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The story of Hailu Mergia is one of survival and a late justice for years spent in exile: The maestro, once the leader of 1970es Addis Ababa’s favourite dance band Walias, emigrated to the US after the Mengistu regime came into political power at home in Ethiopia. After running several businesses he ended up driving a cab at Washington’s Dulles Airport, while still practising his keyboard chops on the back seat of his vehicle while downtimes.
In 2013 Hailu returned to the live music circuit after the blogger-turned-label-owner Brian Shimkovitz of Awesome Tapes From Africa had found him to reissue his 1986 unusual, multi-tracked solo effort His Classical Instrument. ‘If Cluster had been from Ethiopia instead of Germany, this is probably about what they would have sounded like’, wrote Pitchfork, celebrating the album.
Helming a trio with a badass rhythm section, he played numberless sold-out clubs shows and appeared at prominent festivals.
It is safe to say that the revitalized interest in Mergia’s laid-back Ethio grooves culminated after he released his comeback album Lala Belu early in 2018: The composer was featured in leading newspapers like the New York Times and The Guardian and played more than 70 shows all across Europe in a timespan of no more than 14 months.