Meklit Hadero’s ascension as a popular and critically acclaimed singer-songwriter began five years ago, when she first sang in public. Born in Ethiopia and raised in numerous cities across the U.S., Hadero came to San Francisco to attend college. She landed a job at an arts-and-culture center on Folsom Street called the Red Poppy Art House, where later she became the director and started producing events. At one of those events she got up and sang cover songs for 20 minutes, after which she told a reporter that she’d known she’d always wanted to be a singer.
Hadero began writing music, formed an eight-piece, was commissioned to contribute songs for a play, garnered a TED (technology, entertainment, design) Global Fellowship, was named as artist-in-residence at the prestigious De Young Museum, and earlier this year released her debut CD, On a Day Like This. I’ve seen reviewers compare her mesmerizing space jams to Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks. I would add that Hadero has soul chops on a par with those of Nina Simone.
Meklit Hadero’s current band is rudimentary folk pop, and the songs are based on simple meters and changes that even jazzy trumpet accents fail to tart up. What makes the act brilliant is Hadero’s natural gift as a singer. Her voice is a well-oiled machine full of soul and sly intentions. Hadero’s intonation is often slippery, unpredictable, and reaches into improbable octaves that Joni Mitchell charted back in the 1970s. But the secret sauce in Hadero’s faraway vibe is a blend of world-beatish vocal textures that are natural and authentic. Hers is a culture untapped by most of her U.S. pop influences.
MEKLIT HADERO: The Loft, UCSD, Thursday, October 14, 8 p.m. 858-534-8497. $16-$26.