In 1977, Hailu Mergia & The Walias Band recorded an exceptional LP entitled Tche Belew. Set against the backdrop of post-revolution Ethiopia, it consisted of light and groovy ethiojazz instrumentals, which brought Mergia’s organ playing to the fore. Two years prior to the making of that record, Mergia had taken a session with vocalist, krar player and actress, Asnakech Worku. Acting as sideman/arranger, he accompanied her on the ten tracks that make up the late singers’ newly re-issued album.
On its second track, Tche Belew, Mergia’s beguiling organ phrases swirl and dive, at times nestling behind Asnakech’s voice or the lines of her Northeast African string instrument, at other times leading the composition. The style is a far cry from the Tche Belew we hear two years later on his record with The Walias Band, adding to the intrigue which surrounds the Ehtiopian standard.
Awesome Tapes from Africa paint the picture of a counter-culture icon in their description of Asnakech Worku, describing how her choice of words, clothing and lifestyle were at odds with older attitudes. Yet, she is fondly remembered and Mergia shares his memories of her in the liner notes to this release.
‘I’m proud that I played with her,’ Mergia states. ‘It’s nice to play with somebody you admire, to be able to say, I played with Asnakech when she was great. She was a very polite person, always talking good about other people. In particular, to me she was a very modern lady.’
The album is scheduled for release on 2nd November, shortly before Hailu Mergia’s show at Band on the Wall. ATFA founder Brian Shimkovitz is a great fan and close friend to Hailu, having first discovered his music among cassettes form a shop in Bahir Dar in 2013. Their relationship proved a catalyst to the creation and release of Mergia’s latest record, Lala Belu, which is the keyboard player’s first with Western musicians. Find out more about the new Asnakech Worku album here and listen to Hailu Mergia’s wonderful Lala Belu, here.