Monday, 24 June 2013


New new new. Actually it's not new at all. It's over twenty years old - you could even say it's nearly thirty years old. But it sounds great. It's really interesting and I am so happy to have stumbled across it because it is just a really cool sound: this is 'Shilela' by Hailu Mergia.

What? Who? Well, Hailu Mergia is an Ethiopian one-man-band who first released the record on which this song appears in 1985. It is only down to the good eyes and ears of Awesome Tapes From Africa, a record label which as far as I can make out started life as a blog (specialising, as you can guess, in music from Africa), that I heard this song last week. Now I find out that the Washington City Paper has written an article about the re-release of the album, as well as interviewing Hailu Mergia himself, who is now working as a cab driver in Washington - and I think: how amazing that a certifiably "dead" recording should be unearthed and resurrected in this way, written about in the press, listened to, liked and shared by a completely new generation.

BUT YES. The album is called Hailu Mergia & His Classical Instrument and is out 25th June. 'Shilela' of course is just one song from that collection of songs, but it gives a pretty good inkling into what you will find upon listening. Traditional Ethiopian music in the form of jazzy accordion stylings combined with synthesiser sensibilities.

The synth in this particular song is immense, bold without overpowering everything else, warm and soft-edged, like a set of winding waterfalls made of viscous cartoon-clouds instead of water. An electric piano jazzes out in the background, whilst the accordion - the integral part of this song and I believe the whole album - patters like drips of sunlight over the top, creating a virtuoso dot-to-dot of traditional Ethiopian music. Although it is generally unchanging throughout, I think that is the point: Shilela is also the name of a patriotic traditional song, and it is unchanging, almost as if the repetition plays a part in drawing you in to its melody.

In any case, I like it a lot. The fact that it sounds old gives it even more of a boost in my opinion: it's supposed to sound that way. It is wholly and wholesomely analogue, live and real - the accordion nearly sounds as though it is breathless throughout its performance. Lovely stuff.

You can pre-order the album on

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