She was an American kid who grew up loving Madonna and Mariah Carey. Though she was too shy to try out for solos in her high school choir, she belted along with Whitney Houston at home. Her father fell in love with American R&B when he first landed in the U.S. and a cousin took him to a Kool and the Gang concert in L.A., but the family never left the sounds of old world behind. Artists like Kool and the Bee Gees were in the mix with Ethiopian pop stars Tilahun Gessese and Teddy Afro when the family cranked up the stereo each week to to help them knock out Saturday chores.
They spoke Amharic, their native tongue, at home, and though they weren’t particularly religious, when the local community grew large enough to support an Ethiopian Orthodox church, they attended every Sunday. Kassa recalls birthday parties where the kids entertained themselves doing kid stuff, while the parents were “playing the Ethiopian music loud, drinking their Johnny Walkers” and reminiscing about the old world.