An Interview with Mulatu Astatke, the Father of Ethio-Jazz

Mulatu Astatke, the father of Ethio-Jazz (photo credit: Fana Broadcasting)

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.

After developing his sound in the U.S. with a pair of highly influential mid-’60s releases, he spent much of the ’70s expanding the boundaries of Ethiopian music by collaborating both home and abroad with artists like Mahmoud Ahmed and Duke Ellington and releasing critically acclaimed music on Amha Eshete’s Amha Records. His popularity enjoyed a renaissance in Western culture in the mid-2000s after his music was used in Jim Jarmusch’s film Broken Flowers. Mulatu continued to evolve creatively well into the 2010s, and has maintained long-term collaborations with a number of acts, including Boston’s Either/Orchestra, London band the Heliocentrics, and Australia’s Black Jesus Experience.

Born in 1943 in the western 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. Read more about Mulatu’s biography here.

Fama Broadcasting recently conducted an interview with the Ethiopia maestro. The interview was conducted in Amharic, the Ethiopian official language.

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