Transcript Episode 632: Meklit Hadero

Place invariably has a profound impact on the art we make. Immigration melds cultures and creative output, a phenomenon embodied by musical cross pollination. Movement, which began its second season this year, explores the lives and works of immigrant musicians. It’s a subject that is near and dear to the podcast’s host, Meklit Hadero, whose music marries influences from her American home and Ethiopian birthplace.

Meklit Hadero  0:11  
It's funny, it's like it goes in both directions, right? Like you remember, every day what it was like, to be young and to, to think about to, like, have playing and learning be your primary job. And so and in some ways, there's something that's like that about being a musician already, like, there's a, in order to be a musician, you have to hold on to a part of yourself, that is still a kid. So there's like, we can really get to a place where we're like the same, you know, and then it also just the other side is it it's like exhausting and you know, the, the vigilance that you have to have the like, you know, the relentlessness of it, it's all a lot, and so that the kind of tiredness that comes from that makes me feel old. It's

Brian Heater  1:09  
four and a half now. So he was what, like one, when the pandemic started? Yeah,

Meklit Hadero  1:13  
he was about seven or eight months old, when the pandemic started,

Brian Heater  1:17  
he will have no memory of it. I can't even imagine in that extremely formative time of me, you know, I mean, obviously, socialization was an issue, you kind of get used to people wearing masks, but I guess, probably the timing was better than a lot of these. A lot of parents I've spoken to who had, you know, kids who were in like elementary school and missed a year of elementary school? Oh,

Meklit Hardero  1:43  
yeah, you know, 100% In some ways, it was, you know, also I had, I had taken a day job. And you know, an air quotes a day job as the chief of program at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, and I never wanted a day job, and I'm not doing that day job anymore. But, um, you know, I do kind of know how to run organizations. So, so I was doing that for a while. And I started in January of 2020. And then the pandemic happened. So in a lot of ways, it was probably pretty great for my kid, because instead of me being gone, every day, all day, I was there, and we had lunch together every day. And he was like, on me in meetings, and he has this crazy vocabulary, because he would be one and a half running around saying you're muted, you're muted, or I don't have capacity, I don't have capacity. You know, it's just like these crazy, this, he would just pick up. So

Brian Heater  2:39  
he's an AI is what you're telling me? Basically, basically,

Meklit Hadero  2:43  
like, he absorbed so many things that he never would have absorbed, and just like being able to be with me in a different kind of way. So, you know, it was super hard, like it was for everybody. And we all had levels of that, depending on what our lives were like, and structured like everything. But you know, for him, I think it was okay.

Brian Heater  3:05  
Yeah, it's hard to tour with a kid, you know, you have to you have to decide, you know, and depend and obviously depends on age, and if they're in school, whether you want to take them out of out of school, you know, whether you want to leave them with a family member, are the parents but I, I've talked to so many musicians who have been touring musicians for their kids entire lives. And it was as hard as the pandemic was for musicians, there was also something wonderful about like, I mean, effectively being forced to stay home and like, you know, actually, like, kind of getting to know your child again.

Meklit Hardero  3:42  
Yeah, I mean, you know, it was always our dream, my partner is a percussionist, and, you know, travels with me in the band. And so we've been able to bring our kid on tour, which is was always our dream, like I had, I've always it's so funny. But I have amazing parents, I love my parents, I would never switch them out for anything. But also, I when I was a kid, I was like, I wish I was in a musical family. And so we'd like really have this dream, like, we want to take the kid on the, on the road with us. And, you know, so for a while, that wasn't possible. And now it is possible. And, you know, he walks into a venue and he'll be like, alright, gets to know the production person and the sound person and the lighting person. And he kind of creates a whole other level of community around it because people start sort of looking out for him. And it's very funny, and then he'll sit on stage and sometimes he talks to the audience and he wants his own drum. He's like, I'm a drummer, he wants his own drum. So we were able to do it and make it happen, you know, just not as early as we thought we would because you know, we were all home together. But yeah, touring with your kid is no easy feat, but I'm Getting there and figuring it out and also trying to do it as much as possible before he's like, in first grade or second grade or when it gets harder when the, you know, this more serious to miss school and stuff, right? He's in preschool like, it's fine. It's fine if he misses school. You know,

Brian Heater  5:16  
there's, you know, I'm trying to think of things that, you know, naptime, a lot of important skills learned in preschool. It's all it's all that socialization thing, though, right? It all comes down to that like that. Up till a certain point, the main thing that kids get out of school is being around other kids.

Meklit Hardero  5:32  
Yes, he's definitely much. He's definitely very good at being around a lot of adults. He can talk to it. Yeah. Yes. I

Brian Heater  5:41  
was gonna ask if he's musical, but it sounds like he's already started down that road.

