In the San Francisco Bay Area, singer-songwriter Meklit Hadero is a big deal, a sort of renaissance woman who not only has her hands in various strains of music—acoustic folk, jazz, rock, hip-hop, and rhythms from around the world—but also in a variety of other creative projects combining the arts with social justice.
Meklit’s debut album, On a Day Like This, was a quiet beauty that attracted some national attention when it came out in 2010. Its illustration of the artist holding an acoustic guitar harked back to the album covers of the ’50s- and ’60s-era folk and jazz scenes, and included songs influenced by female forebears ranging from Odetta to Joni Mitchell, Joan Armatrading, and Ani DiFranco. Centered on Meklit’s gentle strumming and fingerpicking on her New World nylon-string acoustic, the album included brushstrokes of other instrumentation, including upright bass, clarinet, sax, trumpet, and viola.
The music on Meklit’s latest release, We Are Alive, is still based around her acoustic guitar, but it also branches into more plugged-in, Miles Davis-inspired jazz and funk territory, with horns wailing, African and Caribbean rhythms shuffling, and Meklit’s sublime voice going where it had not gone before. In between those two albums, she and singer-songwriter Quinn DeVeaux released an eclectic set of covers including adventurous reinterpretations of Patti Smith’s “Elegie,” Lou Reed’s “Satellite of Love,” and a gorgeous acoustic-guitar and pedal-steel arrangement of Neil Young’s “Music Arcade.”
Such eclecticism makes sense. Meklit was born in Ethiopian and raised in the U.S. after her parents fled the Derg regime of the early 1980s. The family landed in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, where Meklit’s parents, both doctors, practiced medicine. After high school, she studied political science at Yale, but music was Meklit’s true calling, and when she moved to San Francisco, she began combining her love of music with her global-minded political outloook. In 2009, she was named a TED Global Fellow and founded the Arba Minch Collective, a multidisciplinary group of Ethiopian artists who travel to the country and collaborate with traditional and contemporary artists there.
When she came into the AG studio for our 20th episode of Acoustic Guitar Sessions, Meklit had tons of stories to tell and songs to sing, and here she sings “Rest Now,” from her new album, and tells of her fortuitous meeting with luthier Kenny Hill, who made her beloved New World nylon-string guitar.
For more Acoustic Guitar Sessions, check out the archive.