Skip to main content
A Magazine for Sheffield
Live / stage review

Let the music move us: Hailu Mergia at Firth Hall

A sell-out Sheffield crowd gives respect to an Ethio-Jazz legend in a night of nifty improvisations and musical mantras.

19 October 2023 at
PA191343 01

Hailu Mergia's Firth Hall show marked the first night of a European tour.

Talking Gigs.

Three unassuming figures enter an understated stage setup. Simple lighting reveals an imposing cherry-red drum kit and bass guitar, obscure keyboards taped together with gaffer tape, and a lone accordion resting in majestic anticipation. A full house of established fans and eager new followers awaits. This is the first gig of the tour, and the end of a day of travel from Washington DC. The elder statesman looks frail.

A short introduction to Hailu Mergia’s career, from Talking Gigs host Alasdair Dempster, left us in no doubt about how special this performance would be. What emerged from these consummate musicians was, at times, spontaneous and chaotic, often lyrically hypnotic, and completely unique to the jazz style of last century’s ‘Ethiopian hotel’ music scene. It oozed the 1970s.

Maestro Mergia, mostly hidden behind his vintage Rhodes electric piano with analogue Korg organ strapped on top, was the star of the show. His nifty improvisations led the compositions and headed up the musical mantras. I would have enjoyed more than one magical tune on the accordion, but sadly his awkward transition to this instrument was an indication of the limits of age.

PA191326 01
Talking Gigs.

Percussionist Ken Joseph drove the rhythms and provided us with some powerful improvisations. At times, his contribution felt slightly over-imposed, though at others he lifted the performance and injected a hypnotic groove. Bassist Alemseged Kebede forged the connection between the spontaneous, polyphonic keyboard rhythms and driving drum-beats. His dub-reggae vibe underscored the performance and would have caused most audiences to stand and dance.

Yes, we loved the musical nuances and solos, with spontaneous hoots rippling through the hall, and the clamorous applause at the end of the set brought the band back for a much appreciated encore. However, I know the band would have loved to see us leave our seats and let the music move us.

Talking Gigs would like to thank the audience for their generous donations on the night for the local charity for people seeking asylum. Over £240 was raised for ASSIST.

Learn more

Firth Hall features a lift and ramp for wheelchair users. It describes itself as "DDA compliant".

Filed under: 

More Music

More Music