Meklit Hardero  5:46  
Oh, yeah. Yeah, he's musical, he would get into stuff like, there was a the early pandemic, he was really into, like, Italian folk music. It was like, there's this folk music called tight on TA. And it's like, super deep. It's like the place where, like, Italy meets North Africa, where they play frame drums, and it's all in six eighths, you know, and it's really amazing music. And he was like, super into it. And, and then he got really into Freddie Mercury. got really into Freddie Mercury for a while and he was like, you know, and then he just wanted to listen to like, Bob Marley. There was like, a year of only Bob Marley, you know, anyway, so yes, he's very musical,

Brian Heater  6:32  
pretty mercury and Bob Marley make a lot of sense to me like that, that kid, that's something that kids would, would latch on to. Queen is like, very, very, like theatrical. Yes. And Bob Marley is just this. I don't even know. It's just like, it's like the Beatles, right? It's just like this. This thing that exists in the ether,

Meklit Hardero  6:55  
that everybody everybody loves Bob Marley. Everybody, like Bob Marley who tell me

Brian Heater  7:02  
not your four year old. The so you so? So you weren't from a musical family? No, no, not at all. Nobody played anything? Or did they listen to music around the house? Yeah, you

Meklit Hardero  7:16  
know, they did listen to music. And my mother is saying to me, you know, she would sing me Ethiopian lullabies and things like that. We always we were in a kind of push and pull in our household between like old tapes of Ethiopian music, and 80s and 90s radio. So it would be like, are we listening to prints or some Ethio jazz, you know, or is it going to be Michael Jackson today? Or like, you know, who I love it? You know? So it was it was a lot of it was a lot of push and pull and tug. And but I got all that stuff in my you know, in that deep the deep recesses of my mind. So there was a lot of music around. Yeah,

Brian Heater  8:00  
it sounds like you had cool parents is that fair to say? Oh, my

Meklit Hardero  8:04  
parents are great. They're super cool. They're really super smart. My mother, they're both doctors. My mother was the is the from her year, the only female graduate of the medical school in Addis Ababa. And in fact, there was only one woman who had ever graduated from the school before her. My father came from like a small village like grew up in literally a one room. Go Joe, like the traditional, you know, small one room houses on a farm in rural southern Ethiopia and became a doctor, like left home at 14. You know, he just he's like, I mean, my parents are geniuses, they're just they're super dedicated, loving, smart people. They were, you know, they're wonderful parents to have. Yeah,

Brian Heater  8:58  
I was talking to somebody yesterday for the show, who is a Japanese Canadian woman like, like, you know, first generation and we have the conversation around like, oftentimes, if you're first generation, there's that extra pressure. You know, she said, Oh, you know, my family. They're all like lawyers and accountants. And they're, and I became an artist. There's that extra pressure because of, you know, the sacrifices they make. And obviously, they want you to live the best life you can. And I have to imagine that then moving to the States, and then both being doctors, was there some pressure there to go down that route? Oh,

Meklit Hardero  9:39  
for sure. You know, and we didn't just move to the states. We were refugees. So you know, we were like years trying to find our footing in the United States. It took a long time. Really, it took like, you know, like five to six years before my parents were able to redo their training, redo their residencies. Then even begin to like, you know, find our footing in that way. So there was a lot of pressure, you know, and actually, as an older person, like older versus, like, having been a musician for a while now, like, I totally get it, it ain't easy, you know what I mean? Like, there's a lot of feast and famine, it's a lot of, you have to have so many different kinds of skill sets to make it happen. You have to be like, relentless in your perseverance towards making music a priority. And, you know, it's like, it's such a privilege to be a musician. So I get it. And I'm not I don't resent it in any way. But I also see how they would have wanted me to have an easier path, a path that was more laid out before me with clarity where you could like, see the steps, you know, it's it's hard to see it, like, how are you going to make it? What is it going to look like? Are you going to have stability? How are you going to have a fit all these things? You know, I had to just figure out for myself how to make that happen. As a musician. It wasn't laid out before me. But over time, they become my biggest supporters. And you know, my dad dances on stage at my shows. He'll tell me he'll be like, like, we had a show in Montreal a few years back. He was like, Honey, honey. Honey, don't call me on stage. Don't call me on stage. I can't I can't today, I can't. Meanwhile, the first song, he is up there dancing. I was like, I didn't call you you just came? And he's like, I know. I know. I couldn't help it. Like, he's like that. So? Yeah. So they they've become my greatest supporters?

Brian Heater  11:34  
Was it that thing where it took something, you know, whether it was like a performance or a TV appearance or something like that, in order to really convince them that, that you were in a good position, and that what you were doing was legitimate? Yeah,

Meklit Hardero  11:50  
I don't know if it was those specific thing. I did become a star in Ethiopia. So there's that, like, I can't walk down the street without people. You know, like, singing my songs to me. So that's, that's incredible.

