Madame Ganna Walska’s adventurous approach to life continues to flourish at Lotusland, where the soil has of late proved to be as fertile for culture as it is for flora and fauna. This Saturday, August 16, enemies of the average can expect nothing but excellence from the extraordinary Bay Area–based artist known as Meklit. She’s an awesome singer and musician who also happens to be a multidimensional artist and collaborator with a very impressive resume. Her most recent album, We Are Alive, follows 2012’s Meklit & Quinn further down the road toward an impossible-to-categorize but easy-to-love amalgam of influences that range from Joan Armatrading and Tracy Chapman to Stevie Wonder, Ethiopian jazz, and Arcade Fire, just to name a few. For this concert, she will be appearing with her quartet and delivering a mellow, funky set suitable for the exquisite backdrop of an early summer’s evening on the great main lawn in Lotusland.
When I spoke with Meklit by phone last week, the sheer range and volume of her activities left me nearly speechless. She’s finishing up a stint as a senior fellow of the TED organization and traveling to Brazil for the annual TED international conference this fall. In the meantime, in addition to playing gigs with her band to support her new album, she’s involved in several collaborative projects designed to advance the awareness of Ethiopian and Eritrean culture, and to promote understanding of hybridized 21st-century cultural identities. In early September, she will ignite Home (Away From) Home, a celebration of the Ethiopian and Eritrean New Year’s she has organized through the Yerba Buena Arts Center. This weekend-long festival combines music, dance, food, poetry, and even architecture to create connections among the members of the Ethiopian/Eritrean diaspora. She also has a composing commission for a project called “This Was Made Here” that explores the impact of Ethiopian golden age jazz on contemporary music. And last but certainly not least, Meklit will return to Santa Barbara on February 11, 2015, when the Nile Project comes to UCSB’s Campbell Hall, courtesy of UCSB Arts & Lectures. The Nile Project takes an approach that’s similar in some ways to what Yo-Yo Ma did with the Silk Road — it’s a point of departure for examining the many civilizations that line the great river.
For Meklit, writing and performing songs is never simply an end in itself. She was a political science major at Yale, and she retains the critical eye and idealistic heart of a well-informed citizen of the world. She told me that she is “interested in music in a pure way, but also in the power of art to bring together new communities. People are such interesting creatures, and when you put them together in the context of a performance, they often end up surprising each other,” she said. “I love to be part of things that break open the unconscious boundaries that restrict the ways that we interact.”
For tickets and information to Saturday’s event, call (805) 969-3767 or visit lotusland.org.