Written by 4:49 am Audiophile Music

Meklit’s New Ethio Jazz Directions

Mark Smotroff gets a year end musical surprise

I love supporting local musicians whenever I can. So when a friend invited me to a free concert at the Oakland Museum one evening this past Fall, I went with an open mind. He wanted to see his friend Meklit who was performing there. I had never heard of Meklit. When we arrived I was taken by not only the sizable crowd there — it was part of a “First Friday” type event series, complete with a bevy of tasty food trucks, beverages and general merry making — but also the sounds emanating from the stage. There I heard a magical vocalist backed by a super hot band making mesmerizing music that mixes up world rhythms with elements of soul, jazz and pop into something fresh and new: this was Meklit!  

AR-Meklit225.jpgFrom Meklit’s website, she is described as : “an Ethio-American vocalist, composer, and cultural instigator bringing together Ethio-Jazz with a singer-songwriter’s storytelling and strum.” Meklit’s music that night knocked me out. At the end of her set I was sure to pick up a couple of her CDs including her latest, appropriately titled When the People Move, the Music Moves Too.When I popped on the album I was pleased to find it very much representative of what she was doing on stage. 

Some more stats on the album from her website before I go into my take on the album which:   “… was released June 23rd on Six Degrees Records, receiving rave reviews and quickly reaching #4 on the iTunes World Music Charts, #1 on the NACC World Charts and #12 on the World Charts in Europe. It was also named one of the 100 Best Albums of 2017 by the Sunday Times UK, one of the Best Soul Albums of 2017 by Bandcamp and amongst the 10 Best Bay Area albums of 2017 by KQED.” 

AR-MeklitOnStage225 copy.jpgAnother side note:  I recently discovered Meklit’s producer, Dan Wilson, via his appearance on the Big Star’s Third concert, he stealing the show as far as I’m concerned with his spectacular version of “The Ballad of El Goodo” (I mentioned him in my review of that concert Blu-ray and CD release which you can read here). I soon there after picked up an album by his 90s era band Semisonic which I like very much. So it was nice synergy to see his name on the production credits for Meklit’s latest. He did a great job on this fine sounding album.

So what exactly does Meklit’s music sound like, you ask?  Well, the Ethio-Jazz moniker is all fine and good, but for many of you I suspect you won’t fully grok what that implies. Instead, I’ll offer up some very loose mainstream parallels to give you an idea of what to expect. I’ll put it this way, if you were a DJ, Meklit’s music would fit in beautifully in a mix alongside tracks from some of Joni Mitchell’s mid-70s ventures into world rhythms (The Hissing of Summer Lawns, Don Juan’s Restless Daughter) as well as recordings by King Sunny Ade and perhaps some of Pat Metheny’s ventures into world rhythms. You could also pepper your DJ set of Meklit music with selections from Paul Simon’s Graceland and Talking Heads’ Remain in Light and Meklit’s music would stand out amongst that heady crowd. Toss in some jams this side of Herbie Hancock’s Headhunters era for good measure. Her vocal approach loosely reminds me of a lighter take on Meshell Ndegeocello‘s jazz/soul explorations, but that doesn’t really do her justice. Meklit has got her own thing going on.

AR-Meklit&Band225.jpgSo what are my favorite songs on When the People Move, the Music Moves Too?   “Supernova” is really beautiful, with its melodic horn section leads. “Yerakeh Yerasal” is haunting with its dreamy groove and soaring violin courtesy of Andrew Bird (who also plays on the infectious “I Want To Sing For Them All,” a song where Meklit name-checks many of her influences). There are several tracks recorded with The Preservation Hall Jazz Band’s horn section and, again, the resultant combination is often magical:  “You Are My Luck” could easily be a single release with its catchy, hook intro chorus and relentless rhythmic pulse this side of Adam Ant’s “Goody Two Shoes” (a Top 10 hit in 1982) punctuated with those rich horn sounds.

If you are a fan of unusual instrumentation, When the People Move, the Music Moves Too may be just what the doctor ordered for you. On this album you’ll hear everything from Tupin Drum and Washint (a reed flute) to Masenko (a single string fiddle) and the Krar (an Ethiopian Harp) along side a Mellotron, Baritone Saxophones, Cellos, Trombones, Trumpets and more.  There is so much sonic joy on this album, I really do wish it was available in some sort of high resolution format. Thus far I have only found it in CD-quality digital forms. As it stands, this album sounds quite good with Meklit’s passionate vocals punctuating the mix front and center. This would be a great album to hear remixed into surround sound! 

I could go on but at this point I think you get the idea that Meklit is an artist you should check out.  If you have a Tidal account, you can find Meklit’s new album up there at this link here. You can also buy her music at Bandcamp, iTunes and Amazon.  Whatever format you prefer, I think you’ll find that Meklit is the real deal and a fresh direction for popular music.

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