Brian Heater  12:06  
Let's talk about that. Because AI is something I wanted to touch on. Because you know, as I was reading up a bit, and I saw that, well, let's start with this. Is it true that it was your TED Talk, that really was the breakthrough?

Meklit Hardero  12:19  
Well, it was so into it was two things in 2015, there was the TED Talk, which totally went viral, like, I mean, it was like really being it was being shared on WhatsApp. It was being like YouTube, it continues to play on TV, probably without Ted knowing that. I mean, I don't know if Ted knows that. But they take it from YouTube, and they put it on TV. And then the same year, I had a music video come out for a traditional song for an interpretation of a traditional song that I did called chemic. Him. I like your afro, and it's like this love song to the person with a perfect afro. And it was really interesting to me, because it was both going viral and like activist circles around Black Lives Matter and things like that in the United States, as then it was going viral in Brazil. And then it was also going viral in Ethiopia. And so it was like this kind of Pan African love fest, you know, of like the love loving the person with the perfect afro. And so the TED Talk and the N ChemiCon video coming out at the same time, really just changed, changed, like how people saw me. And after that my music videos continue to play daily on Ethiopian television. Was that

Brian Heater  13:39  
a conscious decision to put out that song or to record that song in a way that coincided with the BLM Movement? It

Meklit Hardero  13:47  
wasn't, it wasn't into I mean, okay, so in fact, what happened was, I had this kind of musical mentor, his name was professor at dunya wedeco. And he lived in Sonoma, which is not too far from San Francisco, you know, it's just north like, it's like wine country, right? So. So I would go up there, and he would like, share traditional songs with me. And he played a bunch of traditional instruments, and he played this song. And I was like, wait a minute, there's a love song for the person with the perfect afro. Wait, I have to do this. I was like, the song just possessed me. And this was 2010. And it took four years to record it and then another year to make the video because things take time, you know, things aren't immediate, but I never let it go. I never I was like, this has to happen. So then eventually, it did. Yeah,

Brian Heater  14:38  
I get that things aren't immediate, but four years is a long time to record a song. But

Meklit Hardero  14:43  
is it like, the thing is I had literally it was coming. I like that I learned the song at the same time as I was just releasing my first album, so I hadn't even released the first album yet. Then after that, okay, so I released My first solo record in 2010, I'd done a solo EP before that, then I, you know, got a booking agent and started touring. And then I co founded a project about the music of the Nile river called the Nile project. And then we were spending like months in East Africa all over the Nile Basin, we were touring in East Africa, touring in Europe, touring in the US, like, looking at the intersection of culture and ecology. Then I made a Ethiopian Hip Hop space opera with two MCs called copper wire, and then I recorded come to come. And then I made a music video for it. So it's not like there was nothing going on in between those two things, you know, yeah, that's

Brian Heater  15:43  
very, you're throwing a lot at me. And I'm gonna circle back around to the Ethiopian space hip hop off. Obviously,

Meklit Hardero  15:51  
that was a good one. That was fun.

Brian Heater  15:53  
Getting back to the TED Talk, what's, what's your sense of why that struck such a chord?

Meklit Hardero  16:02  
Um, well, so in the talk, the talk is called the unexpected beauty of everyday sounds. And it's about thinking of the world as a musically alive place on its own. And thinking about how we can tap into it when we turn on our listening. And in the talk, I talk about the melody of everyday language. And I talk about this legendary, iconic figure of Ethiopian music called St. yarded, who was like the originator, the mythical originator of the pentatonic scales, but also wrote like many volumes, he a real person, what I what I mean by the mythic is like, like, it's like the father of pentatonic music. You know what I mean? Like, in a historical sense, he is like, it's like 1500 years ago, but he also wrote many volumes of music that you can still read today. So he was a real historical person, and like, was generating music in this incredible way. And then I also talked about John Cage, you know, and so I think that for me, the magic of it was like this way of it was about a way of being a way of being which is open to the world around you, but also a way that could link like an everyday experience of language to like this, like powerful historical figure, to a contemporary composer, and have them all make sense within one space. And so like, there's a lot of ways of talking about traditional music or traditional culture, which is like, in amber, where it's like, this is what the tradition is. But that's not what I was saying. I was saying, like, we have these incredible, rich historical traditions that make sense in these like experimental contemporary contexts and can live in relation with it. And that's a way of being on a continuum of history, present, and future that lets people be themselves and not feel like, Oh, we're backward, because, you know, I'm putting that in quote, quotes, because we listen to, to ancient music, or our traditions are ancient. No, no, not at all. You know what I mean? So I think it's a way of being that is like that, let's that like breathes a kind of, like self love into the world, that is like, leaves a lot of space for people to just be themselves and be future forward in that in this in the same space.

