Cool DC Events: Hailu Mergia @ The Kennedy Center, 2/11

It’s an interesting story: keyboardist of famous 1970s Ethiopian nightclub funk act (the Walias Band) tires of the Addis Ababa scene and moves his band to America, where they become a commercial failure and he is forced to take up taxi driving in D.C. for a living. And he’s totally happy doing it! This was the tale of Hailu Mergia, at least, when the Washington Post checked in last June. The article speculates that with the reissue of Hailu’s 1985 solo album Hailu Mergia and His Classical Instrument, Mergia could emerge from his retirement from music and return to live performance.
The man
Turns out, the Post was right! Shortly after the album was reissued, Mergia undertook a European tour and then added American tour dates as well. And this coming Tuesday, he’s performing at the Kennedy Center- for free! The performance comes as an installation of the Kennedy Center’s Millenium Stage Performances, which can be attended for free or streamed live from the Center’s website.

And if you’re curious about Mergia’s sound, guess what? We have the CD reissue of Hailu Mergia and His Classical Instrument at the music library! Reissued on blog-turned-label Awesome Tapes from Africa, this album sounds like about nothing you’ve ever heard. Over a synthetic drum-machine pulse, Mergia combines sounds from the Yamaha DX-7 (an early synthesizer), a Fender Rhodes and his own accordion, crafting a sort of strange, otherworldy African future-funk. Super cool!

The album

Anyway, this Kennedy Center performance is a great opportunity that you don’t want to miss! Here’s the Center’s page for Hailu Mergia and the event: