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Photo: Now Again / Vinyl Me, Please.

The Forgotten '70s Ethiopian Funk and Soul of Ayalew Mesfin

Unheard Ethio-grooves from 1970s Addis Ababa released by Now Again Records and Vinyl Me, Please.

More than 40 years ago Ayalew Mesfin, along with the Black Lion Band, recorded music in Ethiopia. Now, after all that time, Mesfin is releasing his very first album.

Mesfin and the Black Lion Band, of whom Tamiru Wolde A'b, Teshome Deneke, Tamiru Ayele, Tamirat Ziltini, Tekle Tesfaezgi and the Italian Giovanni Vincenzo were founding members of, performed at venues such as Patris Lumumba Night Club and the Etege Taitu Hotel.

Their music, funky and groovy with Western instrumentation, is a beautiful amalgamation of the Black Diaspora. Built upon centuries of Ethiopian musical tradition and then skillfully infused with the influence and style of African-American musicians, Ethiopian artists, as well as others throughout the continent, produced some cold tracks.

In the past several years, the shining outburst of jazz, soul, and funk that was created in the 1960s and '70s Ethiopia with the help of the Éthiopiques compilation series, has come to the attention of those who had never lived in the country during the time of the music's production and the height of its popularity. The "music-heads" of the West have joyfully been introduced to these sounds. The songs from this period have been sampled in hip-hop, used in movie soundtracks, and perhaps ironically, play, most likely at a volume not too loud but not too quiet, at your local gentrifying cafe.

Photo: Vinyl Me, Please / Now Again.

Now, Mesfin's music is being released via Now-Again Records, an opportunity to venture even deeper into Ethiopia's rich musical past for those who have had a taste of it through the Éthiopiques series. Now-Again is owned and operated by Stones Throw Records GM and A&R; Eothen "Egon" Alapatt.

Alapatt, as well as Cameron Schaefer, the Head of Music over at Vinyl Me, Please, traveled out to Denver, Colorado to meet up with Mesfin. The Ethiopian musician, who was jailed during the Derg regime and forced to sign an agreement to cease making music in exchange for his release, didn't exactly abide to said agreement. "I never stopped making music. Even though I had people checking up on me, I made this music underground."

His music career stifled by the volatile political situation of Ethiopia, Mesfin made sure to keep his recordings, some of which were unreleased, and eventually brought them with him to the United States, a period in his life in which his musical output diminished.

"Regrettably, my… years in the United States have been a void in my musical career. As I tell my musician friends, once you leave the country, your musical life will be like that of a fish out of water," Mesfin tells Vinyl Me, Please. "First, everyone is busy working to pay the bills. Second, all the musical crews we used to work together with are dispersed all over the states, and it is very difficult to get together again and work on our music."

Mesfin eventually agreed to release his music through Now-Again, which, up until now had only seen the light of day via 7" singles. Songs from Mesfin's personal catalogue, from reel-to-reel tapes and the aforementioned 7" singles, were chosen and made into an 11-track project, his first-ever official LP release. A project more than 40 years in the making.

The compilation record is available for purchase on maroon colored vinyl, complete with 16 pages of full color liner notes, a photo booklet, and an original art print from Billy Clark. It's also available on streaming platforms such as Apple Music and Spotify.

Mesfin's music previously escaped the confines of history by being included on the Éthiopiques Vol. 8's Swinging Addis, as well as on Vol. 13's The Golden Seventies. The song "Hasabe," which is included on Vol. 8, is the title of Mesfin's latest release.

"Most of my works revolve around social issues, as well as political commentary. Even though my songs appear to be about lovers, or other mundane topics, they are open to interpretation," Mesfin tells Vinyl Me, Please. "Social issues and social problems inspire my songs. I write the lyrics first, and then compose the melody."

Though his music was largely forgotten, lost to history and the political circumstances of Ethiopia, it is now finally resurfacing.

"I still have the dream and stamina to get back to working my music someday though!" Mesfin remarks to Vinyl Me, Please.

Ayalew Mesfin's Hasabe, which roughly translates to "My Worries," is now available to stream or purchase.

Hasabe is the Vinyl Me, Please featured record of the month. Subscribers of their service will be receiving the exclusive color vinyl with art print and cocktail recipe.

Video

This Beautiful Congolese Jazz Collaboration Is The Best Thing You'll See This Week

You need to watch Flockey Ocscor and BADBADNOTGOOD's new collaborative video.

Congolese-German artist Flockey Ocscor can dance. A quick look at his Instagram page might turn into a long one. There's multiple videos of Flockey frantically moving to songs, some are set to popular tracks like Migos' "Bad and Boujee" while others are more interpretive numbers.

Though Flockey makes music and videos, he remarked that "Everything started first with dancing. My dad & the Congolese church back then was the inspiration for me to get in touch with music… my dad always loved to hear music of Papa Wemba & showed me old footage of Viva la Musica, which is Papa Wemba's group. That was like the soul train in Congo for me, so everything started with that. I used to take part in dance battles. Now I try to find myself more deep knowledge art."