Brian Heater  18:39  
It's a hard line to walk. And obviously, this is something that you've walked probably throughout your career, I think about it a lot in terms of contemporary American jazz, of walking that line between being reverent for the past, you know, and there are some American jazz artists who are like, very reverent to the past to a fault. But jazz is by its nature, an experimental kind of music. So it, it's really easy to just get caught up in the past, and just get caught up in the rules. And it's your job, it seems to me it's your job. And I'm saying you like specifically you as a musician to, to navigate those two things.

Meklit Hardero  19:19  
Well, it's all of our job, like, if any of it like we're and you could apply it to anything like, Hey, look at the past, you know, draw inspiration from it, whether you're looking at the inspiration of the people who were fighting for rights and justice, or looking at your own ancestors that you're, you know, receiving inspiration from and take those lessons and make them into a present, like, what do you do with that, to make it relevant to right now, same s process, you know, as we were doing with the music, so, so it's like, it's like we're all on a journey to open our eyes to the way that the past lives in the present moment, but that we don't have to be trapped by it, even as we must look at it with Open, open eyes.

Brian Heater  20:13  
John Cage is interesting, because I was I was reading the Philip Glass memoir that came out a couple years ago, I've been reading that recently, they're both similar in a lot of ways. And it seems like, I think what you're getting at is, is, you know, and this certainly applies to, to modern art to painting as well. But this idea of knowing the rules in order to effectively break them. Yeah,

Meklit Hardero  20:41  
I think that, you know, well, what I was trying to do was make it universal, I was actually taking it out of music and into, like, the space where you don't have to be a musician to take those principles and apply them. But in the sense of knowing the rules, it's not rules. It's like, it's, it's about how do I say it? Like, you know, we have a lot of very individual ways of looking at creativity in this culture. We think about people as geniuses, you know. And they, and they found something and, and, you know, the genius exists, I'm not trying to deny that, but

Brian Heater  21:24  
this like, solitary idea of genius, but the solitary

Meklit Hardero  21:26  
idea, you know, I, I like, I like ideas, where power to create comes from a continuum, where you see yourself in relation to so it's not just about knowing the rules, it's knowing like, like, like, you don't just want to learn, like, if you listen to Beethoven, right? Like, that shit is intense, you know, like, if you're gonna take the principles of what he was doing and apply them, you better not just take those notes, you know, or the structure, like he was trying to shake people into feeling like you have to take that too. So it's not just the rules. It's also the intention. So you're, you're you're looking at the ways people did things in a holistic way, and then saying, What do I want to do with that, to make it relevant and my own now, you know, I had a, I had a real moment of lesson with that. In 2011. I, it was the first time I brought my band to Ethiopia. And I met Mulatu astatke, who is the godfather of Ethiopian jazz, you know, he was the first African to go to Berklee College of Music. He famously had, you know, went to New York after Berklee College of Music and was like, immersed in the New York jazz scene at the time. And he was looking at the Cubans, and being like, wow, they are beautifully bringing their traditional rhythms and sounds into jazz. And then there was also this famous moment where he met John Coltrane, and Coltrane was like, Yo, what happens when you mix this with Ethiopian traditional music, and he went back to Ethiopia, and he created Ethiopian jazz. And when he so the first time I brought my band to Ethiopia, he ended up the very first show that we did, he was in the front row. I was like, Yo, this is moola to start K, what is he doing here? What is he doing here? Oh, my God, oh, my god. He's

Brian Heater  23:31  
here. He's here reached out understandably so. And he

Meklit Hardero  23:33  
and he took me aside afterwards after the show. And he was like, hey, you know, Ethio jazz is an evolving form. There have only been something like at that point, like 20 albums that could really be considered Ethiopian jazz. He was like your job. What is your contribution to this music? He said to me, my contribution was to figure out a way to put five over 12 that means the five notes of pentatonic scales over the 12 notes of the diatonic scales. He said, That's That was what I did, what are you going to do? Now you go and take it forward. And like you could also hear like, he was probably having that conversation with all his like, students and mentees like he, but he also was telling me don't put this in a box don't play this, like we played this 50 years ago. He literally said to me, don't play this, like we played this 50 years ago. What is your contribution to the sound? And so that's what it that's what I was, you know, he kind of like tasked me with that and he also empowered me to both be myself to bring my own experiences and perspective to Ethiopian jazz, but also to say like, Hey, don't don't let go of what we did. But don't be an imitator. This form needs creative power. Obviously

Brian Heater  24:57  
he contributed a lot but it but it's insane. Staying in his example that or the example that you gave him that he has something like very tangible, right? It's like something you can point to this specific thing. Do you feel that in the 10 plus years since you had a conversation with him that you've kind of figured out what your thing is?

