Blue Note Jazz Festival Presents

Antibalas, Hailu Mergia

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Saturday, June 22, 2024
Doors: 6:00pm / Show: 8:00pm

It’s hard to believe that more than twenty years have passed since Antibalas’s humble beginning as a neighborhood dance / protest band in the block parties and underground parties in pre-gentrified Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Over the past two decades they have evolved into what The Guardian called “one of the world’s finest Afrobeat bands” while enjoying equal renown for their cross-genre collaborations with legends of popular music. With a heavy balance of experience and new blood, the group leapt into 2020 with their new Daptone Records full-length Fu Chronicles which received a Grammy® nomination for Best Global Music Album.

Fu Chronicles is the eighth studio album from Antibalas, who have been releasing music over four decades; Liberation Afro Beat Vol. 1 (1999), Talkatif (2002), Who Is This America? (2004), Security (2007), Government Magic (2011), Antibalas (2012), Where the Gods are In Peace (2017), Fu Chronicles (2020).

Founded in 1998 by saxophonist Martín Perna, early incarnations of the group included several members of The Dap-Kings including bassist / producer Gabriel Roth, guitarist Binky Griptite, keyboardist Victor Axelrod, conguero Fernando “Bugaloo Velez,” and trumpeter Anda Szilagyi. As the group expanded, it absorbed younger musicians from the Daptone family including bassist Nick Movshon (El Michels, Black Keys) and other musical natives and transplants from downtown Manhattan and North Brooklyn music scenes. In 1999 Duke Amayo became a significant fixture in the group, first on percussion, then later on vocals, vibraphone, and keyboards and moving to center stage as the group’s frontman and creating the Afro-Spot, the band’s headquarters as well as the home of the first Daptone Records studio.

In the late 2000s, choreographer Bill T Jones chose Antibalas as the band for the Tony-award winning Broadway musical Fela!. Around the same time, the band drew the attention of the Roots. The two groups joined with Public Enemy to perform a live version of the entire “It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold us Back” at the 2009 Roots Picnic. Antibalas has also served as the house band at Carnegie Hall and the Apollo Theater paying tribute to the music of Aretha Franklin, David Byrne, Paul Simon, and Billie Holiday, and backing dozens including Allen Toussaint, Cee Lo Green, Sharon Jones, Santigold, and Angelique Kidjo.

It’s been a little over ten years since keyboard and accordion luminary Hailu Mergia re-emerged on the international music scene. Following the first in a series of his classic recordings reissued in collaboration with Awesome Tapes From Africa, Mergia assembled a band and began performing live again after many years driving a cab in Washington, DC. His first show back appeared on the front page of the New York Times along with a stellar review. He took off from there, performing his flavor of Ethiopian jazz all over the world in the years since, including Radio City Music Hall and Montreal Jazz Festival. On 3 November, Mergia releases Pioneer Works Swing (Live) on LP, CD, Tape, Digital and Deluxe Edition, which includes 3-color vinyl, poster, OBI strip and a bonus 7” (limited to 500 copies). The first single “Belew Beduby” is available today on all digital platforms. Mergia fans may recognize the tune in a drastically different arrangement from Hailu Mergia & His Classical Instrument.

Finally, we have a recorded document of the keyboard player’s powerful DC-based trio—which practices each weekend in his basement—featuring Kenneth Joseph on drums and Alemseged Kebede on bass. Beautifully captured at one of their fiery live shows at the venerable Brooklyn non-profit cultural center Pioneer Works on July 1, 2016, the concert was recorded by PW staff and mixed by Ted Young with mastering by ATFA’s expert audio extraction collaborator Jessica Thompson. The performance clarifies what many people across the globe already know: in his fifth decade of music-making Hailu Mergia continues to push the boundaries of his remarkable abilities.

Mergia and his veteran band energetically and playfully unpeel layer after layer of harmonic and rhythmic interest out of a spectrum of Ethiopian repertoire. Modern jazz demands constant reinvention and improvisation, night after night creating new works out of known modes and classic standards. This band is unstoppable when it comes to turning age-old melodies (like “Tizita” or “Anchihoye Lene”) upside down and inside out until they emerge as molten new works, often spontaneously. Mergia’s original compositions (like “Yegle Nesh”) shine brighter than ever here as well. Moving from keyboard to organ to accordion to melodica, he deftly switches instruments—often during the same song. Mergia at 77 years old seems to be working harder than musicians half his age.

Pioneer Works Swing (Live) brings into focus the kind of onstage group improvisation and deadly solo passages that reach for places Mergia and the band have never gone, on festival and club stages across four continents.

Now that Mergia has released two new recordings along with four classic reissues, he is eager to let everyone hear what he’s been doing on the road since he re-took the global stage for his victory laps. So much more than an old act from yesteryear, Mergia balances his legendary Ethiopian recordings with good old-fashioned sweat-soaked live concert triumphs such as the one we have here.

dj.henri has long specialized in the music of West Africa and the Saharan Maghreb, opening for Vieux Farka Toure five times, Salif Keita three times, Fatoumata Diawara, Mdou Moctar, Tinariwen, Bombino, Rokia Traore, and Habib Koite. He’s been booked at the Apollo Theater, SummerStage, B.B. King’s, Symphony Space, Joe’s Pub, Brooklyn Bowl, and many other venues. For several years, he opened “Desert Blues” shows for the World Music Institute. His station Radio Africa Online is the longest-running African all-music station online, he writes a column for afropop.org, and his podcast, Radio Africa Online Mixes, is featured in Amazon Music, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, and elsewhere, enjoying 40 terabytes of traffic annually.

Per New York City’s guidance, Sony Hall is requiring all guests, staff & musicians ages 12+ to be fully vaccinated against Covid-19 to enter. Children ages 5 to 11 must have received at least one dose.

Proof of vaccination may include your physical CDC card, photo of your CDC card, NYC Covid Safe App, or the NYS Excelsior Pass.

In addition to the vaccination policy, New York City continues to encourage masks for all indoor gatherings, except while you are actively eating and drinking.