Flockey told me had a dream one night: he was young and he was at church with his family "and suddenly everything escalated very fast." That escalation turned into the spoken word piece "Bitter Dream."

Flockey then came across the Canadian jazz group BADBADNOTGOOD's fluttering track "Cashmere" and knew that his words had found good company. He later performed the piece in Berlin.

"After the performance, I felt like this is not just a performance for me... this is the first time I speak with the audience about our legacy… my life and when my mom showed me a graphic video of Congo I told myself to shoot a video about it," Flockey mentions.

He then contacted BADBADNOTGOOD's management about using the track for a video he was thinking about creating. They agreed.

The gorgeous video, which was shot in Germany, feels like a short film. It begins in a room with white walls, Flockey sitting in a beige chair with his eyes closed. The music starts, Flockey's eyes jump open and he recounts his story of family, love, and struggle. The piece moves through disparate, opposing and reinforcing scenes that illustrate a striking picture of the beauty and horror of humanity. Walking to school with friends, a budding romance, all then disturbed by war.

"My parents had to escape the civil war back then.. the situation will be seen almost at the end of my video with these rebels... that's the violence of Congo.. being kidnapped, kids being forced to kill innocent people by others. The politics & protest… that's the danger of Congo. That was about 30 years ago, when my parents had to escape and unfortunately my mom [is] still showing footage [of] what's going on in my country... it's not ending. To never forget what we've been going through and make the best out of it."

The inspiration for the piece, Flockey explains, was the 1992 film Sarafina!, which was directed by Darrell Roodt and starred Whoopi Goldberg, and the 2015 film Beasts of No Nation.

Flockey described the piece as standing "for the culture of Congo. My family's legacy and the reason why my parents had to escape Congo because of the civil war… so it's something very personal. You also have the beautiful side… the bantus… I speak about the Congolese culture. The church… beautiful Black women… But then everything switches into the darkness… the war. That's the bitter end."

Christopher Behrmann, David Füsgen, and Amir Quadahi filmed and Flockey directed.

Watch Flockey Ocscor and BADBADNOTGOOD's collaboration video for "Cashmere" up top.

The track, which is featured on BADBADNOTGOOD's fourth studio album IV, was released in 2016 and is definitely worth a listen. Head to Apple Music, Spotify or YouTube to check it out.

This interview was edited for clarity.

Music

Hailu Mergia Is Releasing His First New Album In 15 Years

Hear the lead single from the Ethiopian keyboard and accordion virtuoso's forthcoming album Lala Belu.

Hailu Mergia is back with new music.

The Ethiopian composer, keyboardist and accordion player has announced that he will be releasing a new album titled Lala Belu. The project, which will arrive in late February, is Mergia's first new body of work in 15 years.

In the interim, the legendary musician has dropped the single "Gum Gum," a sweltering, organ-driven groove. The funky cut sways effortlessly, with the rhythms and sounds of Ethiopia's jazzy past and future gloriously on display. The track features Tony Buck on drums and Mike Majkowski on bass.

Lala Belu, which will be released on Awesome Tapes From Africa, will run a lean six tracks long. Mergia has previously collaborated with the record label and blog, the first of those collaborations was the reissue of Hailu Mergia and His Classical Instrument in 2013, which was then followed by Tche Belew and Wede Harer Guzo. The reissues, as well as a re-release of his former group Walias Band's song "Musicawi Silt" by Buda Records on the popular Ethiopiques series, helped build a resurgence of interest in Mergia's music.

The musician relocated to the United States in 1981 while on tour with his band and singer Mahmoud Ahmed. Three other members of the Walias Band also decided to stay behind to escape the political and social turmoil occurring in Ethiopia. While not touring and performing, Mergia, who is now 71, works as an airport taxi driver.

The Walias Band, which formed in Addis Ababa back in the early 1970s while playing as the house band for the Hilton Hotel, has made music with the greats of Ethiopian music, including Tilahun Gessesse and Mulatu Astatke. Because of a civilian curfew instituted by the regime of Mengistu Haile Mariam, the band would sometimes play into the night and following morning so that patrons could avoid being out and about after hours and still enjoy themselves as they waited for day break.

In a press release provided by ATFA, Mergia remarked that his upcoming release is "a very historical album for me. And I am extremely excited. All of it feels like a big comeback. A different kind of audience, playing with a different kind of band and working with a different kind of record company. The album is very different from all the albums I did after I left Ethiopia."

The basic tracks for Lala Belu were recorded at London's EMS4 in 2016 and completed by Mergia and engineer Javon Gant at Cue Studios in the Washington D.C. area. Lala Belu, as well as Mergia's previous ATFA reissues, were remastered by Jessica Thompson.

Listen to Hailu Mergia's "Gum Gum" on Spotify, Apple Music, or up top via YouTube. You can head to Bandcamp to pre-order the album on vinyl and/or CD. A purchase of either format also comes with a digital copy of the project.

Lala Belu will arrive on February 23.




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