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Hailu Mergia releases first new album in 15 years

Lala Belu will be released on 23 February on Awesome Tapes From Africa

Ethiopian keyboardist Hailu Mergia is set to release a new album next year which will mark the first time he has released new material since a self-release back in 2003. After a decade of silence, Mergia returned in 2013 with a reissue of his 1985 solo album Hailu Mergia And His Classical Instrument on Awesome Tapes From Africa – a collection of traditional Ethiopian songs reinterpreted for accordion, drum machine, electric piano and analogue synthesizer which was described by Daniel Spicer in The Wire 364, as “a prescient yet ancient sound that proposes a unique kind of Ethio-Kosmische”. Following that were the reissues of Hailu Mergia & The Walias’ 1977 instrumental jazz recording Tche Belew and the 1978 cassette reissue Wede Harer Guzo. Mergia also returned to the stage.

This new release features Mergia with Tony Buck on drums and Mike Majkowski on bass, both of which backed the artist on tour throughout Europe and Australia, and was recorded in London in 2016. It was mixed by engineer Javon Gant, and mastered by Jessica Thompson who worked on all of Mergia’s recent reissues.

“It is a very historical album for me” says Mergia. “And I am extremely excited. All of it feels like a big comeback. A different kind of audience, playing with a different kind of band and working with a different kind of record company. The album is very different from all the albums I did after I left Ethiopia.“ Mergia emigrated from Ethiopia to Washington, DC around 1981 – where he still works as an airport taxi driver when he is not on tour.

Lala Belu will be released on 23 February on Awesome Tapes From Africa. Subscribers to The Wire can read Spicer's feature on the artist via Exact Editions.

Listen to “Gum Gum” from Lala Belu