Armed with a penchant for sound experimentation and studio chops, senior Abbay Misganaw took time off of school last year to pursue his music career.
It was a risk, he admits, but it’s paying off so far. This month, Misganaw, known onstage as Haile Supreme, will take time off from school again to tour with members of the popular DJ group Thievery Corporation.
Starting Tuesday through Nov. 25, Misganaw will tour with the group’s Jeff Franca, better-known by his stage name Congo Sanchez, and Flex Matthews around the country. The artists will hit 13 cities including New York and Los Angeles for the start of what Misganaw sees as his professional future.
“In five years, I see myself touring. I want to always focus on the live show, because I feel like in the Top 40 world, you’re so focused on microwaveable songs,” Misganaw said. “If you focus all your energy on providing somebody with a live experience, that energy will last them a lifetime.”
Since he started beat-boxing at age four, Misganaw has been experimenting with a musical flavor all his own, inflecting oral beats into reggae and soul singing, and exposing channels generally un-explored by contemporary artists.
Last year, after a Wednesday show at 18th Street Lounge, Misganaw walked up to Franca and introduced himself, asking, “What would it take for me to be on stage with you one day?” Entertaining Misganaw’s enthusiasm, Franca asked him to send over samples of his music.
“Literally the next day, Congo texted me,” Misganaw said. “And that night was our first rehearsal.”
The D.C.-based Thievery Corporation’s confluence of musical inspirations, from electronic dance music to dub and jazz, fit with Misganaw’s own eclectic style, which has hints of psychedelia, rap, house and soul.
The Saturday after Misganaw first approached Franca, he performed live for the first time – alongside Franca and gypsy-punk band Gogol Bordello – in front of an audience of 3,000 at the H Street Fairgrounds.
Now a year later, Haile Supreme released his first album, “Liquid Temple,” to a crowd at U Street’s Tropicalia Saturday night.
The show was organized by the GW Student Musician’s Coalition, which formed in 2010 after a lack of studios sent student musicians scrambling for rehearsal spaces. The organization also helps GW musicians connect with each other for studio sit-ins and live shows.
The group has also provided support for Misganaw’s musical interests.
“I don’t really have a fan base, I have a lot of friends who are really supportive,” Misganaw said. “Haile Supreme is the vibe of all my fucking friends – people who live, eat, breathe and shit music.”
The Saturday set was stitched together by Sean Lesczynski, president of the SMC, as well as members of Lesczynski’s band, Sun Cycle, who backed Misganaw both on stage and in the studio on “Liquid Temple.”
Through cycles of reggae, psychedelia and freestyle hip-hop, Haile Supreme and the band controlled Tropicalia with impressive musicianship and crowd intuition, covering artists ranging from Bob Marley to 50 Cent.
For Misganaw, the experience – and the upcoming month-long tour – is the result of not only years of preparation, but taking a chance when the right moment arose.
“I realized I am going to be a professional musician and I will be making my money off of my music and my dreams,” Misganaw said. “So I took a leap of faith.”
This article appeared in the October 28, 2013 issue of the Hatchet.