#GetToKnow : Meklit

The San Francisco Mission District has a diverse music scene. The area acts as an incubator, a tight-knit circuit of venues in which performers mix and hone their voices amongst a multitude of others. In many ways, Meklit Hadero’s cross-genre sound is the consummate product of this vibrant landscape. However, born in Ethiopia, and raised in New York, Meklit’s music has sweeping trans-continental scope that overreaches the boundaries of a single, albeit dynamic, North Californian community.

When Hadero released her debut album On a Day Like This, she received widespread critical acclaim, with National Geographic World Music listing it as one of their favourite albums of 2010. A common theme in praise of the ten-track LP was its uniqueness. This is little surprise. Meklit’s sound moulds American Jazz and Folk and maps it onto the contours of Ethiopian and North-East African traditional music, taking its lead as much from Nina Simone and Joni Mitchell as it does from Mahmoud Ahmed.

Whilst Meklit’s sound sets her apart, her outlook is incredibly inclusive. Throughout her career, she has focused on nurturing other artists, as much as she has on self-development. In this vein, her most ambitious work can be found with the Nile Project, an NGO-come-artistic collective, which aims to address a range of social and environmental issues affecting the Nile Basin. Hybrid music, born from collaboration between virtuosos from across the region, forms the foundation of the project. This both celebrates the unique mix of identities in North-East Africa and offers a means of driving dialogue and advocacy in its own right. Meklit proved pivotal in the setting up of the Nile Project, acting as its co-founder, and vocalist for over five years. And indeed, the Project’s thrust; global and forward-facing in outlook, but deeply rooted in the celebration of heritage, is indicative of Hadero’s own artistic voice.

That isn’t to say however that the Nile Project hasn’t had a formative influence on her solo work too. In an interview with the San Francisco Mercury News, Meklit recalls the “super-charged engine” of percussion she experienced whilst playing with the group. She promptly transplanted this into her pulsating 2017 release, When the people move, the music moves too. Since the launch of this album, her fourth full-length release, Meklit has toured extensively, performing in Europe, American, and Africa. Like her previous work, When the people move… found success with taste setters across the globe. It was featured as one of the 100 Best Albums of 2017 in the Sunday Times, and as one of the best soul albums of 2017 by Bandcamp.

Playing live, Meklit’s songs have a restless energy, but her show maintains structure and a strong sense of familiarity. This common-ground, established between far-flung traditions is captivating; proving her emphatic celebration of music at a cultural crossroads. Of her new album, Hadero remarked; “I wanted to celebrate that community [the Ethiopian diaspora], and dance to it, and to let everyone into it.” Her performances foster this radical inclusivity and express it in raucous, euphoric style.

Words by Matthew Hacke

Meklit performs at WOMAD 2018. See the full line-up HERE.