Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Hailu Mergia and the Walias - 1977 - Tche Belew

Hailu Mergia and the Walias 
Tche Belew

01. Tche Belew
02. Yemiasleks Fikir
03. Yikirta Lemminalehu
04. Musical Silt
05. Lomi Tera-tera
06. Woghenei
07. Ibakish Tarekigne
08. Birukane
09. Eti Gual Blenai
10. Yenuro Tesfa Alegne

Alto Saxophone – Abebe Kassa
Bass Guitar – Melaku Gabrie
Chorus – Aster Aweke, Getachew Kassa, Tegest Abate
Drums – Temare Haregu
Guitar – Mahmmud Aman
Organ – Hailu Mergia
Piano – Girma Beyene
Saxophone, Flute – Moges Habte
Trumpet – Yohannes Tekola
Xylophone, Congas – Mulatu Astatke

Dozens of cherished recordings were made during the legendary “golden age” of Ethiopian music, an era stretching from the early 1960’s through the mid-1970’s. Less-discussed are the songs made in the aftermath of the 1974 revolution that toppled Emperor Hailu Selassie I. The acclaimed and highly sought-after LP by Hailu Mergia and the Walias, Tche Belew, an album of instrumentals released in 1977, is perhaps the most seminal of these recordings. The story of the Walias band is a critical chapter in Ethiopian popular music, taking place during a period of music industry flux and political complexity in the country. 

Hailu Mergia, a keyboardist and arranger diligently working the nightclub scene in Addis Ababa, formed the Walias in the early 1970’s with a core group of musical colleagues assembled from the remnants of prior working bands attached to the Zula and Venus clubs. One of the first “private” bands, the Walias got a steady gig at the prestigious Hilton Addis Ababa and remained independent from the government-supported bands of the time as well as from the clubs who employed bands. 

While the oppressive and often brutal, Socialism-inspired Derg government (1974-1987) had a firm grip on Ethiopians following the revolution, Walias organized their own contracts and eschewed government patronage. Unlike the celebrated bands of the run-up to Selassie’s removal—the Police Orchestra, Imperial Bodyguard Band, National Theater Band, Ethiopian Army Band, Hager Fikir Theater Band, City Hall Theatre Folkloric Group and so on—the Wailas developed fame on their own terms and maintained control of their instruments and performances. They played the blues-, funk- and soul-informed tunes Mergia was writing and arranging, while cutting 45rpm recordings released by Kaifa Records with popular vocalists, including Getachew Kassa and Alemayehu Borobor. 

After several singles, Mergia decided to do something different: record a full-length album. The band—which at the time featured Moges Habte (saxophone and flute), Mahmmud Aman (guitar), Yohannes Tekola (trumpet), Melake Gabrie (bass guitar), Girma Beyene (piano), Temare Haregu (drums), Abebe Kassa (alto saxophone) and special guest Mulatu Astatke (vibes)—entered Radio Voice of the Gospel studios to record their first long-player. The director of the station knew Mergia personally and connected the band with a sound engineer there. (Incidentally, the Lutheran-owned station was taken over shortly thereafter by the Derg government and used for propaganda purposes.) 

Influenced in large part by Jimmy Smith, Mergia and the Walias merged the popular international sounds available in Ethiopia at the time with the traditional tunes that formed the foundation of most musicians’ repertoires. But for this LP, instead of playing the role of backing band, Mergia wanted four of his bandmates to contribute arrangements, so that the album would capture a spectrum of sounds with the instruments and groove positioned out front. 

Recording in one large room, the band spent two days laying down the songs, completing several of them in single takes. It was the most professional technical set-up they had used thus far, with modern studio facilities and quality instruments (Mergia was using Farfisa and Godwin organs at the time). Being that this record was predominantly instrumental—extremely rare among Ethiopian LPs—it’s notable that Tche Belew features a backing chorus. Interjecting brief phrases on a few songs, the trio of accomplished vocalists Aster Aweke, Getachew Kassa, and Tegest Abate are the only voices heard on the recording. In the aftermath of the LP’s release, the public’s response was strong and the LP and cassettes sold better than expected. 

