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And finally... Meklit Hadero

Mekllit Hadero

Your family fled the violent revolution in Addis Ababa in 1974. What impact did that have on you?

You grow up with a mix of stories and silences. This is the legacy of any political upheaval. I left when I was two years old. I realized when I was 21 and visited the country for the first time as an adult that so many of my ideas of Ethiopia had been filtered through the stories of my parents, and I understood the country is much more than that. There were so many other aspects of the country and culture I didn’t know.

Where do you call home now?

I have three places I think of as home: Addis Ababa, Brooklyn in New York, where I did most of my growing up and which left a huge impression on me, and the Bay Area in San Francisco. I don’t think I could ever have one place as home. I don’t mean a house, but as a concept.

What makes you happy?

Music. Playing it and achieving the sense of complete abandon to the song, to the moment, to the interaction with other musicians. Losing the ‘I’, the sense of the ego, to the spontaneity and improvisation when you’re truly inside a song.

Can music help bring about change?

Yes. I think of myself as a singer, musician and cultural activist. I like to think about the ways that art and culture can be a vehicle for asking questions about where we’re at and where we want to go collectively.

What is The Nile Project hoping to achieve?

It was started in 2011 by myself and Mina Girgis, an Egyptian ethnomusicologist, from a place of cultural curiosity. In the diaspora in San Francisco and New York and London, we’re each other’s neighbours and friends, and it’s quite easy to be connected, but on the African continent it’s quite difficult to get to know one another. The project started as a way to bring together the music of the neighbours who share the Nile. When we started our research, we learned about the conflict over water. Right now things are pretty good between Nile Basin countries; Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt recently signed an agreement over how the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance dam is going to be managed and that’s a huge step forward. But earlier it was quite tense. We realized that a music project to bring together musicians from the Nile region had the potential to have a positive impact beyond music. We’ve had three residencies and an African tour of five of the Nile countries, and we just toured North America.

Water could be a more pressing issue than oil in the future, couldn’t it?

Yes, we depend on it. What’s interesting is that a lot of the time nervousness about water scarcity relates to questions of identity: who you share water with is about who is included when we talk about ‘we’. Music is quite an effective tool for addressing those identity issues.

You’ve also helped promote gender equality in Africa. Why do you think it’s so important?

I was part of UN Women’s theme song, ‘One Woman’, and inaugurated their campaign for gender equality in Africa with a concert in Addis Ababa. With the Nile Project, we were insistent from the beginning that the project had equal representation of women – not just singers, but composers and songwriters, too. When we’re talking about equal rights for women it’s very easy, especially in the eyes of the West, immediately to make an African woman a victim. But we’re saying there’s a generation of women who are coming up as leaders in their communities, breaking these barriers.

What’s your biggest fear?

In some ways, fear is about boundaries. When I think of fear, it is like an indicator that there’s a boundary for you, something you have to look out for, to be aware of, to pay attention to. So fear isn’t always a bad thing.

Meklit’s new album, We Are Alive, is out now on Six Degrees – meklitmusic.com
For more on The Nile Project, see new.nileproject.org
Graeme Green is a journalist and photographer: @greengraeme

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