Mulatu Astatke

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
  (Redirected from Mulatu Astatqe)
Jump to: navigation, search
Mulatu Astatke
Mulatu Astatke performing live on Druga Godba Festival in Ljubljana, Slovenia, 30 May 2014
Mulatu Astatke performing live on Druga Godba Festival in Ljubljana, Slovenia, 30 May 2014
Background information
Born (1943-12-19) 19 December 1943 (age 73)
Jimma, Ethiopia
Genres Ethio-jazz
Occupation(s) Instrumentalist, composer, arranger
Instruments Vibraphone, conga drums, percussion, keyboards, organ
Years active 1963–present
Associated acts Walias Band, Black Jesus Experience, The Heliocentrics

Mulatu Astatke (born on 19 December 1943; surname sometimes spelled Astatqé on French-language releases, and ሙላቱ አስታጥቄ in his native Amharic) is an Ethiopian musician and arranger best known as the father of Ethio-jazz.

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 Astatke appears on all three known albums of instrumentals that were released during Ethiopia's Golden 1970s.[1]


Early years[edit]

Astatke'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.[2] In the 1960s, Astatke moved to the United States, where he became the first student from Africa to enroll at Boston's Berklee College of Music. There, he studied vibraphone and percussion.

While living in the US, Astatke 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 Astatke's vibraphone, backed up by piano and conga drums playing Latin rhythms, and were entirely instrumental, with the exception of the song "I Faram Gami I Faram," which was sung in Spanish. Though these records are almost indistinguishable from other Latin-jazz records of the period, some tracks foreshadow elements of Astatke's later work, and he is credited as having established conga and bongo drums as common elements in Ethiopian popular music.[3]

Astatke in 2005 at the WSIS.

In the early 1970s, Astatke brought his new sound, which he called Ethio-jazz, back to his homeland while continuing to work in the US. 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.[4]

Mulatu Astatke before a performance with the Either/Orchestra at Colgate University (Hamilton, NY) in 2005

During this time, Astatke recorded another album in New York, Mulatu of Ethiopia (1972). Meanwhile, the bulk of his recorded material was being released on Amha Eshèté's eponymous Ethiopian label Amha Records in Addis Ababa, which released several Mulatu Astatke singles along with his 1974 album Yekatit Ethio Jazz, and six out of the 10 tracks on that year's Ethiopian Modern Instrumentals Hits compilation. Yekatit Ethio Jazz was one of the only LPs released in Ethiopia which was produced as an album in its own right, not just a compilation of singles. This album is a strong example of Astatke's fluidity and skill at creating a music hybrid consisting of traditional Ethiopian music and American jazz, funk and soul. [5]

Astatke's records appeared alongside releases by notable Ethiopian vocalists Mahmoud Ahmed, Tlahoun Gèssèssè, Alèmayèhu Eshèté, and others, all of whose music was influenced by the infusion of American jazz and Latin instrumentation that Astatke brought to Ethiopia.

Mulatu Astatke on stage with the Heliocentrics in 2009 in Rome

By 1975, Amha Records had ceased production after the Derg military junta forced the label's owner and many other Ethio-jazz luminaries to flee the country. Astatke stuck around long enough to play vibes for Hailu Mergia and the Walias Band's 1977 album Tche Belew (which featured the original classic "Musicawi Silt") before the Wallas also left Ethiopia to tour internationally.[1] But by the 1980s, Astatke's music was largely forgotten outside of his homeland.

Recent work[edit]

By the early 1990s, many record collectors had 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 artist was Éthiopiques Volume 4: Ethio Jazz & Musique Instrumentale, 1969–1974, Mulatu Astatke. The album brought Astatke's music to a new international audience, perhaps the largest in his career.[6]

Mulatu Astatke performing with Black Jesus Experience members Chris Frangou (bass) and Liam Monkhouse (MC) at the 50th Anniversary of Australian and Ethiopian diplomatic relations event in Addis Ababa in 2015.

Astatke's music has also had an influence on the work of other artists from the Horn region, such as K'naan. His Western audience grew even further when the 2005 Jim Jarmusch film Broken Flowers featured seven of Astatke's songs, including one performed by Cambodian-American rock band Dengue Fever. National Public Radio used Astatke's instrumentals as beds under or between pieces, notably on the program This American Life. Additionally, hip hop artists have sampled Astatke's songs extensively; samples of his can be heard in the works of 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 psyche-jazz collective The Heliocentrics on the album Inspiration Information Vol. 3, which included re-workings of his earlier Ethio-jazz classics with new material by the Heliocentrics and himself.

In 2008, Mulatu completed a Radcliffe Institute Fellowship at Harvard University, where he worked on modernizations of traditional Ethiopian instruments and premiered a portion of a new opera, The Yared Opera. Mulatu also served as an Abramowitz Artist-in-Residence at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, delivering lectures and workshops, as well as advising MIT's Media Lab on creating a modern version of the krar, a traditional Ethiopian instrument.[7]

On 1 February 2009, Mulatu Astatke performed at the Luckman Auditorium in Los Angeles with a band that included such notable jazz musicians as Bennie Maupin, Azar Lawrence, and Phil Ranelin. Mulatu also released a two-disc set to be sold exclusively to passengers of Ethiopian Airlines, with the first disc being a compilation of the different styles from different regions of Ethiopia and the second being studio originals. On 12 May 2012, Mulatu received an honorary doctor of music degree from the Berklee College of Music.[8]

In 2015 Astatke began recording with long-time collaborators Black Jesus Experience for what would become the album Cradle of Humanity. Cradle of Humanity premiered at the Melbourne Jazz Festival in 2016 and was followed by a tour of Australia and New Zealand. [9][10]

Selected discography[edit]

As bandleader[edit]

As a musician and collaborator[edit]

Compilation appearances[edit]

External links[edit]