Meklit Hardero  25:14  
Well, my first response to that album, again, it took years, it was 2011. And then, and then after that, I, it took me, I sort of sat with that conversation for a long time. And I, it took me working with the Nile project and tour I did a bunch of touring with Ethiopian traditional musicians, and learned so much from them. And what I really understood was that, from that experience, I was like, Well, what I really need is a place to start. And the place I'm going to start is Ethiopian rhythms, I'm going to make music that's based in Ethiopian traditional rhythms, because I was like, he's, he's, he's up here on the melody, and I'm gonna work with that, to some degree, you know, but I'm gonna base make sure it's all based on the rhythms. And then, so that process was how I made my 2017 album when the people move the music moves to and it was, it was like a six month burst of creativity, I wrote something like 60 songs and chose 11. And, but then after that, it got more integrated, like it got more integrated into, like, that was like an experiment where I didn't know what it was gonna sound like I didn't and then now, I'm kind of coming from a place with more clarity. So I'm, I can play, I'm playing more also with Melody now. But I do love having the rhythms. Because if you have the rhythms, and people will dance, so it will get people up at a concert, you know, so it will act on the body in a certain kind of way. So

Brian Heater  26:56  
your dad gets up and dances, whether he wants to.

Meklit Hardero  27:01  
Pretty much it sounds like

Brian Heater  27:03  
then a big step in that process is getting to a point where those things that you were initially focused on become almost like instinctual or second nature to the work that you're creating.

Meklit Hardero  27:13  
Yeah, where you will, it's like developing a sound developing a style, like it takes like, people have those albums that are kind of transitional albums, where they're figuring it out. And then you see it land, you know, and sometimes the transitional albums are great, too. You know, it doesn't, it doesn't mean it's halfway. It's just, uh, you know, like, I'm on the 50 year plan. I'm on, like, that's what I always say, I'm like, I'm gonna, I'm gonna be a musician, like, you know, so. So over time, probably every album becomes a transitional album, because you're always on the way to growing somewhere. If you're lucky, if you're lucky,

Brian Heater  27:52  
maybe something you're getting at here is the importance of context in terms of almost like, where and when and why a piece of art was developed. You know, you mentioned that you mentioned Beethoven and that made me think of the story of Stravinsky, premiering the rites of spring, and there was like,

Meklit Hardero  28:09  
oh, people hated it. Yeah,

Brian Heater  28:12  
it was a riot. And because it was so wild, and so different. And now obviously, like now, it's just like, oh, this is like beautiful classical music that we can put, you know, that they'll play on like Starbucks or whatever. So that there's that there's that energy, there's that it was these things that were or like Bob Marley, these things that were like, so innovative at the time that are now just this part of universal language, you have to like get back in touch with the the, the, like, the conditions under which they were created. Yes,

Meklit Hardero  28:44  
yes. And to remember their power, you know, and maybe that's why people love Bob Marley. Because of that, because what people put Well, I mean, there's so many reasons. But what he was pouring into that, and what Stravinsky was pouring into that was, you know, it was it was also so deeply personal to it was so personal to their place, and so personal to their time, and personal to what they were trying to say about the world. You know, those were statements, those were very much statements.

Brian Heater  29:21  
Never quite thought of it this way. But it makes a lot of sense that talk about the, you know, because we talk about political music a lot. And there's always that conversation of like, you know, whether political music can make difference, and maybe a part that people don't address a lot during that conversation is that when you are taking very radical ideas in the case of Bob Marley, turning them into, like, ultimately they become this like part of the fabric of society. And ultimately, they're just like songs that everybody knows and sings along to then there's like, there's a kind of subversion and there's like a true success in that. Yes,

Meklit Hardero  29:58  
and just having a play Here's where you can, it's kind of I mean, there's a lot of it, that's about having a place you can return to when you want to feel a certain way. Because like, life is intense, and it's hard. And when you want to feel a kind of, you know, certain sense of I mean, Bob Marley has it, all right, he has like the love songs and everything. But if you want to feel like a sense of power and your ability to fight for something like you can go there, too. And it's all some somehow it's also just about remembering that it's there for you. It's like, it's there for you when you want that. Yeah,

Brian Heater  30:46  
I mean, strikes me too, that context for you is really important in the sense of these, we haven't really even we haven't talked about the podcast, you know, we haven't talked about about that storytelling yet. But that is, that seems to me that that a big part of what that is, is giving people the context for the art that those artists are creating.

