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Mulatu Astatke

Etiopie | Respect Festival

Father of Ethiojazz

50 years ago he was the first African who graduated from the Berklee School of Music. As an arranger and composer, he integrated pentatonic Ethiopian scales into jazz harmony and created unique style known as Ethiojazz. His fans include Robert Plant, his music was used by Jim Jarmusch in his film Broken Flowers. His most famous song "Yegelle Tezeta" reveals the hidden link between Ethiopia and the blues.

In 2008, The Barbican, and then Glastonbury, hosted a concert featuring four of Ethiopia’s most famed musicians, key artists from what is now seen as the country’s “golden period” of music, crystalising in the last days of Haile Selassie, before finally being silenced as Mengistu’s ‘Derg’ administration quashed the country for nearly two decades. Mahmoud Ahmed had played the country a handful of times, his still powerful vocal garnering him a Radio 3 World Music Award. Gétachèw Mèkurya, an octogenarian saxophonist whose timbre and technique is considered by some to pre-figure Ornette Coleman’s ‘free’ experiments by several years, has enjoyed a new lease of life in Europe, hooking up with avant-punks The Ex. Alèmayèhu Eshèté, initially taking his lead from Elvis Presley, had never performed in the UK, though he plays regularly for the ex-pat Ethiopian community in the US. The last of the four, Mulatu Astatké, whose unique music punctuated Jim Jarmusch’s film, ‘Broken Flowers’, is in many ways the most crucial figure in the country’s recent musical history. He had played the UK for the first time in over 15 years just beforehand at Cargo in April 2008 with London-based collective The Heliocentrics for Karen P’s ‘Broad Casting’ session, a gig that has culminated in a unique new album for Strut Records’ ‘Inspiration Information’ studio collaboration series.

“Being away for a long time from the UK, I really thought people had forgotten about or hadn’t heard of Mulatu,” he states. “At Cargo, there were so many younger guys giving me that beautiful warm reception. They really loved my music and the band. For the musicians to learn the Ethio-jazz classics like that in a day was incredible. I have a lot of attraction to the UK – I feel like I almost grew up here during my teens. I love the chance to come over and play. It was an excellent experience.”

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