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World - Released February 23, 2018 | Awesome Tapes From Africa

With the release of 2018's dazzling Lala Belu, Ethio-jazz icon Hailu Mergia cements an improbable comeback that was stirred into existence five years earlier in a dusty bargain bin halfway across the world. Once the leader of a ferociously musical funk and jazz outfit whose frequent 12-hour dance sets made them legends of Addis Ababa's '70s hotel circuit, Mergia helped the Walias Band escape the dictatorship of their native Ethiopia in 1981, only to break up shortly after their first American tour. In the decades that followed, he remained in the U.S., occasionally performing and recording a couple of unusual solo sets while making a new life for himself as Washington, D.C. taxi driver. Ferrying travelers from Dulles Airport to the nation's Capitol, he was known for keeping a battery-powered keyboard in the trunk of his cab in order to work out melodies and practice scales between fares. The lo-fi jazz-pop mysticism of Hailu Mergia & His Classical Instrument -- a homemade cassette he released independently in 1985 -- was the exploratory work of a stranger in a strange land, a loner musician mixing eerie accordion scales with murky synths and drum machines in his basement. When a rare copy of this release was rediscovered in 2013 by Brian Shimkovitz, founder of obscurist revival label Awesome Tapes from Africa, he felt compelled to locate its creator and soon gave his scant solo catalog a proper reissue. Having given up performing over twenty years earlier, Mergia suddenly found himself with a worldwide platform for his music and fans clambering to hear it. Several tours later, he was once again the leader of a band, this time a nimble jazz trio featuring double bassist Mike Majkowski and drummer Tony Buck. Recorded in London, Lala Belu is Mergia's first new release since 1985 and its transportive nature is a testament to the unrelenting musical character that seems to have propelled him from those nightly hours-long jams back in the early '70s to the long hours of driving where the songs continued largely inside his head. Touching on myriad emotions throughout its six tracks, the album is bright and joyful at times and occasionally funky while frequently veering into the more cerebral and introspective territory that marked his early solo years. The ambitious ten-minute "Tizita" is a stunner of winsome accordion cascades and sprightly shifts into sunny piano improvisations zapped with electric stabs of synth melody. The bold and funky "Addis Nat" takes a darker-hued Ethio-jazz direction with Mergia topping his bed of Rhodes piano with snaking melodica lines around which Majkowski and Buck fleetly dance. As strong a performance as the trio gives, Mergia circles back around to elegantly close out his first new set in three decades with the soulful and sentimental solo piano piece, "Yefiker Engurguro," as if settling back into his inner world. It's a lovely and deeply creative record that came so late in his career that it appeared to have already been relegated to history. ~ Timothy Monger

World - Released June 25, 2013 | Awesome Tapes From Africa


Electronic/Dance - Released October 1, 2013 | Awesome Tapes From Africa


World - Released November 21, 2017 | Awesome Tapes From Africa


Africa - Released June 8, 2015 | Philophon

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