Hailu Mergia & The Walias Band (with Mulatu AstatkÃ©) – Tche Belew
Did you know that during the 1970s — a span of ten years! — there were only three instrumental Ethiopian albums recorded and released on vinyl? It’s true. Well, if the Internet says it’s true, then it’s true. I trust the Afro-pop websites way more than I trust my instincts. More than that, even, I trust Francis Falcetto, the mastermind behind the Ethiopiques series. He describes Ethiopia as a vastly misunderstood country. It is unique in regards to its topography (green landscape, highlands that act as a natural fortress), religion (Catholic since the early 4th century, long before Catholicism took over Europe or the Americas), and language (Ge’ez, a Semitic language whose derivations are related to it in the same was French, Spanish, and Italian are related to Latin). It took until the late 1960s for independent bands to form, but by that time the musicians of Ethiopia had decades to practice and understand theory. After learning of Western music from peace corp volunteers and military radio stations, the state run radio stations decided to slowly liberate the airwaves, so to speak, and allow more popular Western music to reach Ethiopians. Combine that with the natural generational divides we see in the history of every other country in the world, and you’ve got a powder keg of ridiculously great music waiting to explode.
Mulatu AstatkÃ© was the first musician of his generation to study abroad. He attended Berklee College of Music in Boston. He brought his fondness for jazz and Latin music back to Africa, and — even before renowned musicians like Fela Kuti — was recording “modern” African music. He continued to compose and produce records into the ’70s, which is when Hailu Mergia recorded Tche Belew. The album was released in 1977, and features Mulatu on the track “Musical Silt.” Many Ethiojazz and Ethiopian pop fans consider it to be one of his greatest contributions to Ethiopian music. I’m not that well versed, so I couldn’t say definitively, but I think it’s great.
Tche Belew is a fairly unknown album by most fans’ standards. Which, naturally, makes it supremely hard to find. And original copies are quite valuable. Just two days ago the LP sold for $4,250 on eBay. Take a listen and you’ll realize why it’s such a sought after gem from an amazing period in the history of recorded music.
Hailu Mergia & The Walias Band (with Mulatu AstatkÃ©)
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