Bio || 08.22.2010

Biography

“I’ve always felt at home with movement,” murmurs Meklit Hadero in the same gentle voice with which she traces her songs’ supple melodies. “All of us are made of many places.” And she should know: Born in Ethiopia, raised in the U.S. and nurtured by San Francisco’s richly diverse arts scene, this acclaimed singer embodies worlds. Joining her soul-filled phrasing to a songwriter’s craft, her music’s influences range wide – from the jazz and soul favorites she grew up on; to the hip-hop and art-rock she loves; to folk traditions from the Americas and her forebears’ East African home. But this singular artist’s sound, drawn of multitudes, is hers alone.

Emerging from her adopted hometown of San Francisco, Meklit erupted to national notice with the 2010 release of “On a Day Like this…” on Porto Franco Records. Hailed by Filter magazine for “[combining] New York jazz with West Coast folk and African flourishes, all bound together by Hadero’s beguiling voice,” her full-length debut — which also garnered feature-stories on its maker from NPR, PBS and National Geographic — brought Meklit’s music to a whole new audience. It also announced the arrival, as the San Francisco Chronicle has put it, of “an artistic giant in the early stages.”

The journey that brought Meklit to this stage included many stops. Born in Ethiopia in the early 1980s, she grew up in Iowa, New York, and Florida. After studying political science at Yale, she moved to San Francisco and became immersed in the city’s thriving arts scene. “She sings of fragility, hope and self-empowerment, and exudes all three,” wrote a Chronicle reporter after witnessing an early performance in the city’s Mission District. “What’s irresistible, above all, is her cradling, sensuous, gentle sound. She is stunning.” She hasn’t looked back.

Named a TED Global Fellow in 2009, Meklit has served as an artist-in-residence at New York University, the De Young Museum, and the Red Poppy Art House. Meklit has also completed musical commissions for the San Francisco Foundation and for theatrical productions staged by Brava! For Women in the Arts. She is the founder of the Arba Minch Collective, a group of Ethiopian artists in diaspora devoted to nurturing ties to their homeland through collaborating with both traditional and contemporary artists there.

Now touring in support of her debut album while nurturing plans for her next, along with numerous side-projects, Meklit is gracing renowned festivals and concert-halls worldwide. Most at home not in one place but many, she’s an artist leaping from stage to stage before our eyes.

-Joshua Jelly Schapiro

Press quotes

“You may not have heard Meklit Hadero’s music before, but once you do, it’ll be tough to forget. Hadero’s sound is a unique blend of jazz, Ethiopia, the San Francisco art scene and visceral poetry; it paints pictures in your head as you listen.”

“One of our favorite new releases of 2010…”

“Meklit Hadero… combines N.Y. jazz with West Coast folk and African flourishes, all bound together by Hadero’s beguiling voice, which is part sunshine and part cloudy day.”

“Soulful, tremulous and strangely cinematic, Hadero’s voice will implant scenes in your mind — a softly lit supperclub, a Brooklyn stoop, a sun-baked road. Close your eyes, listen and dream.”

“It’s not just the voice, which is both soothing and rapturous. It’s not just the guitar-playing, which can veer from folksy to swingy to everything in between. It’s also the sentiment and the lyrics that pour out of Meklit Hadero’s songs — words that narrate gorgeously transportive thoughts…”

-San Francisco Weekly

“This album has been on constant rotation, with every spin revealing something fresh and addictive.”

“[Meklit] is an artistic giant in the early stages. She sings of fragility, hope and self-empowerment, and exudes all three. What’s irresistible, above all, is her cradling, sensuous, gentle sound. She is stunning.”

“Hadero’s voice and songwriting are irresistible and become even more compelling with repeat listening.”

“The perfect triangle of influences comes together on this unforgettable debut. Born in Ethiopia, Meklit Hadero has the lilting grace of African music in everything she sings, and there is the timelessness of that ancient land in the way Hadero puts deep beauty in these songs.”

“Meklit Hadero’s debut album is one of those rare gems you hope to find every once in a while. Each song is breathtakingly perfect, and each one presents a new musical twist on what singer-songwriter Hadero… is capable of.”

“It’s easy to tell that Meklit Hadero is a singer, just by listening to the soft susurrations of her speaking voice. She could talk about anything and it would somehow sound private and intimate. Her singing follows suit, with its dense phrasing and lazy vibratos. Hadero is relatively new to the stage, but she’s already generated a huge cult of adoration in the past five years.

There’s a maturity to Hadero’s debut album, On a Day Like This … that belies her inexperience. She articulates words in weird, interesting ways to give them shape — “cloud” sounds like “clood” and “up” sounds like “ooom.” There are no hard consonants or sharp vowels, and all the lyrics flow along with a bluesy lilt. They could almost be scraps from a spoken-word poem: Green, green, green, everywhere, she sings in “Under,” accenting each “green” a slightly different way (“greeen, greenn, grreen”). The song is a lullaby and love ballad. It could almost be a hymn.

Hadero wrote or co-wrote all but two of the ten tracks on On a Day, and they all have a definitive style: spare chords, murky harmonies, an implied rise but no bridge. Her band is fantastic, buoyed by such local stars as drummer Jeff Marrs, bassists Devin Hoff and Marcus Shelby, trumpeter Darren Johnston, and saxophonist David Boyce — who, in a surprising twist, plays bass clarinet for most of this album. But it’s Hadero’s singing style that really sets the mood, and imbues each line with meaning.”