Concert ties traditional Ethiopian songs to new music

Meklit Hadero, an Ethiopian-American singer, performs at Scripps College’s Balch Auditorium on April 4. She was accompanied by her band members, Kibrom Birhane on the piano and Sam Bevan on bass. / photo by Lindsey Pacela
Meklit Hadero, an Ethiopian-American singer, performs at Scripps College’s Balch Auditorium on April 4. She was accompanied by her band members, Kibrom Birhane on the piano and Sam Bevan on bass. / photo by Lindsey Pacela

Michael Roccia
Staff Writer

Scripps College Humanities Institute hosted a concert and conversation with musician and cultural activist, Meklit Hadero, on April 4 in the Balch Auditorium.

About 25 people attended the event to listen to Hadero’s unique and vibrant music. Because of the size of the crowd, it made for a very intimate setting and performance. Concert-goers were able to get up close and personal with her music and were captivated by her stage presence. 

Meklit Hadero performs “Kemekem (I Like Your Afro),” from her new album “Ethio Blue” April 4 at Scripps College in Claremont. The event also featured a conversation and Q&A with Hadero. / photo by Lindsey Pacela
Meklit Hadero performs “Kemekem (I Like Your Afro),” from her new album “Ethio Blue” April 4 at Scripps College in Claremont. The event also featured a conversation and Q&A with Hadero. / photo by Lindsey Pacela

The concert started with Hadero and her trio playing two traditional Ethiopian songs. They were songs that Hadero had grown up with and had been inspired by for years. The songs were rhythmic and had intricate melodies that made for a fascinating listening experience. In between songs, she took the time to address the audience and connect with them on a deeper level by sharing personal stories about how her songs came to be. 

After the traditional Ethiopian songs, she transitioned into sharing and playing songs from her new EP titled “Ethio Blue”. It is her first time releasing new music in seven years. She wrote the album while pregnant with her first child in 2019. She wanted to create an album that empowered people to live and hopefully create a world that she would want to raise her child in.

“I saw people feeling tired and worn out by the weight of the world and the weight of these multiple intersecting crises that we’re all facing,” Hadero said. “In many ways, this album is meant to be a buoy for the heart. It’s about uplifting, what we can do when we work together and how we can actively heal ourselves through healing our relationship with nature.”

Some of the songs she played off her album were titled “Antidote” as well as the song the album itself is named after, “Ethio Blue”. The music has its own unique and innovative sound. 

Hadero wanted to make the type of music that she could never find growing up. She wanted to combine multiple types of music that everyone can love, and that can bring out the full scale of human complexities when it comes to celebrating sound.

“I didn’t see any music like this,” Hadero said. “When I was growing up, it was all very much like, this is Ethiopian music or this is American music, and you kind of had to choose. I don’t think we have to choose. I hope that people can celebrate their own complexity when they experience my music, and not feel like they have to cut off parts of themselves.”

One of the other members of the band who performed at the concert with Hadero to help bring her music and her vision to life was Kibrom Birhane. He played keyboard for most of the concert but periodically would play the traditional Ethiopian instrument known as the Krar. He impressed the audience with his skillful control over both instruments. 

Birhane has been playing African and specifically Ethiopian music for years now, and he is impressed by how much more welcoming people are becoming to the genre because of things like social media.

Sam Bevan plays bass for the “‘Ethio Blue’: Music and Conversation with Meklit Hadero” event at Scripps College in Claremont on April 4. Hadero’s group played a mix of traditional Ethiopian songs from her latest album, “Ethio Blue.” / photo by Lindsey Pacela
Sam Bevan plays bass for the “‘Ethio Blue’: Music and Conversation with Meklit Hadero” event at Scripps College in Claremont on April 4. Hadero’s group played a mix of traditional Ethiopian songs from her latest album, “Ethio Blue.” / photo by Lindsey Pacela

This kind of music is more spiritual, meditative and it’s also good dance music,” Birhane said. “I see a lot of people these days are now getting used to this music because of all the globalization and all the social media stuff.”

Stella Shah, a sophomore philosophy and math major at Scripps College was amazed by the performance and how Hadero met all her expectations of what a performer should be.

There was such love in what she does, it was fantastic to see,” Shah said. ‘She has such a real and complete human voice. It was an incredible performance. It did everything a performance is supposed to do. It really conveyed how passionate she is about her music.”

Philip Temidara, an instructor at El Rancho High School heard about the event from his friend’s instagram. Much like Shah his expectations were exceeded, but more importantly he left inspired.

“You got a sense of her personality, she’s very sincere,” Temidara said. “I got connected to her energy and I feel like I’m leaving inspired in a way that I never expected to be. It’s not just from the music, but from the work that she does with the music.”

Michael Roccia can be reached at michael.roccia@laverne.edu.

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