It’s a story that we’ve told a couple of times this year, but it’s one well worth telling again. Hailu Mergia was sensation on the piano and organ with the legendary Walias Band some 30 years ago as they worked their way to the top of the Addis Ababa club circuit in their native Ethiopia. After a decade of dazzling crowds with funky grooves and backing some of Ethiopia’s best loved vocalists, the band immigrated to the United Stated with dreams of garnering international acclaim (and escaping their nation’s increasingly repressive military dictatorship). However, that dream gradually became a grind, ending with several of the members returning home and Hailu becoming a cab-driver in Washington DC.
With a keyboard in his trunk and piano in his living room, Hailu never stopped playing between customers and in his free time. “If I don’t play, I don’t feel good,” he tells interviewers as he pulls up to Dulles International Airport in “Hailu Takes Off,” Far Off Sounds touching short film about his life and work. Filmed as the pianist’s career reignited thanks to the reissue of his 1985 album “Hailu Mergia and his Classical Instrument,” a surprising event that grew into a well-reviewed European tour, a highly praised NYC show, and now an APAP showcase at DROM, the documentary provides a fascinating look at Hailu’s life, as well as capturing some fantastic solo performance footage.
If you want to hear more about Hailu, read our interview with him HERE.