“Kansas City is like home to me,” trumpeter Hermon Mehari says.
While Mehari now resides in Paris, his career took flight in KC. “I knew I could always keep a foot in Kansas City,” Mehari says.
Mehari is the host of KCUR’s The Session, a program dedicated to Black American music that airs every Saturday at 7 pm. He’s also released three of his own albums, in addition to several features as a sideman, and has performed alongside luminaries including Jaleel Shaw, Bobby Watson and Randy Brecker.
In 2016, Mehari released his debut album as a bandleader, Bleu. The album quickly took the jazz scene by storm in both Europe and the United States, receiving high placement on jazz charts and critical acclaim in Downbeat.
Shortly after graduating from UMKC’s Conservatory in 2010, Mehari began putting down roots in Europe while maintaining an active career performing in KC.
“I was feeling this pull towards Europe,” Mehari says. “On the other end, I was doing a lot in Kansas City but felt like I had kind of hit the ceiling.”
Soon after the release of Bleu, Mehari officially made the move to Paris in the fall of 2016.
This past November, Mehari released his third studio album, Asmara, a deep dive into his Eritrean ancestry.
Mehari began the musical exploration of his Eritrean ancestry while working on his sophomore album, A Change for the Dreamlike. While writing in confinement during the pandemic in the French countryside, the result was his composition “Eritrea,” the fourth track on the album.
“I knew that was just the beginning,” Mehari says.
From there, Parisian producer Antoine Rajon suggested a whole album dedicated to his heritage. “I always grew up with Eritrean music with my family, but even though I’ve been a professional musician for so long, I never really studied the music in an academic or musical sense,” Mehari says. “It was something I wanted to dive into.”
Combining Eritrean melodies, rhythms, harmonies and folklore with his formidable and contemporary compositional voice, Mehari weaves a thorough narrative with Asmara that, while complete, will leave you longing for more. The album opens with “Who Dared It,” simultaneously paying tribute to his father’s hometown of Mendefera and recognizing his father’s bravery in fleeing his homeland in 1979 amidst a war with Ethiopia.
Notably, the album features Faytinga, a beloved Eritrean vocalist who now resides in Switzerland and has been lauded for her efforts in the fight for independence from Ethiopia. Faytinga sings on “Tenafaqit” and closing track “Milobe Lawa Furda.”
The album also features KC-based vibraphonist and pianist Peter Schlamb, one of Mehari’s closest collaborators and an important voice on Asmara. “I’ve been collaborating with him for most of my life now and he’s on all of my discs as a bandleader,” Mehari says.
This month, Mehari returns to KC as a featured artist for the Folly Jazz Series, which doubles as his official Kansas City release party for Asmara.
The trumpeter’s headlining performance is a momentous full-circle moment for Mehari.
“The series is special to me,” Mehari says. “When I was a student at UMKC, I always went [to the Folly] to watch artists coming to town. I would see a lot of artists that I looked up to and still look up to, so it’s an honor to be a part of the series.”
Mehari’s quartet is made complete by a venturous yet sensitive rhythm section, featuring Schlamb on vibraphone and keys, NYC bassist Rick Rosato and KC’s own Zach Morrow on drums.
“I’m looking forward to coming back to celebrate,” Mehari says.
GO: Hermon Mehari Quartet, Saturday, February 18, 7 pm. Folly Theater, 300 W. 12th St., KCMO. Tickets range from $31–$66.