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KAFÉ HÆRVERK

Hailu Mergia

http://kafe-haerverk.com
Organizer KAFÉ HÆRVERK
Venue Kafé Hærverk
Kafé Hærverk
Date 8. June 2022
Open from 20:00 to 23:00
Age limit 20

On March 27, Hailu Mergia released Yene Mircha, a new collection of songs featuring an expanded band and new original compositions, building on the worldwide success of his comeback album Lala Belu.

It has been a long, winding road to Hailu Mergia's sixth decade of musical activity. From a young musician in the 60s starting out in Addis Ababa to the 70s golden age of dance bands to the new hope as an emigre in America to the drier period of the 90s and 2000s when he mainly played keyboard in his taxi while waiting in the airport queue or at home with friends. More recently, with the reissue of his classic works and a re-assessment of his role in Ethiopian music history, Mergia has played to audiences big and small in some of the most cherished venues around the world.

With his critical breakthrough Lala Belu in 2018, Mergia championed himself and consolidated his legacy, producing the album on his own and connecting with listeners through the sheer creative power of his version of modern Ethiopian music. His subsequent performances revealed an artist who is in no way stuck in the nostalgia for the “golden age” sound. The press agreed, including the New York Times, BBC and Pitchfork, which called his music “triumphantly in the present” in its Best 200 Albums of the 2010s list.

Mergia’s new album Yene Mircha (“My Choice” in Amharic) encapsulates many of the things that make the keyboardist, accordionist and composer-arranger remarkable—elements that have persisted to maintain his vitality all these years, through the ebb and flow of his career. The rock solid trio with whom he has toured the world most recently, DC-based Alemseged Kebede (bass) and Ken Joseph (drums), forms the nucleus around which an expanded band makes a potent response to the contemporary jazz future Lala Belu promised. Yene Mircha calcifies Mergia's prolific stream of creativity and his philosophy that there is a multitude of Ethiopian musical approaches, not just one sound.

Enlisting the help of master mesenqo (traditional stringed instrument) player Setegn Atenaw, celebrated vocalist Tsehay Kassa and legendary saxophone player Moges Habte from his 70's outfit Walias Band, Mergia enhances his bright, electric band on this recording with an expanded line up on some songs. Mergia produced the album which features several of his original compositions along with songs by Asnakesh Worku and Teddy Afro.

An artist still reinventing his sound every night on stage during his marathon live sets, this 74-year-old icon refuses to make the same album twice. His creative process in the studio—starting with the core band, then after listening extensively over weeks and months adding more sounds and instruments—is as urgent and risky as his concerts can be, pushing the band to the outer limits of group improvisation and back with chord extensions during his exploratory solos. "Yene Mircha" captures this live experience and fosters an expansive view of what else could be in store for this tireless practitioner of Ethiopian music.

After he emigrated from Ethiopia and built a life in Washington, D.C. around 1981—where he worked as an airport taxi driver until recently—keyboard and accordion player Hailu Mergia’s career followed a humble trajectory. He made a few recordings in America and kept making music on his own and with friends. But after the early 80’s his gigs in the U.S. mostly dried up. Mergia recently charted a new path following a series of reissues of his classic works via Awesome Tapes From Africa. Mergia has crisscrossed Europe a dozen times in the years since playing all over North America including Radio City Music Hall and Montreal Jazz Festival.

About Awesome Tapes From Africa
For more than ten years, Awesome Tapes From Africa has been spreading African music across the web by way of the ATFA blog. More recently, ATFA became a label and has been reissuing surprising music by legendary and left-field artists, with 50/50 profit-sharing deals and working toward finding overseas performance opportunities where possible.

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Yene Mircha - extensive info

Hailu Mergia’s new album Yene Mircha (“my choice” in Amharic) departs from the fiery acoustic trio jazz of 2018’s Lala Belu, his first new recording in over 15 years. That album clarified Mergia as a living legend making vital contemporary music. It was hailed by international press, including the New York Times, BBC and Pitchfork, which called his music “triumphantly in the present.”

Mergia is in no way stuck in nostalgia for the “golden age” of 1970s Ethiopian music.

Yene Mircha enters a new field of sound with expanded instrumentation and a focus on Mergia’s own compositions and arrangements. His DC-based trio is the highly stable nucleus. They’ve burned a path across three continents playing this hard-to-categorize approach to jazz, funk and a rainbow of Ethiopian styles at more than 40 shows last year.

Mergia often says there should be many kinds of Ethiopian music. His philosophy is evident on Yene Mircha as it floats along a spectrum of sound and genre. He has made over a dozen albums since the early ‘70s, each a refraction of the one before it, never doing quite the same thing twice.

“You can do anything with Ethiopian music, it shouldn’t be only this sound or that sound. That’s why I called the album My Choice. This is the sound I choose.”

Mergia has retained relevance all these years by changing his sound with the times, he says.“I believe in sound changing. It’s good for listeners when they hear a different sound every time they listen to me. Maybe next album I will do something else completely.”

The changes Mergia envisions on Yene Mircha are immediately apparent. 2018’s Lala Belu featured a round upright acoustic bass sound and warm, heavy drums while the new album is anchored by Alemseged Kebede’s nimble electric bass and Ken Joseph’s hyperkinetic, bright drum feel.

Mergia brought in an ancient instrument to keep things contemporary. Master mesenqo player Setegn Atenaw joined on “Semen Ena Debub” because Mergia was inspired by the cherished traditional stringed instrument’s resurgence after disappearing from pop music in the ‘70s. “Tigrinya, pop music, traditional music all use it now but in the 60’s and ‘70s mesenqo was not very popular,” according to Mergia. Juxtaposed with the textured, resonant timbres of the mesenqo and Mergia’s trademark accordion are electric guitar and synthesizer.

At the same time there are vocals on Yene Mircha—something rare for the artist who’s known back home as a pillar of instrumental music. For “Abichu Nega Nega” and “Shemendefer,” celebrated Ethiopian traditional vocalist Tsehay Kassa sings alongside Mergia, who adds some studio techniques to make it sound like a small choir. The horn section on “Yene Mircha” is fortified by a key member of Mergia’s former Walias Band, Moges Habte on saxophone.

Mergia has a process for his creative flow: “I was thinking about the trio recording first, which took two days. I knew I would have more ideas about where to go from there. First, we did acoustic piano bass and drums, no keys, nothing. I listened, then I got more ideas about what to change and where I could add sounds. We built the sound piece by piece. There are a variety of things going on there. I always only think of the current day’s recording when I arrive at the studio.”

After he emigrated from Ethiopia and built a life in Washington, D.C. around 1981—where he worked as an airport taxi driver until recently—keyboard and accordion player Hailu Mergia’s career followed a humble trajectory. He made a few recordings in America and kept making music on his own and with friends. But after the early 80’s his gigs in the U.S. mostly dried up. Mergia recently charted a new path following a series of reissues of his classic works via Awesome Tapes From Africa. Mergia has crisscrossed Europe a dozen times in the years since playing all over North America including Radio City Music Hall and Montreal Jazz Festival.

On March 27, Hailu Mergia released Yene Mircha, a new collection of songs featuring an expanded band and new original compositions, building on the worldwide success of his comeback album Lala Belu.

It has been a long, winding road to Hailu Mergia's sixth decade of...

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