picture of Hailu Mergia
Hailu Mergia
Hailu (* 1946 in the Showa province) moved to Addis Abeba in his youth. He had grown up on traditional Oromo, Amhara and Tigrinya songbook melodies, and taught himself the accordion at age 14. His mastering of the accordion, as well as the keyboard and his talent for "re-purposing folk songs into funkier modern melodies", defined his contribution to popular music in Ethiopia. In the 1970s, Hailu was the keyboardist in the Walias Band, a jazz and funk band with a hard polyrhythmic funk sound influenced by western artists like King Curtis, Junior Walker and Maceo Parker. In the period, it was harder for working bands in the region to make a living, after Mengistu's Derg government imposed breaks to Addis Abeba's nightlife, but music was still being regularly recorded, and cassettes were the typical release format, given they were easy to duplicate and distribute. Walias Band had a 10-year long residency at Addis's Hilton hotel in this period.
 
Due to the Derg dictatorship, censorship was often a problem for the area's musicians, but Hailu acknowledged one way around censorship was to only create instrumentals. He later noted: "When you sing or write lyrics you have to support the government, and if you don't do that then you have a problem." Ethiopian music was typically led by a vocalist, and fewer than five instrumental albums were released during the 'golden age' of Addis' music, one of which was one of Hailu's landmark albums with the Walias Band, Tche Belew (1977). As a side project, Mergia joined the Dhalak Band around this period and recorded the cassette-only Wede Harer Guzo (1978) with them, a jazz-infused album with a dominance of improvisation. Hailu's organ work for the band was one of the Walias Band's key characteristics, but during a 1980s tour of the United States, Hailu and several other members decided to stay in the US, effectively ending the band's career, although their legacy in Ethiopia was strong by this point, especially via their 1977 instrumental "Muziqawi Silt."
 
It was only several years after moving to the US that Hailu recorded a new album, Hailu Mergia & His Classical Instrument, in 1985, during which point he was playing with the Zula Band. Hailu recorded the album alone in a small studio belonging to an acquaintance that Hailu met at Howard University, where he had begun studying music.
 
He stopped performing in 1991 and opened a restaurant. Since 1998 Hailu has worked as a taxi driver while continuing to record his music.
 
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Discography
Shemonmuanaye
Awesome Tapes From Africa ATFA006
recorded 1985
Hailu Mergia, organ, keyboards
Tche Belew
Awesome Tapes From Africa ATFA012
recorded 1977
Hailu Mergia, organ
Abebe Kassa, alto sax
Moges Habte, sax, flute
Yohannes Tekola, trumpet
Mahmmud Aman, guitar
Melaku Gabrie, bass guitar
Girma Beyene, piano
Temare Haregu, drums
Mulatu Astatke, xylophone, congas
Wede Harer Guzo
Awesome Tapes From Africa ATFA021
recorded 1978 in Addis Abeba/Ethiopia
Hailu Mergia, organ
Tilaye Gebre, sax
Shimels Beyene, trumpet
Dawit Kassa, guitar
Dawit Yifru, piano
Abera Feyissa, bass
Tesfaye Tessema, drums
Muluken Melesse, vocals
Rida Ibrahim, vocals
Lala Belu
Awesome Tapes From Africa ATFA028
recorded 1985
Hailu Mergia, keyboards, accordion, melodica
Mike Majkowski, bass
Tony Buck, drums
Tezeta
Awesome Tapes From Africa ATFA041

Hailu Mergia, keyboards
The Walias

 
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