Photo by Paul Chin for the SF Chronicle

Meklit is an Ethio-American singer, composer, and cultural instigator based in the San Francisco Bay Area for the past 12 years. Her music sits on the hyphen line, born as equally from San Francisco as it is from Addis Ababa.

Meklit's third record comes out this spring on Six Degrees Records and is produced by multi-GRAMMY winning artist/songwriter Dan Wilson (Adele, John Legend, Dixie Chicks). Deeply inspired by Mulatu Astatke (the Godfather of Ethio-Jazz), the songs shine with pentatonic melodies, Ethio groove, and a singer-songwriter's poetic core. This is immigrant music and American music all at the same time. 

Meklit is a TED Senior Fellow and her TED Talk, The Unexpected Beauty of Everyday Sounds, has been watched by more than 1 million people. She has received musical commissions from Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, the MAP Fund and has toured extensively across the US, UK, and East Africa. As an artist-in-residence at Universities including NYU and Purdue, she explores questions of cultural activism, thinking about how music and arts can help us ask questions about who we are and where we want to go collectively. In 2011, she co-founded the Nile Project with Egyptian Ethnomusicologist Mina Girgis, which the New York Times called "a committed, euphoric, international coalition." 

Meklit and her projects have been covered by:

USA Today, NPR, The New Yorker, San Francisco Chronicle, Chicago Sun Times, PBS, PRI, the BBC, Seattle Times, Le Presse (Montreal), MTV Iggy, OkayAfrica, The Village Voice, Google Music, Relix Magazine, Pidgeons and Planes, WIRED Magazine UK and many more. Her video for Kemekem was named a top 10 African Track of 2015 by the BBC and Okay Africa. 

She has played at festivals and venues in the US, the UK and East Africa, including:

Bumbershoot Music Festival, SXSW, The Kennedy Center, Southbank Centre (London 2013 and 2015), Moods (Zurich), the Hollywood Bowl, the TED Conferences (Edinburgh, Rio di Janeiro, Long Beach), Monterey Jazz Festival, Baryshnikov Arts Center, Nuits D’Afrique (Montreal), SFJazz Center, the Gondar Castles (World Heritage Site, Ethiopia), Blankets and Wine Music Festival (Nairobi) and many more. 

Meklit sits on the board of Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, on the Artist Council of the de Young Museum, and holds a BA from Yale University.


I met renowned author Walter Mosley backstage at West Coast Live in 2010, and we became fast friends. While we were recording the 2014 album We Are Alive, he spent three days with us in the studio - reminding us that a good studio session is always a hang - and subsequently wrote the liner notes to the record. Here are his very kind words. Thank you, dear Walter.


"One day, over a year ago, I was having a conversation with Meklit.  I don’t remember what we were talking about exactly but it probably had to do with business versus the heart of art.  Out of nowhere, it seemed, she turned to me and said, “You know, Walter, GPS satellites, between the theories of Special and General Relativity, run thirty-six microseconds faster than any earthbound clock each day.  They have to be constantly reset in order to do their job.”

This comment, I remember, put whatever it was we were discussing into startling perspective.  She was saying, in essence, that the world doesn’t bend for us, that we must make ourselves a part of the greater whole in all of its fluctuations and deviations.

I wasn’t surprised by the unexpected insight because I had come to understand that Meklit’s mind is always soaring above the world we think we know.  Her music, her politics, her deft and generous understanding of a world constantly in motion all transcend the mundane, the expected and clichéd reactions that most of us are programmed with.  Like an elder jazz musician or quintessential classical composer she always hits just the right note.

And she has quite a range to choose from.  Her voice runs easily over two and a half octaves, from that sweet high note down into the blues register; her culture is somewhere between Ethiopia and the East Bay; and her mind moves effortlessly from Einstein to the banal task of finding your way home via GPS.  Meklit is constantly bringing together the tattered corners of a disparate and fragmented world.

We Are Alive proves all of that and more.  This musically exquisite collection of songs does for popular culture what Einstein wanted to do for General Relativity and electromagnetism: it brings together the so-called genres of music with continents of feeling across an ocean of lament; it celebrates our blood and our secret minds all the while exposing our frail humanity in light of the immortal compassion of the human heart.  These are love songs, certainly, but not the trivial fare of wanting my baby back or hot bodies rockin’ in the moonlight.  We Are Alive is about the passion of life, about the wonder and the capacity for hope in all women and men drawing us together in arrangements at once so raw and so sophisticated that one may just begin to believe that it is possible to live in this world, in these skins, without conceding to institutionalized terrorism or the Company Store.

Like Johnny Mathis, Billie Holiday, and the incomparable Ella Fitzgerald Meklit has taken all that jazz has to offer and then broadcast it back to us in a popular mode.  We don’t have to reach for her music because it beckons to us.  We don’t have to be trained in order to understand the highly-developed themes of her lyrics because Meklit’s music is a spiritual gravity for our hearts.  She spins her songs and we drift unerringly toward a common center."

-Walter Mosley, March 2014