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Airport pianist 'playing for the world'

By Maria Jose Subiria

msubiria@news-daily.com

The melody often heard spilling out of one restaurant inside the Atlanta airport is produced by a pianist who, after traveling the world, now enjoys laying down tunes for the traveling public.

Bronkhenaton "Bronco" Setep En Ra is a pianist at Houlihan's Restaurant in the atrium at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.

He plays on weekdays, beginning at 3 p.m.

Setep En Ra said he has been at Houlihan's as a pianist since 1997, having first played on weekends for five or six years while pursuing other gigs during the week.

"The most rewarding part of playing is networking," he said. "There is no downside when you do what you love."

In the mid-1990s, Setep En Ra said he landed a spot playing with Atlanta funk-soul band Whild Peach. The band consisted of leaders Myrna "Peach" Brown, and her husband David Whild, he said.

According to Setep En Ra, popular Atlanta hip-hop group, Outkast, hired the band for studio work, and as a touring band from 2003 to 2005.

Setep En Ra said he has traveled all over the world, but there came a time when he decided to slow things down. That's when he opted to play piano at Houlihan's on weekdays.

"I am getting older, and when you get a certain age, you get more mature," he said. "I can still tour on the weekends. I can fly Friday night, and come back."

Setep En Ra said the music he plays is often inspired by the environment he observes from his seat at the piano.

"Here, at the airport ... I play off the rhythm of people," he said. "If people have a bad day, I play something to cheer them up. Being a public servant, you've got to put 100 percent of you in it. In this gig, you have to be aware because you are playing for the world."

Setep En Ra said he doesn't play music for the money.

"When I play here, the joy that I get is not a dollar, it's a baby bouncing to my music, or having a man running through with a suitcase stop and dance to my music," he said.

He said he's likely left an impression on more than a few passing listeners over the years. "I've received 'Thank You' letters," he said.

According to Setep En Ra, he was born in Englewood, Calif. His involvement with music began when he was in the fourth grade, with the violin, his first instrument. He said he has also played trumpet and trombone.

"By the time I was going to high school, I decided to play football," he said. "I suited up and everything."

Football wasn't Setep En Ra's forte, so he joined the school's choir, in the 10th grade, where his choir teacher inspired him to play the piano, he said.

"When I heard her play, I felt a tingling sensation," Setep En Ra said.

He said he enrolled himself in piano lessons, and when he couldn't afford to pay for the lessons, he would sneak into the music school to learn piano on his own.

"I toured at an early age with old-school blues artists, and they got me gigs with a lot of music groups," he said.

Setep En Ra said he played in bands called Future World, and Strong Heart, and opened for artists such as Phyllis Hyman, Little Milton and Tyrone Davis.

"I would turn around, and say, 'How did this happen?'" he said. "I was playing with local artists, with serious local spots where you would see celebrities and stuff, that would get me gigs."

As a young touring musician, in his early 20s, Setep En Ra said he played gigs in Mexico, the Cayman Islands, Spain, England and Las Vegas, Nev.

"I went for days when I was homeless, and played for people on stage that were so drunk I didn't want to play with them anymore," he said.

Besides playing a variety of instruments, Setep En Ra said he creates his own music videos, writes his own music, practices the martial arts and has two degrees from Howard University. In 1987 he received an associate degree in business, and a couple of years later, a bachelor's degree in history, he said.

Setep En Ra said he decided to make Georgia his home when he noticed that every time he went on tour with different bands, Atlanta was a stop along the route.

He said he is currently working on an album. His lyrics include lines like: "It ain't what you know/It's what you feel/Don't worry about being right/Just be for real."

He said his love for music led him to follow what some might consider to be an unusual path in life.

"I am unorthodox," he said. "If you tell me to go right, I'll go left."