I landed in Fiumicino Airport at about 4 p.m., last tuesday ... a busy afternoon (going to the city by bus, checking my room, eating something, seeing a Nam June Paik exhibition I got to write about in the next days ... ) but after all, it was well worth. Mulatu Astatké is currently touring with a septet: multi-reed (flute, clarinet, tenor saxophone), trumpet, keyboards, cello, viola, bass, drums and percussions. Spanning through his old and new repertoire, Mulatu gives new shape to old songs like Yèkatit and Tezeta, as far as new compositions like Mulatu's Mood (from Steps Ahead, his latest record).
Born in Djimma (in the south-west of Ethiopia) in 1943, at 17 Mulatu Astatké started traveling in UK and USA to study music and create his own bands and groups, giving shape to his music and ideas. In London he became familiar with latin-american music, that was the hot spot just before Beatlesmania. In New York, finally, he founded the Ethiopian Quintet (Afro Latin Soul, their first LP, was issued in 1966), with musicians for the most part from Puertorico. His music was something previously unheard: a mix of latin rhythms, ethiopic melodies, whereas in his native land no instrumental tradition (with the exception of military march-past, ethiopian various music styles are focused on singing, both in griots ancient tradition and in modern developments of popular music) nor caraibican music (the Imperial Body Guard Band, that backgrounded such diverse talented musicians as Getatchèw Mekurya, Thlaoun Gessesse and Mahmoud Amhed was provided with ethnic percussions, but with no latin tinges at all ... ) had their own proper place before.
This night Mulatu and his musicians gives music a stronger grooving sensation than the last time I listened to him with Either/Orchestra in Milan a couple of years ago, and his palette seems more 1970's oriented. Maybe because of his electric piano (very similar to the one Keith Jarret was using playing live with Miles Davis, but without distortions and with a thin, spacey sound) and of a viola and a cello doubling and expanding the acoustic bass range on melody and rhythm. It's the same with flute and clarinet alternating with tenor saxophone and trumpet. An orchestral sound in wich single imprivisations are well fitted into the ensemble, giving the melancholic strangeness of ethiopian melodies a wider, intoxicating brightness.
Mulatu Astatké Discography
- "Maskaram Setaba" 7" (1966, Addis Ababa Records, US)
- Afro-Latin Soul, Volume 1 (1966, US)
- Afro-Latin Soul, Volume 2 (1966, US)
- Mulatu Of Ethiopia LP (1972, Worthy Records, US)
- Yekatit Ethio-Jazz LP (1974, Amha Records, Ethiopia)
- Plays Ethio Jazz LP (1989, Poljazz, Poland)
- Ethio Jazz: Mulatu Astatke Featuring Fekade Amde Maskal
- From New York City to Addis Ababa: The Best of Mulatu Astatke
- Mulatu Astatke
- Assiyo Bellema
- Éthiopiques, Vol. 4: Ethio Jazz & Musique Instrumentale, 1969-1974 CD (1998, Buda Musique, France)
- Mulatu Steps Ahead with the Either/Orchestra CD/2xLP (2010, Strut, Germany)
As a musician and collaborator
- Tche Belew with Hailu Mergia & The Walias Band (1977, Kaifa Records, Ethipia)
- Inspiration Information with the Heliocentrics (2009)
- Ethiopian Modern Instrumentals Hits LP (1974, Amha Records, Ethiopia)
- New York–Addis–London: The Story of Ethio Jazz 1965–1975 (2009, Strut, Germany)