The Ethiopian-born & Oakland-based musician Meklit Hadero’s third album, When The People Move The Music Moves Too, comes out today.
Today, Oakland musician Meklit‘s third album, When The People Move The Music Moves Too, comes out, featuring an upbeat, swirling mix of soul, pop, and Ethiopian jazz. Produced by multiple Grammy Award-winning artist Dan Wilson, the rollicking album sees Meklit on vocals, guitar, and the Ethiopian harp, krar, and has features from the likes of Andrew Bird and Preservation Hall Jazz Band.
SF Weekly spoke with Meklit about her musical origins, her discovery of Ethio-jazz, and how being a TED Fellow has influenced both her life and her music.
SF Weekly: What is Ethio-jazz?
Meklit Hadero: To understand Ethio-jazz, it helps to recognize that jazz is a global music. Much like hip-hop, jazz itself changes with every culture that it touches. Ethio-jazz was developed by Mulatu Astatke, a genius vibraphonist/percussionist and the first African to attend Berklee College of Music. In the ’60s, he was spending a lot of time in New York’s jazz and Latin jazz scenes. He later went back to Ethiopia with that hybrid spirit in his hands and brought the kignit — Ethiopian traditional scales — to funk, Latin, and Ethiopian rhythm sections. His creation became known as Ethio-jazz.
SFW: And you met Mulatu Astatke and he became a mentor of sorts for you, right?
M: I met him in Ethiopia in 2011, when I brought my band to play there, and we did shows in three cities. Mulatu came to one of our shows and I was totally freaking out. I was like, ‘OMG! He’s in the audience!’ He’s one of my heroes. After the show, he took me aside and said, ‘Hey, why are you playing this music like we played it 40 years ago? What’s your contribution to this music? What are you going to do to take it forward and make your mark on it? You have to figure it out. That’s your job as an artist.’ He has a very forward-thinking musical mind. He isn’t about preservation of tradition in any way. He’s about deep connections to tradition, but what he was telling me to do was to keep innovating.
SFW: Do you keep in touch?
M: We’ve kept in touch, yes. I saw him last year in June in Ethiopia. We did two shows at his club. Later, we had a long conversation one afternoon over tea, and he continued to give me really strong and powerful musical advice. He likes to break my mind open about music every time we talk. It’s nuts. He’s a musical genius.