Meklit Hardero  31:10  
Yeah, you know, I think that, you know, the podcast is called movement with Makita, Darrow. And we, we speak to immigrant, migrant and refugee musicians about their process their story, it's kind of an intersection of music discovery show, and a show that's about thinking about migration in a different way. What I see is that it's often like a wedge issue, or a way to get people fired up to defend something, you know, but I think we should look at it as real people living real lives and contributing incredibly in these cultural ways that are powerful. And that give us a space to actually this is this is my, my informal tagline is the The Bumping soundtrack to a radically diverse world. And but yeah, I do think it's about context, it's also about seeing the story that everyone has. And, you know, what's really fun is that we get to work with artists who give us the stems. So we get to be really creative about soundtrack and sound design. And, and really get to look at migration from a cultural place. And from a sense of the cultural power that's evolving out of those migration experiences. It's

Brian Heater  32:44  
interesting. So it really is collaborative, even beyond just like the conversations that you're having. Yes, and

Meklit Hardero  32:49  
we do live shows to you, we have a live performance series. And when we do that, it's even more collaborative. So some of the stories on the podcast come from our live performance process, where we're working with artists for six months, eight months, a year, and out of that podcast experience, we develop live stories. Sometimes the live stories are completely different from the recorded podcast. And sometimes they're more like, giving a different kind of energy to to a story. So but but with the live performance, it's much it's very, very collaborative, we work with the artists we check in with them, they get to tell us they get to hear it and be like, Okay, did we capture this? What do we need to change? What do we need to add? What did we leave out? And so they're very much collaborating with us. We're not just saying, you know, here's this is what your story is, we do a two hour interview, and it gets, you know, edited down to 20 minutes. And then we work with them very deeply on making sure we're, we're doing it right, we're telling the story in a way that feels and lands right. For the artist,

Brian Heater  34:01  
we talked about the four years that it took from deciding you want to cover that song to action to actually covering it. And then, you know, there's a six month or, or a year long process of collaborating with artists. I mean, it seems to me that I mean, I know this already, from all the technical difficulties that we had early on, that you are a very patient person, and that that patient's like plays a big role in the art you make, well,

Meklit Hardero  34:25  
you know, things take time. That's just how it is, you know, and I'm always doing a lot of things at once. So it's kind of like, you know, it's like my life is like having 75 tabs open on on on my browser, and just constantly trying to finish whatever it was that I'm doing on any tab. Whether that's like thinking about all the dinners that I have to make that week for my kid to like finishing the EP that's coming out, you know, next spring To like, finishing almost done with the LP that's coming out next fall to like, you know, done with Season One, almost done with Season One, got two more episodes Season One of the podcast, working on the live show that we have coming up in DC in February, you know, redoing our website, working on a new system of accounting for the podcast and the lives, I mean, just like the levels of types of stuff that's happening and has to be moved forward simultaneously, to be able to do the different kinds of work that I do. And just the life that I have is wild. Like it's like wild. So So yeah, things, things take time, they take a long time, you know, I'm not an artist who's going to come out with a new album every other year, because I've probably come up with a new cultural project, too, and found a way to get it funded. I'm working right now with Stanford University on like, we're going to do a big collaboration, bringing together immigrant musicians with the Stanford Policy Lab, to the Stanford Immigration Policy Lab to think about how musicians can be more involved in you know, the kinds of advocacy for immigrant communities that the kind of collaborative advocacy that we think could happen across the cultural sector and advocacy sector, like that's going on at this, like figuring that out, is going on at the same time as I'm trying to finish two records. So yeah, it's all going to take some time, but then it does happen. Because from my parents, I got this like, relentless perseverance. So I do finish it, you know. But in order to kind of see everything that I'm doing, you it's it's like, it's, you can't just look at the music, you also have to look at like the the ways that the whole kind of fits together. Do you worry

Brian Heater  36:59  
that something like like the music could potentially suffer if you're focused on too many things at the same time? Yeah,

Meklit Hardero  37:06  
of course, of course, I'm worried. It's like a constant worry. And it probably does. But what I will say is that my goal is to be a whole person. My goal is to use the wholeness of myself and my spirit to do this work. And in order to do that, I cannot ever, ever, ever leave music behind, I know that. But I also if I'm not an organizer, don't feel satisfied. If I'm not working with a kind of focus and intensity on these cultural projects that are so important to me, I also won't feel satisfied. So there's the it is an internal conflict, it is an absolute internal conflict. And sometimes I feel like God, I wish I was just, I wish my brain was set up simpler, but it's not. So you know, gotta accept myself and just work with what it actually is. I

Brian Heater  38:09  
suspect you might be like me, in the respect that people keep telling me to slow down and people keep preaching the importance of like, taking some time for yourself and like not working all the time. And that's, that's a lesson that I keep having to learn the hard way over and over again. I've gotten a little bit better at it over the years. But do you because you have so many, you know, in some ways dissonant things going on at any given time? Is it hard for you to find those moments of peace? Well,

Meklit Hardero  38:40  
they're not dissonant. They're just

Brian Heater  38:44  
dissonance, maybe not the right word.

