Field Recording Trip in the Ethio-hinterlands: Day 6 of 10

October 16, 2014

May 16, 2014

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It was hard to leave Lake Haik, but the road was calling us. After a quick stop in the town for engine oil (see post office pic), we got going. Once again, we weren’t headed very far – our destination was the general Weldiya area, where one of our sources mentioned there was a good music scene. We didn’t even make it that far. A pitstop in Mersa – 64 km from Lake Haik and 30 km south of Weldiya – led to a full day’s recording session.
At this point, we were just about halfway between Addis and Mekele, and I was getting somewhat nervous about how I was going to return to Addis. With friends from France coming into town and some possible gigs lined up, my idea was to be dropped off at an airport somewhere on the road around May 18th or so. For this to happen, we needed to get a move on! That said, I was fully aware that the serendipitous nature of the journey would likely force me to adjust my plans (it wouldn’t be an adventure otherwise!). The rest of the crew aside from Gonzalo were continuing for another 2 weeks.
IMG_2239Right next to the only hotel in town, a run down joint where we stopped for refreshments (I wouldn’t recommended using the fly infested hole-in-the-ground toilets there), was the local cultural center – a huge dimly lit space with blades of grass strewn across the floor (there must recently have been some local celebration of some kind). The musicians were on the stage practicing through a horrible sounding PA system. That we were not convinced this would be worthwhile is an understatement. Yet Jonathan had a feeling Mersa had potential.
Quino, meanwhile, was like me starting to get antsy about our lack of progress mileage-wise. They were still deciding whether to hang a right at Weldiya and go into the Afar region, or to continue straight towards Mekele. Both long hauls away and the clock ticking.
With the added lack of conviction regarding the caliber of the musicians, some deliberation and a bit of heated arguing ensued between Jonathan and Quino. Jonathan ended up convincing us to try and do a ‘quick’ session (I learned early on that it was near impossible to do anything ‘quick’ – setup and pack up, particularly with a large group of musicians, always took at least a few hours). Nevertheless, after some back and forth with the musicians and local officials, including a trip to the local “cultural office”, Jonathan and Nuhamin again organized a session for us. We were on a roll!
IMG_2267While they were off with the cultural officials, Quino, Gonzalo and I scoped out a place to record. We opted for a space outside with a rusted out shack as an aesthetically interesting backdrop.
IMG_2269In the end, Jonathan was right to follow his gut – what we had feared would be a lackluster experience ended up being a fantastic recording of a large, predominantly muslim group of musicians (an enclave in a primarily Christian region). Hordes of youngsters surrounded the recording area, stood on the surrounding walls, and climbed up on trees to watch us eagerly and dance to the music. At one point a cow and a few goats unwittingly passed through the area as they grazed (we shooed them away).
IMG_2270By the end of this rip-roaring session dusk was upon us, so we packed up as quickly as we could and hit the road to get to Weldiya before it was too late. We arrived in this somewhat seedy trucker town full of prostitutes to look for a hotel. A little street kid offered his help in finding one, and latched on to the side of the Land Rover before we could answer. He took us to one hotel that did not pass the buck so we opted for the local government-owned hotel. After a dinner of goat tibs and beer we crashed out in our sad, dilapidated rooms without running water (it came back the next day), content with our day’s work.
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