Hailu Mergia © Artist
It's 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 golden age of dance bands in the 70s, to new hope as an emigrant in America, to the drier period of the 90s and 2000s when he mainly played keyboard in his taxi while waiting in line at the airport or at friends' homes. More recently, with the re-release of his classical works and a re-evaluation of his role in Ethiopian music history, Mergia has played to audiences large and small in some of the world's most coveted a venues. With his 2018 critical breakthrough "Lala Belu", Mergia consolidated his legacy by producing the album himself and connecting with listeners through his vision of modern Ethiopian music. Extensive touring after the record revealed an artist who is by no means stuck in the nostalgia of the "Golden Age" sound. The press agreed, including the New York Times, BBC and Pitchfork, who called his music "triumphant in the present" in their list of the best 200 albums of 2010.
Mergia's new album, "Yene Mircha" ("My Choice" in Amharic), encapsulates many of the things that make the keyboardist, accordionist and composer/arranger so remarkable - elements that have sustained his vitality all these years, through the ebbs and flows of his career. The rock-solid trio he most recently toured the world with, DC-based Alemseged Kebede (bass) and Ken Joseph (drums), forms the nucleus around which an expanded band provides a strong response to the contemporary jazz future that "Lala Belu" promises. "Yene Mircha" exemplifies Mergia's prolific stream of creativity and his philosophy that there is a multiplicity of Ethiopian musical approaches, not just one sound.
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