Hailu Mergia at Millennium Stage Tuesday, Feb. 11

In the 1970s Hailu Mergia played keys for Walias Band, an enormously popular Ethiopian group that put a funky spin on traditional rhythms. After coming to the U.S. to play some gigs in the early 1980s, he sought political asylum and wound up staying in D.C., playing music with old friends and collaborators. In 1985, he released a spacey solo album, Hailu Mergia and His Classical Instrument, which reinterpreted traditional Ethiopian accordion music. The album never took off in the States, and Mergia settled into a career as a cab driver in the D.C. area. Nearly three decades later, Brian Shimkovitz of the Awesome Tapes from Africa record label came across Mergia’s cassette in Bahir Dar, Ethiopia, and was so impressed, he reissued it. The reissue brought Mergia more fame than he’s seen in decades. He’s since toured Europe and been reviewed in the New York Times—not bad for a musician who, until 2013, hadn't played a show in 20 years. For his show on the Kennedy Center’s Millennium Stage tonight, Mergia performs with New York-based Afrobeat band Low Mentality. They’ll help Mergia bring his otherworldly studio rhythms to life. Hailu Mergia performs with Low Mentality at 6 p.m. at the Kennedy Center Millennium Stage, 2700 F St. NW. Free. (202) 467-4600. kennedy-center.org.

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