Hear an unusual session today with Hailu Mergia, a keyboard player and Ethiopian music star who now lives in the U.S. He came to World Cafe‘s attention through Awesome Tapes From Africa, the website where Brian Shimkovitz posts cassette tapes of African music he discovers. That’s what led Shimkovitz to Mergia.
He first became enchanted with a solo cassette Mergia recorded, then went out to find him. Now, Shimkovitz has put out the better-known 1977 album Tche Belew, which Mergia recorded with the top Ethiopian band The Walias. Mergia was at the forefront of musicians in Ethiopia who were melding blues, rock, jazz, funk and Afrobeat into a unique sound in the ’70s; their sound has had a deep effect on all African music. Hailu relocated to the U.S. in the 1980s.
Since this reissue, and that of the initial cassette of Mergia’s solo keyboard recordings, he’s been in demand. Which, in turn, may impact his day job as a cab driver in Washington, D.C. In this World Cafe session, he’s backed by the New York City band Low Mentality.