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Mulatu Astatke

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Biography

Ethiopian musician (piano, organ, vibraphone, and percussion), composer, and arranger Mulatu Astatke (the name is spelled Astatqé on his French releases) is a household name in his native country, where he is known as the father of Ethio-jazz, a unique blend of pop, modern jazz, traditional Ethiopian music, Latin rhythms, Caribbean reggae, and Afro-funk. Born in 1943 in the west Ethiopia city of Jimma, Mulatu studied music in London, New York City, and Boston, where he was the first African graduate of the Berklee College of Music, and went on to work with several acclaimed jazz artists, including a guest spot with Duke Ellington in 1971. Further schooled in New York’s dance clubs in the 1960s, Mulatu recorded three of his LPs in the city, Afro-Latin Soul, Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 in 1966 and Mulatu of Ethiopia in 1972. Most of his records were released by Amha Records, including several singles and the 1974 LP Ethio Jazz. Mulatu’s work brought a renewed focus on instrumentation and rhythm to Ethiopian pop music, shepherding in a golden age in that country’s pop and jazz circles from 1968 to 1974. He went on to found a music school and open his own club, and he stayed active as an arranger, advisor, and DJ. In 2004 he met the Massachusetts-based Either/Orchestra and formed a long-running collaboration with the band. Never one to paint himself into a creative corner and always expanding his musical vision, Mulatu also collaborated with the London-based psyche-jazz configuration the Heliocentrics in 2008 on the album Inspiration Information, Vol. 3, which included updated versions of many of his classic compositions. He also contributed to the soundtrack for Jim Jarmusch’s 2005 film Broken Flowers, which brought him a whole lot of new fans outside of his homeland.

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Born:

1943 in Ethiopia

Genre
Years Active:

'60s, '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s, '10s

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Contemporaries