Hailu Mergia & The Walias - Tche Belew LP
Hailu Mergia & The Walias - "Tche Belew" LP (Awesome Tapes From Africa)
Dozens of cherished recordings were made during the legendary “golden age” of Ethiopian music, an era stretching from the early 1960’s through the mid-1970’s. Less-discussed are the songs made in the aftermath of the 1974 revolution that toppled Emperor Hailu Selassie I. The acclaimed and highly sought-after LP by Hailu Mergia and the Walias, Tche Belew, an album of instrumentals released in 1977, is perhaps the most seminal of these recordings. The story of the Walias band is a critical chapter in Ethiopian popular music, taking place during a period of music industry flux and political complexity in the country.
Influenced in large part by Jimmy Smith, Mergia and the Walias merged the popular international sounds available in Ethiopia at the time with the traditional tunes that formed the foundation of most musicians’ repertoires. But for this LP, instead of playing the role of backing band, Mergia wanted four of his bandmates to contribute arrangements, so that the album would capture a spectrum of sounds with the instruments and groove positioned out front.
Recording in one large room, the band spent two days laying down the songs, completing several of them in single takes. It was the most professional technical set-up they had used thus far, with modern studio facilities and quality instruments (Mergia was using Farfisa and Godwin organs at the time). Being that this record was predominantly instrumental—extremely rare among Ethiopian LPs—it’s notable that Tche Belew features a backing chorus. Interjecting brief phrases on a few songs, the trio of accomplished vocalists Aster Aweke, Getachew Kassa, and Tegest Abate are the only voices heard on the recording. In the aftermath of the LP’s release, the public’s response was strong and the LP and cassettes sold better than expected.