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Hailu Mergia with Paweł Szpura & Mike Majkowski

Thursday 06 August 2015 8:00 pm - 11:00 pm
£12 advance / £9 concession / £15 on the door

“I have never attended a better concert” Tagesspiegel (Berlin)

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 June 25 2013), Hailu started to play live again. Accompanying him this summer are Mike Majkowski (*1983) on double bass, who has come to acclaim with his imaginative solo performances and for his sideman work for Peter Brötzmann and Han Bennink, and Poland’s hottest young drummer Paweł Szpura – they both also play together in the celebrated Free Rock outfit Lotto.

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.

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 up to 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.

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