Jazz singer and composer Meklit Hadero, known by the mononym Meklit, has long been bringing her Ethiopian heritage to the forefront of the jazz she sings. Now, on upcoming album When the People Move, the Music Moves Too, exclusively streaming on PopMatters one week before its June 23 release, the blend is more seamless than ever with deeply personal compositions and appearances by Andrew Bird, the Preservation Hall Horns, and a literal star.
That’s right: amid the warmth of track “Supernova”, Meklit translates data from binary star system KIC 12268220 into a hauntingly beautiful piece of sound, a reminder of the fact that we are all made of star stuff. Where she comes from is, after all, a major theme in the album. “The album feels like my whole life does,” says Meklit, “bringing together my Ethiopian homeland, and my many years in Brooklyn and the San Francisco Bay Area.”
Her story is deeply embedded in the Ethio-jazz horns of the brassy “You Are My Luck” and the airy flutes of “Yerakeh Yeresal”. “I Want to Sing for Them All” lists the artists Meklit grew up listening to – Coltrane, Prince, Aster Aweke, Mulatu Astatke – in a jubilant celebration of those who have guided her on her way to becoming one of the jazz world’s most innovative modern artists. Perhaps no track illustrates Meklit’s influences as viscerally, though, as “You Got Me”, a soulful cover of the Roots’ classic hit that takes it to the golden age of Addis Ababa.
“In 2011,” relates Meklit, “Dr. Mulatu Astatke, the Godfather of Ethio-jazz, sat me down and asked me — ‘What is your contribution to Ethio-jazz?’ He said, ‘You have to go experiment and explore and find out what your part in this music is.’ With her latest masterpiece, Meklit has affirmed her place among her childhood heroes: at the shining crossroads of two cultures, making truly moving music.
Streaming now on PopMatters, When the People Move, the Music Moves Too is out June 23 on Six Degrees Records and is available for preorder now.