Album of the Week: Hailu Mergia & the Walias Band – Tche Belew

What is it: Fushion Jazz from the East of Africa
Who would play it: Øyvind Morken | Herr R | Olefonken
When are you most likely to hear it: As dusk settles in and the DJ booth creaks open for the first time.

Our very own Yonatan Mulatu and Mnyichil Tekola Manaye share a national heritage with the artist behind our next album of the week, Hailu Mergia. The obscure Ethopian artist would’ve remained as such had it not been for the New-York based label, Awesome Tapes from Africa and their persistent pursuit of introducing new audiences to this esoteric style of music. Emerging from the same generation that gave us Fella Kuti and Francis Bebey, Hailu Mergia too fused elements of Jazz, funk and rock with his own traditions to create music that was as intriguing as it was entertaining. Like those artists from western Africa, who fuzed their music with elements from their own traditions, Hailu Mergia and others like him including Malatu Astatke, took the sounds of their region and transposed it to a modern popular format, for consumption in the western world. Ethiopia’s traditions being somewhat intertwined with Arabic traditions make this a unique style of music in itself with Hailu Mergia and the Walias often relying on archetypal Arabic melodic movements, the minor-second ascension or minor-seventh descend relaying some of the exoticism of the from those origins. 

The recording might show some of its age, with the over-saturated sound of the tape subverting some of the more expressive moments of the record,  but even with that Tche Belew is a timeless record, one that deserves to occupy the same echelon as Kuti, Bebey and Astatke. There are many other records in this artist’s discography, but Tche Belew is definitely the highlight, and a very good start from which to delve further into the music of Ethiopia.