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Ethiopian-American Goes from Presidential Speech Writer to Successful Singer


At the 51st Grammy music award last Sunday, the best of the industry were recognized for their achievements. The highlight of the televised event featured, nine months pregnant rapper M.I.A, who took center stage to perform her hit song "swagga like us".

This song brought together what entertainer Queen Latifa called "a rap pack" -- featuring Kanye West, T.I., Jay-Z, and Lil Wayne.

But this night was not only about the big shot artists. It also gave recognition to young and emerging talents.She did not win. But for African artist Wayna Wondossen, just being nominated for a Grammy was a big achievement. She was in South Africa when she found out that her song "Lovin' U" had been nominated.

"I knew I wouldn't be able to see the actual announcements because we were in a remote area of Cape Town [South Africa] and we probably wouldn't get the broadcast there. So early in the morning the next day, I got up early and ran downstairs to the hotel business center. I went straight to the Grammy pages to search for my name and it popped-up and I just screamed," she said.

The winner of the category in the category Best Urban/Alternative Performance was "be ok" by Chrisette Michele, featuring will.i.am. But for Wayna, it has been a good year anyway, and the nomination alone was an honor.

Since giving up her work as a presidential speechwriter in the Clinton administration, she had been struggling to make it in the highly competitive music industry with soul music, which doesn't sell very well these days.

So what does Wayna have over Beyonce, Shakira, Madonna and Janet Jackson? Seven weeks straight on the music industry's top charts. Billboard magazine publishes the sales numbers and radio airplay rankings of news albums and singles. Wayna's single release "Moonlight Rendezvous" hit the "Hot 100 Soul Singles," topping all four of the other pop divas.

"This was just so surreal. It just made me feel like, wow, I am really doing this. It helped me be a little bit more confident."

Wayna's success in billboard magazine and her nomination for the Grammys was an ice breaker but has not yet led to sustained commercial success. Prospects? Yes! Satisfaction? You bet! Money? Not yet. But she is happy about it. I caught up with her before she hit the stage to perform at a club on U Street, the old center of African-American culture in Washington, DC.

"I feel like I probably have done as well financially as I did when I had a regular job. But that, of course, is not my goal. We are taking extra steps to make the product more accessible. We put it on I-Tunes, My Space, and YouTube. There are more opportunities for independent artists to build their brand with the internet. So, we are trying to take advantage of that and move on."

Writing political speeches did not satisfy Wayna. It appealed to her intellect, but did not reflect her dreams. She longed to write something uplifting -- something people would want to hear over and over again.

The 34-year-old, who has been married for six years, has two CD albums, "Moments of Clarity" and "Higher Grounds." She says they're her babies, at least for now.

Either at back stage rehearsals or on her CD performances, having fun with her music is the greatest gift for her.

Back in the U Street club, Wayna's wearing a body-skimming skirt and sparkly top. She took center stage with her backup singers. Illuminated by the stage lights, she came close to the mic, cupping it in her hands. A sweet long hum wooed the audience, and Wayna introduced a song dedicated to her love of music and life.

"Loving you

is easy Coz you are beautiful.

Making love with you,

is all I want to do…

And everything that I do,

is out of loving you."

Wayna Wondossen knows the road ahead is tough. But she believes that the ride is worthwhile.

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