Meklit Hardero  38:45  
Here's what they do. They require a different part of me. They require a different part of me. So, you know, it's like if I'm sitting there writing a gigantic grant that is going to support the organizational work that I do for three years. Like I mean, you know, I have a degree in political science from Yale University I could write. So that's one of the things that like I know how to write but that's a certain side like that's an academic side. I can do that. But it but don't ask me to stand up and do a concert in the middle of that afternoon. Like I can't it's not the same side of me. So I do have to make sure that I'm carving out space. What I will say is that in this relates to a question you asked earlier, when I like having a kid has made it a little bit easier for me to like I used to say to myself, I need if I'm going to be in the studio, I need weeks, I need weeks to myself just to write I need the whole stretch of the day. And then I was doing this residency at YB. Ca super present super pregnant, I was like, between five and seven months pregnant. And I had to go in, in the afternoons. And I was like, You know what, I'm just I want to write this album, which is actually the album that's about to come out now. So that took years. But also the pandemic definitely stretched that out. But so I was like, You know what, I'm just gonna write every morning for two hours, I'm gonna get in the studio every morning, gonna spend two hours on the music. And then I will go in and do this residency work that was more like an organizational kind of residency. And I wrote an album. And so I was like, wait a minute, I don't actually, like I have to stop thinking of it as so precious, and start thinking of it as just another part of regular life. And then what helps me switch between the sides is meditation, like, I need to meditate every day, I do meditate every day. If I don't do that, I don't have the mental flexibility. I don't have the mental flexibility to switch between those states of being if I meditate, I can do it. So that's how I function.

Brian Heater  41:06  
It took me years and years to for meditation to click for me, it was so hard because

Meklit Hardero  41:12  
what kind of meditation do you do, I just

Brian Heater  41:15  
sit for 15 minutes, you know, I'll put on like, put on like an Alice Coltrane record or something, you know, it's just something like nice and pretty had cosmic and just sit quietly and try to try to stop the many thoughts from, from from overwhelming me. I'm an overthinker. You know, and, you know, like you, I'm somebody who like, well, not necessarily like you, but I am somebody who, if I'm not being I feel, I feel a sense of guilt, if I'm not being productive. Familiar, so it was hard for me to, to carve out, you know, like 15 or 20 minutes a day to sit and it was hard for me to be okay with not doing with effectively doing nothing. And

Meklit Hardero  41:57  
yet, it allows you to do so much more. Which is, this is like why everything is opposite, right? By doing nothing for a moment, you could do more.

Brian Heater  42:09  
The thing that really the thing for me that's been really great is is having it's sort of it's, it's kind of like what you were talking about with Bob Marley of having, knowing what piece of music you can go back to, to get a certain emotion is, it's just breathing, because you have that and you have that like daily practice of knowing what stillness is like. And if you're stressed out and overwhelmed, you can just breathe for a minute, and it'll take you back there.

Meklit Hardero  42:37  
It's very powerful and very important. It's like, like, I know, I see these little memes on social media about how they're starting to teach meditation in school and different schools. And I just feel like God, it's so important. You know, if I had had that, as a younger person, I think I would have been, you know, saved a lot of a lot of having to figure those kinds of, you know, wellness practices for myself. Yeah.

Brian Heater  43:04  
What did you do with yourself? I mean, obviously, the, you know, having a kid was a big part of it. But what did you do with yourself during the pandemic, when all of a sudden, like, all of these a bunch of the projects you had going on just kind of dropped or paused? Will

Meklit Hardero  43:18  
it you know, we'll So, on the one hand, it was like, Well, remember that I had taken a job as the, the chief of program at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in January

Brian Heater  43:33  
of 20. We're in a lot of events for the next couple of years. Right.

Meklit Hardero  43:36  
So So basically, we had to figure out, though, you know, we had to figure out how to be supportive of artists in particular, a lot of performing artists, but also visual artists, and installation, folks who, whose work is very much about space and people gathering. So we had to figure out a slate of programs that we could do virtually, that would actually meaningfully support artists. And, you know, we did an artist relief fund, we we did a guaranteed income pilot for artists, we did a creative core where we hired a bunch of artists to do public health messaging. We did like a, we did a, we created a giving circle where we actually turned over money to artists, and they figured it out, you know, what they wanted to do with that work and how they wanted to support themselves and their communities through that work. We did like a whole radical program called the YB ca 10, where we invited 10 artists to just take over our spaces for several months we did this work with a beautiful composer, called Zamora Pender Hughes and pianist who we did it was called the healing project, which was about the intersection of music And, and abolitionist practices working against the prison industrial complex and he did like, you know, 75 interviews, he had done 75 interviews with folks who were incarcerated. And we turned a musical project into an installation and figured out how to do that in the pandemic. So we did all kinds of things. While I couldn't be out there performing, and then, you know, 2022 came around, and it started to be a lot more difficult for me, because it was one thing to do that work when there was no performance happening. And then it was another thing to be like, Oh, my God, they said, I could figure it out as a performing artist, but actually, it's, I have to make some choices. And so I left to IBCA at the end of 2022. That was a good, that was the right move for me, you know, but also, it was the perfect job to have in the pandemic, it was the perfect thing to do in the pandemic for me, which

