Hailu Mergia and The Walias Band’s Tezeta is the latest album of Ethiopian instrumental music sourced and remastered by Awesome Tapes From Africa, a record label and DJ project that highlights lesser known music from Africa.
If you’re unfamiliar with Hailu Mergia and The Walias Band, you’re not alone. Though locally prolific, they never gained much prominence or traction outside of Ethiopia. In Ethiopia, The Walias Band were one of the most in demand acts of their time, becoming the go-to backing band for the biggest local acts of the 1970s and 80s and holding down a residency at the famous Hilton Addis in Addis Ababa. They were also the first band to release full solely instrumental albums, considered commercially unviable at the time.
Having reached prominence at home, The Walias Band toured the United States once in 1981, a clandestine operation taken with reluctant permission from the military regime in Ethiopia. While the tour was a huge milestone for The Walias and Ethiopian music in general, it also marked the end of the band’s original lineup as four members decided to stay in the U.S. and never returned.
Originally released in 1975, Tezeta is one of eight instrumental albums recorded by The Walias Band. Featuring covers and renditions of standards and popular songs of the time, the album was released in limited numbers and since became nearly impossible to find outside of Ethiopia (or anywhere for that matter).
Driven by bandleader Hailu Mergia’s iconic and funky organ playing and backed by gentle drums and melodic horns, the music is as soulful and sublime as ever. The melodies are absolutely gorgeous with time signatures that are wholly unique to western ears. Those familiar with other Ethiopian artists like Mulatu Astatke will recognize the title track “Tezeta,” a traditional anthem of the time, while likely being unfamiliar with the rest. It’s a superb listen, primed for warm, relaxing evenings.