Last spring, Meklit Hadero was pretty certain how her Celebrity Series of Boston debut was going to work. For her appearance at the Stave Sessions, Celebrity Series’s annual showcase of genre-fusing global musicians, she was planning a set of mostly original music, with a few covers here and there. She would be singing and playing the krar, a harp-like stringed instrument from her native Ethiopia, with a small squad of musicians backing her up. When the Globe reached her at home in California in early March 2020, no one could have predicted what would happen next.
There was a short period where she agonized over whether to nix her spring 2020 tour, on which Boston was just one stop. “I really am a person who wants to honor my commitments,” said the musician, who performs under her first name. “I was really struggling . . . I was like ‘I want to cancel, but how can I do that? I need to be present!’”
She doesn’t remember if Celebrity Series canceled first or she did. Whatever happened, within the space of a week, all her gigs were wiped off the calendar, and Meklit hunkered down to work from home, alongside her partner and their son, who was only 8 months old. “This is going to sound funny, but . . . [there were] endless dishes, cooking three meals a day every single day,” she said. “I don’t even know how to describe the shock of that change. And not having child-care support, or family, or any other help.”
But the wait is over: Meklit is appearing in this spring’s Stave Sessions, an all-virtual event spanning three evenings, starting April 21, with a marathon rebroadcast on April 24.
Q. Are you going to be streaming your set from your own home or a different space?
A. It’s streaming from Studio 124, which is a beautiful light-filled former industrial space. It’s just me and my guitar and my krar. It’ll be lots of storytelling and songs and music, so it’s a very different experience than I was originally going to bring to the Celebrity Series.
Q. Has this year changed the way you look at solo performing?
A. Absolutely. The thing is that when I write music [for my band], I’m doing a lot of writing lyrics and melody, writing horn and bass lines, percussion parts. Of course my band is part of that creative process. But when it’s the full band, it’s almost this very carefully crafted experience that balances Ethiopian flavor with jazz music. When it’s just me, my roots as a singer-songwriter really come out. I still sing in both Amharic and English, and there’s always an Ethiopian side that comes out in the melodies and the songs themselves. But when it’s just me, it’s really clear that at my heart I’m a singer-songwriter. And I think I’ve been able to embrace that. It’s given me a kind of rootedness that‘s been really fun to explore.
Q. Was it harder to create music this year?
A. It was a lot harder. The stretches of time that I was able to find before were impossible in the pandemic. It became about what I can do with the kid. He loves music so much, he always wants music playing, and he always wants to sing. So it’s more about what we can make as we are together. And that means that the fragments [of melodies] don’t come so much from solo time. But when you get into a space of letting go of expectation of any sort, and just being present in the moment — what comes from that? It’s not about going off on your own to make something, it’s about finding a way to make, wherever you are, in the moment.
I still have a bank of melodies that I’ve built up, but it’s come from a different place. The funny thing is that [my son] . . . I was singing a lyric, “like a migrating butterfly swimming on an updraft,” and he just started singing back to me! What lands? Well, what lands is what he sings back! He’s kind of like my little test subject.
Presented by Celebrity Series. April 21-23, www.celebrityseries.org
A.Z. Madonna can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @knitandlisten. Madonna’s work is supported by the Rubin Institute for Music Criticism, San Francisco Conservatory of Music, and Ann and Gordon Getty Foundation.