1978 cassette-only release intensively excavated and remastered for international release.
Ethiopian keyboard and accordion maestro Hailu Mergia has experienced a remarkable career resurgence in the past few years. Since the reissues of his spacey, synth-laden Hailu Mergia and His Classical Instrument and the seminal Ethio-jazz masterpiece Tche Belew, Mergia has toured Europe several times, performed at major festivals and theaters across North America—including Radio City Music Hall supporting Beirut—and recently made his Australian debut. His recordings and shows have elicited critical acclaim from the New York Times, Pitchfork and The Wire. Now, while still handling his day job as an airport taxi driver in Washington, D.C., Mergia is preparing the international release of Wede Harer Guzo, a tape he made with the soulful Dahlak Band in 1978, on June 17 via Awesome Tapes From Africa.
One of the key participants in Addis Ababa’s well-known musical golden age of the 1970s, Hailu Mergia was preparing a follow-up to his Tche Belew LP with the famed Walias Band. It was the band’s only full-length record and it had been a success. But he wanted to try a slightly different sound than the one he developed with his Hilton Hotel house band colleagues. Still Mergia, amidst recordings and gigs with the Walias, was also eager to make another release of his instrumental-focused arrangements. So he went to the nearby Ghion Hotel, another upmarket outpost with a popular nightclub. Dahlak Band was the house band at Ghion at the time. Together they made this tape Wede Harer Guzo right there in the club during the band’s afternoon rehearsal meetings, with sessions lasting three days.
Dahlak Band catered to a slightly more youthful, local audience, while Mergia’s main gig with the Walias at Addis’ swankiest hotel had a mixed audience that included wealthy Ethiopians, foreign diplomats and older folks from abroad. Therefore, their sets featured lighter fare during dinnertime and a less rollicking selection of jazz and r&b. Meanwhile, Dahlak was known more for the mainly soul and Amharic jams they served up for hours two nights a week to a younger crowd.
Mergia released Wede Harer Guzo (“Journey to Harer,” a city in eastern Ethiopia) with Sheba Music Shop, which was located in the Piazza district but has long since shut down. His cassette copy is the only known source. Jessica Thompson at Coast Mastering managed to restore the recording to clean up layers of hiss, flutter and distorted frequencies, made worse by years of storage. Although there are some remaining sonic artifacts of the era’s recording and cassette duplicating quality, this reissue captures the band’s inimitable vibe.
Recalling the audience’s positive reaction to Wede Harer Guzo’s novel arrangements, he says it sold well and found many fans. However, as no trace of the tape can be found online, there’s no indication as to why the cassette appears largely forgotten until now.
Hailu Mergia (organ) / Dawit Yifru (electric piano) / Abera Feyissa (bass) / Tesfaye Tessema (drums) / Dawit Kassa (guitar) / Tilaye Gebre (sax) / Shimels Beyene (trumpet) / Muluken Melesse (vocals) / Rida Ibrahim (vocals)
All songs arranged by Hailu Mergia
Recorded in 1978 at Ghion Hotel, Addis Ababa
Hailu Mergia & Dahlak Band ‘Wede Harer Guzo’
Release Date: 17th June 2016
Label: Awesome Tapes From Africa
Cat No: ATFA021
01. Embuwa Bey Lamitu
03. Bati Bati
04. Migibima Moltual
05. Yene Nesh Wey (Amalele)
06. Wede Harer Guzo
07. Yemanesh Ayinama
08. Almaz Eyasebkush
09. Anchin Kfu Ayinkash
About Awesome Tapes From Africa
For more than ten years, Awesome Tapes From Africa has been spreading African music across the web by way of the ATFA blog. More recently, ATFA became a label and has been reissuing surprising music by legendary and left-field artists, with 50/50 profit-sharing deals and working toward finding overseas performance opportunities where possible.