Mulatu Astatike, the 74-year-old father of Ethio-Jazz, is a musician, composer and arranger of a unique fusion of traditional Ethiopian beat with jazz and Latin music. Born and raised in Jimma, Mulatu was the first African student to enroll at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, in the United States. Since then he has recorded over nine albums, sold-out international concerts, played with the likes of Duke Ellington and is known for playing the conga drum and vibraphone on international stages. Recognised internationally, prominent musicians including Damien Marley, Nas and K’naan have featured his music in their recordings. Fortune’s Editor in-Chief, Fasika Tadesse, sat down with Mulatu for buoyant discussion.
Fortune: Had you not been a musician and arranger, what would your profession be?
That is a difficult question. I was good in subjects like physics, math and chemistry and I loved those subjects, which gave me my passion for studying Aeronautical engineering. Then I went to North Wales, England to study Aeronautical engineering. The school took me through a process to shape me towards my talent.
After letting me practice music, theatre and art, the school recommended that I become a musician and that I would be successful, and I became a musician.
If that didn’t happen, I could have pursued my engineering career and became an Aeronautical engineer.
Q: Your music is more popular in western countries than in Ethiopia. Why is that?
It is a matter of awareness and knowledge. In western countries, music is a science like physics, chemistry and biology. Our world’s prominent scientists innovate something by mixing different chemicals. Just like musicians mix different sounds to make music, which is why the westerns consider music as a science. Out of the various genres, Ethio Jazz, which was innovated 52 years ago, has many followers globally.
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