During the golden years of Ethiopian music, as documented in the Ethiopique series, Hailu Mergia was Ethiopia’s most popular keyboard player. He was also the bandleader for the legendary Walias Band. In the early 80’s, most members of the Walias band obtained political asylum while on tour in the US. Hailu Mergia settled in DC and spent most of his time driving a taxi until label Awesome Tapes from Africa released one of his lesser known solo album, the amazing Hailu Mergia & his Classical Instrument.
Hailu is now, again, a full time musician. His new project is a trio with DC-based musicians Alemseged Kebede and Kenneth Joseph. Kebede, who hails from Addis ababa as well, is deeply versed in the traditional songs in Mergia’s catalog and is an active foil to Mergia’s improvisational excursions. Joseph has toured the world with reggae bands including Culture and plays in Ethiopian bands around DC.
Anbessa Orchestra (formerly Lions) is a seven piece group based in New York that draws its inspiration from the kind of classic Ethiopian music anthologized on the cult Ethiopiques series. Anbessa’s approach to the music is personal, but never strays far from the 60’s and 70’s sound of the original. They play some lesser known tunes from some of the Ethiopian masters as well as their own compositions. The result is an original sound that would have fit nicely on the Ethio-funk scene of 1970’s Addis Ababa.