Meklit Hadero’s African twist to American jazz

Here and Now

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There’s more to jazz than the swinging standards of The Great American Songbook. Singer-songwriter Meklit Hadero has made a sensation on the music scene with her seemingly effortless meld of American jazz and the rhthym and language of her native Ethiopia.

Hadero’s musical stylings have gained critical acclaim in the U.S. Filter Magazine describes her music as “N.Y jazz with West Coast folk and African flourishes.” But what touches her deeply is how audiences receive her when she performs in Ethiopia.

“People really like to see themselves reflected in public images,” Hadero said. “Ethiopians will come up to me after shows and say, ‘We feel like you’re representing us in a way we’ve never been represented before, keep doing what you’re doing, and we’re proud of you.'”

As much as her countrymen love her though, some of her Ethiopian audience prefer when she sings traditional songs in the national language of Amharic.

“The songs I sing in Amharic definitely get the people going. Sometimes we’ll do traditional songs but I’ll rearrange them,” Hadero said. She points to her arrangement of an old Amharic love song that roughly translates to “I Like Your Afro” that is well received by Ethiopian audiences.

But in America, Hadero’s lyricism in English captivates. With a knack for fine detail, Hadero’s words paired with her sublime voice have aided her rise in popularity.

“You find beauty in these extremely small places and details that may mean nothing to a passer-by but become this great symbol to you,” Hadero said of her writing.

When Hadero was a toddler, she and her family immigrated to the U.S. Hadero says she and her sister “lost a lot of their language” of Amharic when they were growing up in Iowa. Hadero admits that even as a toddler she wanted to be a singer. The daughter of physicians, Hadero originally studied political science at Yale University. But when she moved to San Francisco, she rekindled her love for music and decided to pursue it.

“I found a community of artists and I dove into [music] full-time,” Hadero said. “And it became my life.”

Read more on the Here and Now website.


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