Hailu Mergia: Famed Musician and Cab Driver

Hailu Mergia. Photo courtesy of Washington Post

Hailu Mergia playing the piano at home. Photo courtesy of Washington Post

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After reaching the height of success in Ethiopia, The Walias Band came to the U.S., landing at Dulles International Airport in 1981. After spending two years playing for the Ethiopian diaspora throughout the U.S., often reaching them by piling the band into a van, the group of eight disbanded.

To this day, the band’s star returns to Dulles almost daily, as a cab driver. “When you come [to the U.S.], whatever you have [to do], you have to do it. I believe in that,” Hailu Mergia told TheFightBack during a conversation at his Fort Washington home. 

Last month, the famed musician re-released his hit 1985 solo album, “Hailu Mergia & His Classical Instrument.” The album’s initial success came as a surprise since it wasn’t recorded for a general audience. “My plan was this, believe it or not: Just record [some] accordion for myself, just to listen,” Mergia told The Washington Post.

The Post’s recent profile of Mergia begins, “He’s carried his music around the planet, but if you want to hear him play it, you have to go to his house.” In his living room, Mergia’s fingers glide over the piano as he plays from memory. “If I play with notes, I might not play it [right],” he said as Ethiopian sounds emanated from the piano.

“I love music. I grew up with music. I cannot stop playing it,” said Mergia. “I have a plan to come back to the music.” Driving a cab gives Mergia flexibility in his schedule, “which is good, especially for my kind of profession,” he said. “I can go anytime [to] the studio… [or] practice or play with other musicians.”

Of his fellow cab drivers, Mergia said, “Most of them were very professional in different kinds of subjects [back home], some of them were leaders in their country,” he said.

Related stories: Hailu Mergia: A beloved Ethiopian musician of a generation ago now stays quiet in D.C. (Washington Post)

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