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Hailu Mergia and The Walias
Tche Belew
Awesome Tape From Africa

In 2013, Hailu Mergia returned to performing following the (re-)issue of Hailu Mergia and His Classical Instrument: Shemonmuanaye. Hailu Mergia brings up a fascinating surprise story of a bandleader-turned-taxi driver who returned to the music market, with his futuristic sound from the past, dusted with exotic Ethiopian flavors.

The new-gained success of Hailu Mergia brought up a re-release of his 1977 classic along with his band Walias, Tche Belew. This album is considered a 'holy grail' of Ethiopian music, and has been a collectors' item. It is an widely acclaimed album of instrumentals. The new issue came in mid-October 2014, but we still want to check it out even though the release already is almost 3 months old. Hey, it is almost 38 years old! So why not spin it anyway, anywhere.

Ethiopia is located near the Horn of Africa, and it was the only African country to defeat a European colonial power. According to Wikipedia, '...some of the oldest evidence for modern humans is found in Ethiopia', and the country is also one of the founding members of the UN. Ethiopia share borders with Eritrea, Djibouti, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan, and Kenya. The country is also the main source of the longest river of the world, The Nile. Emperor Haile Selassie I reigned for many decades, through 1916-1974 (even though he wasn't made Emperor until 1930). Haile Selasse was deposed by a Soviet-backed Communist military junta, when the Derg era started (Derg is short for Coordinating Committee of the Armed Forces). Several coups, uprisings, war, wide-scale drought, hunger, and high numbers of refugees followed. In 1977, when Tche Belew first was released, the Ogaden War broke. This was a Ethio-Somali War, and a cold war conflict that saw military aid and troops from several communist countries: USSR (The Soviet union), Cuba, South Yemen, East Germany and North Korea (the Ogaden war included around 15,000 Cuban combat troops!). This war led to a high number of casualities, hunger, terror, and all what wars bring. Like the saying and the song goes: War, what is it good for... Anyway, the Derg era ended in 1991, and the Derg leader, and later president for the People's Democratic Republic of Ethiopia (still communistic), Mengistu Haile Mariam was in 2006, after a trial that lasted 12 years, found guilty in absentia (Mengistu fled his country in 1991, and he still resideds in Zimbabwe) of genocide by The Federal High Court, Addis Ababa.

The story of the Walias band goes: due to the communist run country at the time, drastic reforms went on and the mightlife and nightclub scene was changing. A keyboard player and arranger called Hailu Mergia was working in Addis Ababa. Mergia formed the funk and soul infused Walias in the early 1970s. At the time the band featured Moges Habte (on saxophone and flute), Mahmmud Aman (on guitar), Yohannes Tekola (on trumpet), Melake Gabrie (on bass guitar), Girma Beyene (on piano), Temare Haregu (on drums), Abebe Kassa (on alto saxophone), with special guest Mulatu Astatke (on vibes). The band had several guests, especially on the vocal side. Tche Belew, an album fully instrumental, was a success when released, with its groove, its suggestive but laid-back rhythms, and most of all the playful, swaying melodies. The music of Tche Belew is harmonic and peaceful. The feel and the groove is definitely of the 70s, but the all-over feel is somewhat timeless and universal. Somehow it makes me think of an album (or that album's music) from 2001, namely Future Pilot A.K.A.'s Tiny Waves, Mighty Sea. I don't know if Scottish artist Sushil K. Dade (the man steering Future Pilot, and formerly of Soup Dragons, BMX Bandits and Telstar Ponies) was - or had been - surfing an Ethiopian groove sound wave. That's not important. Maybe it's all in my head, my ears. What's important is that Tche Belew deserves a bigger, wider audience. It is the sound of something proud, swaggering (but stylish), and swaying. Even though the album holds somewhat funky and soufilled stuff, there is also some avant-jazz touch to it.

Awesome Tapes From Africa started out in 2006, as an music file blog shedding light on regional music scenes (and locally produced cassettes from the African continent). Today Awesome... works as an internationally acclaimed, and crowd-sourced public archive, record label and DJ project.

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