MULATU ASTATKE

MULATU ASTATKE – PIONEER OF THE ETHIOPIAN JAZZ SCENE

WHO IS MULATU ASTATKE?

Mulatu Astatke is one of the most influential musicians in recent Ethiopian and African history. He rose to fame in Addis Ababa during the early 1970s, combining the jazz percussion of post-war America with an Ethiopian rhythm. His music came to symbolize a boom period in Ethiopian cultural influence across Africa and a demonstration of African musical innovation – all this in a period when the map was changing rapidly, and new post-colonial world order was coming into being.

Although Mulatu had a traditional Ethiopian upbringing in the ancient city of Jimma, he was soon sent by his parents to study engineering in Wales. Whilst he was in the UK, Mulatu fell in love with jazz music and decided to enrol at Trinity College Conservatoire in London. Over the following years, he followed jazz to its roots on the American East Coast, where he collaborated with other important musicians, like drummer Frank Holder. 

 

MULATU’S MUSIC

In the early ‘70s, Mulatu made the decision to return to his Ethiopian homeland, where he began combining American, Latino, African and Caribbean influences to create a style known ever since as ‘Ethio-Jazz’. The music that Mulatu created during this period in Addis Ababa is startling. It places fast-paced African rhythms alongside slower, smoother sax melodies, creating a modern, nocturnal, and effortlessly cool vibe to his music. Looking back, it is easy to see how Mulatu became the king of Ethiopian music at this point in his career – he managed to capture the international spirit of post-war Ethiopia at the heart of a newly-independent, post-colonial continent. Addis Ababa was quickly becoming the biggest, richest, most politically important city in Sub-Saharan Africa, and Mulatu was writing this chapter of history down in music.

 

MULATU’S INFLUENCE TODAY

For the most part, between the mid-1970s and the late 1990s, Mulatu’s musical influence became less strong, and his fame was only restored after dozens of his vinyl records were rediscovered and rereleased in Paris in 1998, causing a surge in his popularity. Since then, Mulatu’s music samples have appeared alongside the work of Afro-American and Afro-Caribbean artists like Kanye West and Damian Marley. Around 2006, Mulatu started going back on worldwide tours across all four continents. Mulatu is a symbol of Ethiopia and Africa’s rich and innovative music culture. If you go to Addis Ababa today, you can still hear Ethio-Jazz in the city’s most famous bars. It continues to hold pride as the sound of a metropolis that is modern, trend-setting and growing in size and wealth at an incredible rate as the twenty-first century carries on.

Henry Worsley

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