Blog-turned label Awesome Tapes From Africa had a top-drawer 2013, releasing Penny Penny's legendary 1994 South African deep house album Shaka Bundu, plus the muggy grooves of Dur-Dur Band's 1985 Volume 5 LP. Standout by a league, though, was this enchanting one-man-band collection from 1985. Anyone who's fallen for Mulatu Astaqué's languid Ethio-jazz simply has to hear this, stet. Using multi-tracked electric piano, accordion and analogue synth, [Hailu] Mergia makes serpentine Ethiopian jazz, but trades in the usual folk instruments for big fat beefy synth leads. Comfort food, prime for scoffing.The above quote is from FACT's 50 best reissues of 2013, where Ethiopian one-man-band Hailu Mergia came in at #5 for his 1985 album Hailu Mergia and His Classical Instrument, which Awesome Tapes From Africa reissued earlier this year. Pitchfork gave the reissue a 7.4 and called it "not quite like anything else you've ever heard." Hailu recently spoke to Aquarium Drunkard about the recording process:
AD: But Hailu Mergia & His Classical Instrument is a different sort of album. You did everything yourself, a home-studio type project?You can stream a track from the album, "Shilela," below, and the album is available to purchase in vinyl, CD, and digital formats.
Hailu Mergia: Yeah, that's right. So what I did was I chose the old songs with accordion, and I put accordion as a lead. Then I put a Rhodes piano, an electric Rhodes piano. Fender. And then I put a Moog synthesizer and a drum machine. The drum machine was like, at that time in 1980's like a kind of new fashion. And then the rest, old fashioned. So what I did, for remainder of my life, accordion was like a really important instrument in my life before I changed to organ. So people, usually they love accordion sound, and when the organ came to Ethiopia, all of a sudden, the accordion sound was missed by everybody. So when I brought in this new mix of these different instruments, the sound is good, the sound is modern and old fashioned. The melodies are very nice melodies, so because of this, everybody had some kind of.... nostalgia.
Hailu Mergia will be coming to NYC this month to play a show at Baby's All Right on December 19 with his band Low Mentality and openers Highlife. Tickets for that show are on sale now.
Song stream below...
Hailu Mergia - "Shilela"