Conversations | Meklit Hadero
“So many people are hungry for ways to support the vision of a deeply diverse and inclusive nation. You are part of that. Sing it out!”
Meklit Hadero is an Ethiopian-American singer, songwriter, composer, and cultural activist making music that sways between cultures and continents. Her innovative take on Ethio-Jazz has taken her around the world, from her home base of San Francisco to her home city of Addis Ababa, in Ethiopia (where she is a household name). Hadero has founded and led many creative and cultural initiatives, from musical collaborations to performance series. She is a National Geographic Explorer, a TED Senior Fellow, former co-director of the Red Poppy Art House, and has served as an artist in residence at New York University and Harvard University. Learn more about Hadero and the multiple hats she wears (while you listen to the artist’s music) below.
NYFA: Can you tell us about your artistic practice and your new role at Yerba Buena Center for the Art (YBCA)?
Meklit Hadero: I’m an Ethiopian-American singer-songwriter, composer, and cultural activist. I make music deeply inspired by Ethio-Jazz, bringing Ethiopian pentatonic scales and 6/8 rhythms together with Jazz improvisation and a singer-songwriter’s storytelling and strum. I think of it as migration music. As a cultural activist, I work with projects and organizations that harness the power of the arts to help us ask questions about who we are and where we want to go collectively as a society. Currently, I’m YBCA’s new Chief of Program, serving as a central artistic voice for San Francisco’s flagship arts institutions focused on social change.
NYFA: How do you find opportunities to show your work and collaborate?
MH: The strange thing about art is that you do what you want to do by doing what you want to do. I started by having tiny shows, the vast majority of which were free, as part of community arts organizing systems like the Mission Arts and Performance Project in San Francisco. Through those, I built an audience who came to my performances when I graduated to larger venues. Only later did I start working with booking agents. It’s all about momentum. In terms of collaboration, I ask the question: “can we do something greater together than we are capable of doing on our own?” If the answer is yes, we can move forward.
NYFA: What advice do you have for immigrant artists that are trying to push their career forward?
MH: Learn to produce your own shows. Don’t wait for gatekeepers to say yes. Harness the strength of your community to gain opportunities. If you can rent and then sell out a 100-person venue, you can show bookers that you belong in a larger space and that you’ll be a partner in making events successful. Also, find a framework and a way to tell your story. So many people are hungry for ways to support the vision of a deeply diverse and inclusive nation. You are part of that. Sing it out!
NYFA: Do you have any upcoming projects that you want to share?
MH: I’m working on a podcast called Movement, telling stories of global migration through music. It’s in development now. Look out for it, or rather, listen out for it later this year!
– Interview Conducted by Alicia Ehni, Program Officer
This post is part of the ConEdison Immigrant Artist Program Newsletter #126. Subscribe to this free monthly e-mail for artist’s features, opportunities, and events. Learn more about NYFA Immigrant Artist Mentoring Program.
Images from top to bottom: Meklit, Art Direction by Wangechi Mutu, Photo by Ibra Acke, Editing by Meklit; Meklit by Saul Metnick for Bulleit Burbon