Brian Heater  45:55  
again, is the opposite thing, right? It's ironic that being like, an event organizer was a perfect job during the pandemic. Yes,

Meklit Hardero  46:03  
yeah. Because we could, you know, we figured out virtual I mean, it was super tough. You know, like six months into it, I personally had to lay off seven people, I was like, Oh, my God, I never wanted to do that. You know, it was horrible. It was horrible, you know. And it was, but it was a big learning curve. And I think one of the best, but it but it taught me a lot that I continue to practice. So like, you know, project managing my own album release now was like, it was nothing, like, cool, I got this like no bra. Because the level of organizing that I'm able to work at now is so much greater, I just learned so much about making, not just events happen, but just about how to bring groups of people together for common purpose. And I can use that skill in many ways, in many, many ways.

Brian Heater  47:03  
What can we do? I guess, as a society to prioritize the creation of art, I

Meklit Hardero  47:13  
think that? Well, first of all, I'm going to start by saying to recognize our history, which is to say that this country has a historical association with utilitarianism, which is the idea of, if you can't use it, if it is not useful, in a very practical, kind of like, show me the money sort of way, then it doesn't get valued. So I think, okay, understand a little bit about where we're coming from. Well, yes, but also utility like this is this utilitarianism is a specific kind of thing. But yes, also capitalism. And, and I think that, like, you know, first remember yourself as a teenager. And I guarantee you, we all have these moments where music in those years saved our lives, where they made us feel less alone, where they helped us to go on, where it helped us to feel a sense of our own power. We all have those stories. Another thing is like, you can start to look at the science of it, which I enjoy doing, as a person who's the daughter of two scientists. Like, you can look at the science of what music is actually doing. So when and the way that the umbrella way that I think about it is that it is an ancient technology that we have for bringing people together for a common purpose. And it acts on us physiologically to enable that. What I mean by that is there's there's all kinds of research about this. There's a wonderful neuroscientist and musician himself called Daniel Levitan, who's done all sorts of research about the ways that the brain, the brain waves will entrain with rhythm, that means sync up with rhythm. So if somebody's playing a rhythm, if you're listening to music, if you're at a show, everyone in the audience is syncing up to that rhythm. If you sync together with other people, your heartbeats start to sync up and your breath starts to sync up. And so what you can start to get your your brain releases dopamine, which is the pleasure which is which is a pleasure hormone. So you started neuro transmitter a pleasure neurotransmitter so you're receiving joy, you're literally your physical body is linking up with people. This is what makes us feel connected to others when we share musical experiences with others, whether we're just in a room sharing an experience of like at a concert, or whether we're singing together with people. Now, what do we have in our world right now. We have epidemics of loneliness, we have epidemics of social fracture, we need music, to heal our state of being. In a we have record levels of depression, and you know, mental health challenges, not just amongst youth amongst grownups, like adults, people, we are living with these challenges, and music has the capacity to address them. So if you want to even think of it in this utilitarian way, we need this desperately, we need collective creative musical experiences to address the social fractures that we are all living with. Now, what the other side of this is that we can create collective creative experiences in order to heal if you want, just bring a group of people together that you love, and go to a show, like you will actually, there's also research about how if you go to a certain amount of shows, you'll live longer, there are all kinds of there are all kinds of experimental programs going on in the UK, and in the US called Social prescribing, where they are prescribing musical cultural experiences to people because they are addressing health concerns. So it actually acts on our health and well being. So we need music, we just need to understand that it's not something extra, it is not something extra. If we didn't if we would not react in this way, physiologically, if this wasn't in us as a species. This is in us as a species. We can't just cut that out. Our deep brains, our deep, deep ancient brains react to music. That means you know, some people, some neuroscientists think it goes back further than language. That is how long we have been using music to connect people for a common purpose and for health and well being. So we can't just throw that away. It has got to be integrated into our lives, it has got to be valued, and it has got to be experienced on a regular basis. And if it is, then we actually have something that we can use to heal ourselves in a way that we desperately need right now. So that's my sermon about it.