a lover to the controversial removal of Hubert from the series in season four. “Wonder if you’ll dismiss me/ Maybe light-skin Aunt Viv me.”

Another song from the “Berhana” EP, the boozy love jam “Grey Luh,” made its way onto FX’s “Atlanta.”

Over the next couple of years, Berhana released singles “Whole Wide World” and “Wildin’” to positive reviews. His debut album, “HAN,” released in 2019, with its robot-voiced narrator, celestial themes and genre-less production, showcased Berhana’s willingness to defy R&B standards. Lando Calrissian might play it in his Cloud City in his penthouse on date night.

If “HAN” was Berhana exploring the cosmos, “Amén (The Nomad’s Dream)” is his coming to terms with life on Earth, navigating triumphs and tragedies that shape us.

Before recording the album, Berhana traveled with his mother to perform and visit family in Addis Ababa. Interacting with family members, digging through crates at local record stores changed him. Then tragedy struck. Berhana’s grandmother passed away. One of the guiding forces in his life was gone.

“That was one of the darker, if not the darkest moments of my life, just because she was such a close friend,” he said. “I feel like it did spark something and that light began to grow as long as I kept fueling it. It’s led me to where I am right now.”

“Amén,” taps into the Ethio-jazz, neo-soul, ‘90s, Afrobeat and hip-hop influences of its creator. Like its predecessors, the album leans into themes more than comfortably resting on a clearly marked section of a record shelf. If anything, it’s the story of a man confronting adulthood.

Whereas “WOW!,” a bouncy nod to Ethiopian Olympic runner Abebe Bikila, and “Like a Habit” feel like songs of summer, it’s the more personal tone of a track like “Someday” that finds Berhana in more vulnerable moments, writing to his grandmother.

“Thank God you not here to see this/ Not proud of who I’ve become/ My shadow reflect my demons/ A man in a broken home,” he sings.

Berhana’s grandmother’s presence is felt all over the album. Hers is the last voice listeners hear when it wraps in the form of a voicemail, wishing Berhana safe travels on his journeys on “Going Home.” The song is Berhana’s personal favorite because it’s a reminder of how the experience of embracing his heritage and life’s fragility changed the way he approaches music, film and live shows.

“I like to control every little piece of the puzzle, but when it comes to creativity, that’s not so helpful. I think sometimes you really just have to let go and drop into this darker place and see what you find,” he said.

With each project Berhana feels like he’s growing in both the technical and creative aspects of making an album. “Amén” was released with an accompanying short film, “The Nomad’s Dream.” The visual is a collaboration between Berhana and longtime partners Sam Guest and Julia Baylis. It tells a story over the course of six songs featured on “Amén.”

Berhana’s current film muses include David Lynch, Stanley Kubrick and Yasujiro Ozu. Just don’t ask him to choose between film and music. “Whenever I hear music, I see it. It’s always been really hard for me to separate those two things, which is why I think as an artist, they’ve always kind of both been present throughout whatever I do,” he said.

Bringing “Amén” to life on stage is just another step in telling the nomad story, Berhana says. He’ll be joined by California-based artist, producer, and songwriter Asha Imuno. He’s still learning when to leverage the power of a band, but also how to create more intimate stage moments where it’s just him, the audience and a thump from an 808. “It’s always fun to take your song and try things in a new way, in a different way, but also you don’t want to do so much of that where you isolate your audience,” he said.

Berhana, born Amain Berhane in Atlanta, will play a homecoming show at Terminal West on April 11.

Credit: Girma Berta

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Credit: Girma Berta

Similar to opening title track of “Amén,” which finds Berhana at home being called by his mother to get out of bed, the live show will give audiences a sense of feeling like they’re in his living room. To do that, he’ll enlist Yonas Michael, a DJ from Motherland Sounds, an East African creative collective in LA.

Before heading off to the next stop in Washington, D.C., Berhana hopes to get some quality time in with his mom, siblings and two nieces. A stop by Desta Ethiopian Kitchen is more than likely. He’s come a long way from doing his first-ever live show in Atlanta on the Heaven stage at Masquerade as part of RaurFest in 2016.

“The Nomad’s Tour” concludes in LA, but there was no question from Berhana and his team about where to do the first date. In his words, “Where’s a better place to start than home?”


Berhana with Asha Imuno

8 p.m. Thursday, April 11. $22-$25. Terminal West, 887 W. Marietta St. NW, Suite C, Atlanta.