Hailu Mergia Photo by Piotr Gruchala


Hailu Mergia

Oct. 26
8 p.m.
$25; $20 Walker members
Singer-Songwriter, World

In the ’60s and ‘70s, Hailu Mergia was a top Addis Ababa bandleader and a key practitioner of Ethio-jazz, an instrumental subgenre that fused jazz, funk, and rock with Ethiopian folk music and its traditional pentatonic scales. Mergia and his Walias Band survived the first years of the repressive Derg, but he eventually immigrated to the U.S., where for several decades he carried on as a musical hobbyist while driving a cab in D.C. His autumn-years renaissance came after the Awesome Tapes from Africa label reissued 1985’s Hailu Mergia & His Classical Instrument/Shemonmuanaye, a homesick set of vampy instrumentals on which Mergia layers accordion, synths, and electric piano over percolating analog drum-machine patterns. Hipsters are known to overrate hissy esoterica, but this is rewarding stuff; Mergia isn’t a grand conceptualist or a flash virtuoso, but he’s an expressive player, and the album’s textures are seductively out of time: ’80s music anticipating how ’90s electro-nostalgists would hear the ’70s. He fronts a jazz trio on his new album, Lala Belu, a likeable if not triumphant return to the studio highlighted by the pensively funky title track and an album-closing solo piano ballad. Our own Yohannes Tona Band opens.