The Eritrean trumpeter Hermon Mehari blends jazz and local folklore on his third solo album Asmara, a nostalgic tribute to the motherland, available November 18th.
Asmara is undoubtedly the Eritrean-American trumpeter’s most intimate album. Named after the capital city of Eritrea – a small country on the coast of the Red Sea, this opus allowed the jazzman to fully dive into the familiar sounds of his childhood. Born in the US, Mehari studied American jazz and gained momentum with the band Diverse. In 2017, his first solo project Bleu was well-received and showcased his undeniable gift for the genre. He then took jazz to other dimensions with A Change for the Dreamlike. Recorded in France during the 2020 quarantine, it nonetheless featured an international and contrasted line-up, with the likes of French pianist Tony Tixier and electro producer Hugo LX. These collaborations took Mehari’s sound to downtempo and lo-fi hip-hop territory, and songs like “A Conversation With My Uncle” opened a window to the musician’s origins. And now, after Arc Fiction, a joint album with Italian pianist Alessandro Lanzoni, Hermon Mehari delivers Asmara.
His previous songs paying homage to his homeland and the “introspective sensibility” of the moment led the jazzman to dedicate an entire album to his origins. At last, he explored the vibrant traditional Eritrean sounds he grew up with in 8 personal songs. Proud of his Abyssinian roots on “Call Me Habesha”, Mehari remembers his late father in the dynamic “Who Dared It”, the English meaning of his dad’s native city’s name, Mendefera. He also looks back on his journey to the motherland at the age of 5 on “I Remember Eritrea”: “it’s images in my head and stories passed on to me through the years” recalls Mehari in this duo with New York vibraphonist Peter Schlamb.
The trumpeter introduces the only vocalist on Asmara as “a living legend of Eritrean music”. Faytinga, an Asmara native singer and activist, blesses the album with “Tanafaqit”, a song full of nostalgia. As Mehari explains, the songstress is exiled from her country, and just like him, she’d love to go back home one day. But “Eritrea is in a difficult situation, under dictatorship for over 30 years […] People can’t speak freely, and it’s one of the poorest countries in the world. So this is also a message of hope”. In the face of the ongoing war, especially in the Tigray region, the Asmara album is a love letter to Eritrea, aspiring for a better future.
Asmara out November 18th via KOMOS.
Listen to “Who Dared It” in our Songs of the Week playlist.