Sunken Treasure: Hailu Mergia & Dahlak Band’s Wede Harer Guzo
The Dahlak band had something to say and they were saying it with a giant in their midst
This is by far the most recently unearthed Sunken Treasure we’ve featured in the history of this column. We’ve got the peerless Awesome Tapes from Africa to thank for its miraculous unveiling after a cassette posted to the label from Mr Hailu Mergia himself turned out to be a golden ticket. Sometimes precious goods come in small packages. It got past the post. Winner alright.
This LP is a trove of such dazzling quality it beholds us to pass on the good news, so hear ye! The title track is a thing of beauty. The group, with which the imperious Mergia was moonlighting from his official role in the revered Walias Band, are on fire.
This collaboration sent sparks flying. They sounded like soldiers of fortune willing to pay the price. Everything sways and the vocals soar in tandem with far-out licks from Mergia’s nimble fingers. It feels ancient and modern. All manner of western breezes waft into a heady mix of grooves of Amharic origin. It’s an intoxicating brew. Hot. Hot. Hot.
It dates from the year of 1978, a short four years after the military Derg had taken power in Ethiopia following the ousting of Emperor Haile Selassie. The golden age of music was being stifled. The regime had put the brakes of Addis Ababa’s pulsating nightlife scene and moving cassettes underground became the modus operandi.
This was one such mover in that system. It was a big hit on the scene. There’s a vitality and soul to these recordings that’s stirring in every way. The Dahlak band had something to say and they were saying it with a giant in their midst.
Their reinterpretations of Ethiopian standards are given coats of many colours. There are gospel echoes in the vocal tunes. The grooves that Mergia concocts circle majical msytery tours around the world. People get ready. There’s a change a-coming.