Mulatu Astatke performing live at Cosmopolite in Oslo in 2017
|Born||19 December 1943|
Born in the western Ethiopian city of Jimma, Mulatu was musically trained in London, New York City, and Boston where he combined his jazz and Latin music interests with traditional Ethiopian music. Astatke led his band while playing vibraphone and conga drums—instruments that he introduced into Ethiopian popular music—as well as other percussion instruments, keyboards, and organ. His albums focus primarily on instrumental music, and Mulatu appears on all three known albums of instrumentals that were released during Ethiopian Golden 1970s.
Mulatu's family sent the young Mulatu to learn engineering in Wales during the late 1950s. Instead, he began his education at Lindisfarne College near Wrexham before earning a degree in music through studies at the Trinity College of Music in London. He collaborated with jazz vocalist and percussionist Frank Holder. In the 1960s, Mulatu moved to the United States to enroll at Berklee College of Music in Boston. He studied vibraphone and percussion.
While living in the U.S., Mulatu became interested in Latin jazz and recorded his first two albums, Afro-Latin Soul, Volumes 1 & 2, in New York City in 1966. The records prominently feature Mulatu's vibraphone, backed by piano and congas playing Latin rhythms, and were entirely instrumental with the exception of the song "I Faram Gami I Faram," which was sung in Spanish.
In the early 1970s, Mulatu brought his new sound, which he called Ethio-jazz, back to his homeland while continuing to work in the U.S. He collaborated with many notable artists in both countries, arranging and playing on recordings by Mahmoud Ahmed, and appearing as a special guest with Duke Ellington and his band during a tour of Ethiopia in 1973.
Mulatu recorded Mulatu of Ethiopia (1972) in New York City, but most of his music was released by Amha Eshete's label Amha Records in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, including several singles, his album Yekatit Ethio Jazz (1974), and six out of the ten tracks on the compilation album Ethiopian Modern Instrumentals Hits. Yekatit Ethio Jazz combined traditional Ethiopian music with American jazz, funk, and soul.
By 1975, Amha Records had ceased production after the Derg military junta forced the label's owner to flee the country. Mulatu remained to play vibes for Hailu Mergia and the Walias Band's 1977 album Tche Belew (which included "Musicawi Silt") before the Walias also left Ethiopia to tour internationally. By the 1980s, Mulatu's music was largely forgotten outside of his homeland.
In the early 1990s, many record collectors rediscovered the music of Mulatu Astatke and were combing stashes of vinyl for copies of his 70s releases. In 1998, the Parisian record label Buda Musique began to reissue many of the Amha-era Ethio-jazz recordings on compact disc as part of the series Éthiopiques, and the first of these reissues to be dedicated to a single musician was Éthiopiques Volume 4: Ethio Jazz & Musique Instrumentale, 1969–1974. The album brought Mulatu's music to an international audience.
Mulatu's music has had an influence on other musicians from the Horn region, such as K'naan. His Western audience increased when the film Broken Flowers (2005) directed by Jim Jarmusch featured seven of his songs, including one performed by Cambodian-American rock band Dengue Fever. National Public Radio used his instrumentals as beds under or between pieces, notably on the program This American Life. Samples of his were used by Nas, Damian Marley, Kanye West, Cut Chemist, Quantic, Madlib, and Oddisee.
After meeting the Massachusetts-based Either/Orchestra in Addis Ababa in 2004, Mulatu began a collaboration with the band beginning with performances in Scandinavia in summer 2006 and London, New York, Germany, Holland, Glastonbury (UK), Dublin, and Toronto in 2008. In the fall of 2008, he collaborated with the London-based collective The Heliocentrics on the album Inspiration Information Vol. 3, which included re-workings of his Ethio-jazz classics with new material by the Heliocentrics and himself.
In 2008, he completed a Radcliffe Institute Fellowship at Harvard University where he worked on modernization of traditional Ethiopian instruments and premiered a portion of a new opera, The Yared Opera. He served as an Abramowitz Artist-in-Residence at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, giving lectures and workshops and advising MIT Media Lab on creating a modern version of the krar, a traditional Ethiopian instrument.
On 1 February 2009, Mulatu performed at the Luckman Auditorium in Los Angeles with a band that included Bennie Maupin, Azar Lawrence, and Phil Ranelin. He released a two-disc compilation album to be sold exclusively to passengers of Ethiopian Airlines, with the first disc containing a compilation of styles from different regions of Ethiopia and the second consisting of studio originals. On 12 May 2012, he received an honorary doctor of music degree from the Berklee College of Music.
In 2015, Mulatu began recording with Black Jesus Experience for Cradle of Humanity, which premiered at the Melbourne Jazz Festival in 2016 and was followed by a tour of Australia and New Zealand.
- Maskaram Setaba, 7" (Addis Ababa, 1966)
- Afro-Latin Soul, Volume (Worthy, 1966)
- Afro-Latin Soul, Volume 2 (Worthy, 1966)
- Mulatu of Ethiopia (Worthy, 1972)
- Yekatit Ethio-Jazz (Amha, 1974)
- Plays Ethio Jazz (Poljazz, 1989)
- Mulatu Astatke
- Assiyo Bellema
- Éthiopiques, Vol. 4: Ethio Jazz & Musique Instrumentale, 1969–1974 (Buda Musique, 1998)
- Mulatu Steps Ahead with the Either/Orchestra (Strut, 2010)
- Sketches of Ethiopia (Jazz Village, 2013)
As a musician and collaborator
- Tche Belew with Hailu Mergia & The Walias Band (Kaifa, 1977)
- Inspiration Information with The Heliocentrics (2009)
- Cradle of Humanity with Black Jesus Experience (2016)
- To Know Without Knowing with Black Jesus Experience (2020)
- Ethiopian Modern Instrumentals Hits (Amha, 1974)
- New York–Addis–London: The Story of Ethio Jazz 1965–1975
- The Rough Guide to the Music of Ethiopia (World Music Network, 2004)
- Broken Flowers (Decca, 2005)
- "Lost Funk Masterpieces of Ethiopia". Npr.org. Retrieved 21 July 2018.
- Ethio-Jazz: Mulatu Astatke, referenced September 2010. Archived 29 August 2013 at the Wayback Machine
- Frangou, Chris. "Hybrid Music: Mulatu Astatke's Yekatit Ethio Jazz (2016 - honours thesis)". Academia.edu. Retrieved 21 July 2018.
- Mulatu Astatke: the Man and His Influence, referenced September 2010. Archived 21 April 2010 at the Wayback Machine
- "Ethiopian Musician Mulatu Astatke to visit MIT: Public talk 23 October, referenced September 2010". Web.mit.edu. Retrieved 21 July 2018.
- "Eagles, Alison Krauss, Mulatu Astatke Receive Honorary Degrees at Commencement - Berklee College of Music". Berklee.edu. Retrieved 21 July 2018.
- "History". Melbournejazz.com. Retrieved 7 April 2017.
- "Mulatu Astatke & The Black Jesus Experience: Cradle of Humanity". Abc.net.au. 15 June 2016. Retrieved 7 April 2017.