Hailu Mergia

Hailu Mergias Wede Harer Guzo Album was the first record we bought from the brilliant Label Awesome tapes from Africa and it’s been on heavy rotation ever since.

By 1978, Addis Ababa’s nightlife was facing challenges. The ruling Derg regime imposed curfews, banning citizens from the streets after midnight until 6am.But that didn’t stop some people from dancing and partying throughout the night. Bands would play from evening until daybreak and people would stay at the clubs until curfew was lifted in the morning.

One key denizen of Addis’ musical golden age, Hailu Mergia, was preparing a follow up to his seminal Tche Belew LP with the famed Walias Band. It was the band’s only full-length record and it had been a success. But his Hilton house band colleagues were a bit tied up recording cassettes with different vocalists. Still Mergia, amidst recording and gigs with the Walias, was also eager to make another recording of his instrumental-focused arrangements. So he went to the nearby Ghion Hotel, another upmarket outpost with a popular nightclub. Dahlak Band was the house band at Ghion at the time. Together they made this tape Wede Harer Guzo right there in the club during the band’s afternoon rehearsal meetings, with sessions lasting three days.

Hailu Mergia concert in Bern

In 1981 the Hailu Mergia and the Walias Band left for America where the shows promised much, but the audiences, discerning little, let them drift by; after a few more years’ touring, the group’s members were exhausted, their work unrecognized.

Some went home, while others resigned themselves to quiet lives on American soil. Among them was Mergia who became a Taxi driver in Wahington D.C.

The Ethiopian keyboard maestro’s first new album in two decades radically updates a style that already sounded like the future.

Hailu is playing on the 15.4.19 at City Pub Bern.

Hope to see you there! Read the interview with Hailu Mergia in the Guardian.

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