Thursday, 1 March 2018

Hailu Mergia - Lala Belu

First published in Songlines Magazine issue 136, April 2018.

Hailu Mergia
Lala Belu
Awesome Tapes from Africa (39 mins)

After reissuing three of Hailu Mergia’s classic albums to great success, Awesome Tapes from Africa have got the veteran Ethiopian jazz musician and full-time cab driver into the studio and produced his first new album for 15 years. And it’s a stonker.

Lala Belu is a great Ethiojazz album, but it’s also a great jazz album, full stop. It’s all played by a trio, with Tony Buck on drums, Mike Majkowski on bass and Mergia on all manner of keyboards – accordion, piano, organ, synths, melodica, you name it – but various overdubs give the ensemble the sound of a hard-driving sextet.

There’s all sorts in here, from cool soul-jazz at the beginning, dub excursions and Herbie-like synth spirals in the middle, and with a lovely piano solo piece at the end. The highlight is ‘Anchihoye Lene’, which starts laying down a deadly groove before Mergia’s organ takes it all the way to downtown Addis Ababa.

Considering all that, the title track itself is a bit of a let-down. It’s a bit cheesy with its la-la-la-ing and solos that don’t have the same level of excitement as the other tracks. Never mind, though. The rest of the album is a blast – dig it!