Hailu Mergia with Tony Buck & Mike Majkowski ***live
It is easy to understand the return of the Hailu Mergia to the world of music as one of the most unlikely comebacks of the last few years:
The keyboardist was a major star in 1970es Ethiopia, presiding over the country’s leading instrumental ensemble Walias Band, which worked restlessly on the Addis Ababa hotel circuit and jamming with luminaries like Duke Ellington and Manu Dibango. In 1981 a good part of Walias including Hailu used the first ever US tour of an Ethiopian music group to escape the dictatorial Mengistu regime. Since then Hailu has been a resident of the Washington DC area, spending most of his recent years as a cab driver at the capital’s Dulles Airport and playing only privately.
Enter Brian Shimkovitz, operator of the acclaimed blog-turned-record label Awesome Tapes From Africa, who came across „Hailu Mergia & His Classical Instrument“, a somehow obscure 1985 cassette, in a music store in Ethiopia, tracked down the old maestro and reissued it: This charming tape has both a nostalgic feel (in its attempt to revive the accordion, once East Africa’s leading instrument before electrified „western“ rock style instrumentation took over) as well as a futuristic dimension (recorded by the exiled Hailu all by himself in multi-track it features a host of synthesizers and drum machines). On the back of Shimkovitz‘ reissue of „Classical Instrument“ (which came out in June 2013), Hailu started to play live again – in the US with the New York based Afrobeat band Low Mentality and in Europe with a hard-to-beat rhythm section made up from two leading Australian improvisors living in Berlin: Tony Buck (drums) has been involved in a highly diverse array of projects but is probably best known around the world as a member of the genre-bending trio and cult band The Necks. Mike Majkowski (*1983) on double bass has come to acclaim with his imaginative solo performances and for his sideman work for Peter Brötzmann and Han Bennink.
Together the trio explores the deep, liquid and hypnotic qualities of Hailu Mergia’s music, while not forgetting to throw in some defty bits of funk now and then.
Hailu Mergia With Tony Buck & Mike Majkowski’s recent concerts included festival appearances at Villette Sonique in Paris, Le Guess Who in Utrecht, Austria’s sympathetic Konfrontationen and at Hamburg’s Überjazz as well as club shows pretty much all over Europe from Lisboa to Helsinki.
In October 2014, Awesome Tapes From Africa reissued Walias Band’s „Tche Belew“ (1977), the much sought after holy grail of Ethio Jazz which has been selling on Ebay for astronomical sums like 4.000 US $. This album became revered by record collectors around the world particularly due to stand-out track “Musicawi Silt”: With its unique groove and angular melody, this is one of the most seminal tunes in the Ethiopian popular music cannon and has been covered numberless times.