Hailu Mergia: Another African Musical Gem

On May 14, 2014 by Danielle Nightingale

Hailu Mergia - African Musician - recent photo

In response to Mr. Lazerhorse’s bigging up of William Onyeabor, I thought I’d give a few props to my own fave African musician who has also made it from the continent’s rich musical history into the itunes playlists of western trendies.

Hailu Mergia is a keyboard player and composer with a similarly fascinating story to Onyeabor. He was a member of the Walias Band, an Ethiopian jazz favourite back in the 70’s and 80’s. Their album, ‘Tche Belew’ was one of only three instrumental records released in Ethiopia in the 70’s.



The album is playful, imbued with funk and jazz, and has a gripping pop-sensibility that provides countless hooks and endless reward.  Many of the tracks centre on a perfectly executed melodic motif that gets jammed over and over to all-out satisfaction.

Mulatu_Astatke - African Musician - recent photo 2

The record also features Mulatu Astatke (pictured above), who – fans of the ‘Ethiopiques’ series will know – was a major vibraphone player and all round badass in the Ethiopian scene back in the day.



The band got pretty popular and went over to play in the US in 1981, a first for a modern Ethiopian band.

Instead of returning to the oppressive Derg dictatorship that was going on in Ethiopia at the time, a few of the members – including Mergia – decided to jack the band in and remain in the US in hope of a better life.

Mergia took a job as a taxi driver in Washington DC, and started recording solo tapes with a drum machine and synthesizer. Later on in the 90’s, the ‘Ethiopiques’ series revived the popularity of the Walias Band with some of its compilation releases.

Only last year, ‘Awesome Tapes from Africa’ – a reissue label well worth checking out if you dig this African vibe – released a set of Mergia recordings called ‘Hailu Mergia and his Classical Instrument’.



This got Mergia into the blogosphere (this article being a case in point), and now he’s back where he belongs, shredding the keys in front of a bunch of respectful beard-strokers.

For me personally, ‘Hailu Mergia and His Classical Instrument’ – although good – doesn’t quite hit the spot the way that ‘Tche Belew’ and this totally awesome bedroom recording (link below) do. But it has brought Mergia’s good-time pop hooks and almost slacker-style keyboard runs back into the limelight, so I’m a-lovin’ it.


You can listen to the whole of Tche Belew here:




Download that bedroom recording here: https://www.mediafire.com/?6o6adqiiufbii07

@media all and (max-width: 228px) { div#darkbackground, div.visiblebox { display: none; } }