Meklit Hadero has a Nile state of mind

Meklit Hadero (Photo: meklithadero.com)
Meklit Hadero (Photo: meklithadero.com)

Ethiopian-American singer takes inspiration from the epic African river

By Peter Holslin

Any Ethiopian person worth his weight in honey wine would know the song “Abbay Mado.” A simple Ethiopian folk tune, it’s about a farmer who calls to his ox from across the Blue Nile, the majestic tributary that flows into Sudan from Ethiopia’s northwestern highlands.

For Ethiopians and foreigners alike, the most well-known version of “Abbay Mado” is probably the one recorded by the legendary singer Mahmoud Ahmed, appearing on his 1975 album Erè Mèla Mèla (later reissued for the epic Éthiopiques series). In his version, Ahmed belts out the song’s festive melody as his band lays down a horn-led funk groove that’s all but guaranteed to put the listener in a trance.

In more recent years, though, another version of “Abbay Mado” has gained popularity. It’s sung by the Ethiopian-American singer Meklit Hadero, and a light, jazzy arrangement appears on her 2010 debut album, On a Day Like This… Over brisk drums and stand-up bass, Hadero trades off with a trumpeter, whose low-key flourishes are fit for a quiet, rainy day.

Hadero, who lives in San Francisco, always brightens up the crowd when she plays the song live. She’ll dance with people in the audience, and Ethiopians will clap out the polyrhythms of its traditional 6/8 beat, called a “tchik-tchik-ka.” Asked why she decided to sing the song, Hadero has a simple answer.

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