While the band never travelled outside Addis Ababa, they performed at top hotels and played the presidential palace twice. The Walias’ relationship with the Derg regime was complex though, evidenced by the removal of one song from the record by government censors because it included mention of the previous government. The regime’s broad policy of violence and censorship—including a period called the Red Terror that featured genocide-level disappearances of students, activists and villagers and the indiscriminate imprisonment of journalists—ultimately resulted in half the band staying in the United States following their first tour outside Ethiopia in the early 1980s. Today the musicians remain scattered between Addis Ababa and Washington D.C. 

Decades later, Hailu Mergia was surprised to see the album fetching more than $4,000 at online auctions. The Walias had recorded the most famous and wide-reaching of all Ethiopian tunes from that era, “Musicawi Silt,” which was composed by the band's pianist Girma Beyene. Covered by bands from all over the world, “Musicawi Silt” and the rest of this long-awaited reissue have lived on among record collectors and older Ethiopians to this day. Now everyone has the chance to listen again—or for the first time—to this timeless pillar of Ethiopian popular music.

There is a musical moment of great significance in Jim Jarmusch's road movie Broken Flowers. The main character, Don, is going on a journey and has received a cassette with music. When he puts the cassette into the tape deck, the strange, deep and funky sounds of Ethiopian master Mulatu Astatke emerge from the speakers. Music like this has fascinated many listeners and the acclaimed series Ethiopiques, which has reached 29 volumes, speaks about the demand for Ethiopian sounds. 

There is still a lot of great music to discover and, fortunately, Brian Shimkovitz, who runs the blog and label Awesome Tapes from Africa, has unearthed one of the true gems of Ethiopian music: Tche Belew by Hailu Mergia and the Walias. As it is pointed out in the excellent liner notes, the album does not belong to the golden age of Ethiopian music, which is considered to be the period from the early 1960s to the mid- 1970s. However, the instrumental album, released in 1977, has become a true collector's item and it is easy to hear why. 

Bandleader, keyboardist and arranger Hailu Mergia gathered a strong group for the recording of the album, including saxophonists Moges Habte and Abebe Kassa, drummer Temare Haregu and special guest Mulatu Astetke on vibes. At the time, Mergia had been working the nightclub-scene in Addis Ababa and knew how to create funky and elegant sounds, but Tche Belew broadened the musical palette, with no less than four of the band members helping out with the arrangements to create a diverse canvas of sound. 

There are elements of jazz on the swaying, swinging rhythm of "Yikirta Lemminalehu" with Astatke's chiming vibes and walking bass patterns from bassist Melake Gabrie while "Lomi Tera-tera" is all wah-wah guitar, subtle percussion and spiraling arabesque organ figures from Mergia. 

Mergia was influenced by organist Jimmy Smith and there are traces of soul, blues, jazz and funk in the band's deep instrumental cuts, but all these genres are filtered through a specific Ethiopian sensibility, with the characteristic scale system playing an important role. It is also about the lush contrapuntal clarity and balance between the instruments. Especially the use of both organ and piano is successful, with the added power of the horns and a rhythm section that is both swinging and tight. Tche Belew shows how sophisticated funky music can be and it is an album that connoisseurs of Ethiopian music should not be without.

Though I’ve heard some late 70s cassettes that have blown my mind, I do believe that there are only three instrumental Ethiopian albums (that is: vinyl-only) recorded and released during what Francois Falcetto of the Ethiopiques series has termed “The Golden Seventies.” Two are by the ubiquitous Mulatu Astatke, and saw release on the Amha label. The first, Ethiopian Modern Instrumentals Hits, collected his 7? releases on the label while the second, Ethio-Jazz from 1974, contained previously unreleased, long-form compositions. The third is the record you see here, credited to Hailu Mergia and The Band Wallias but owing much to Astatke (featured, naturally, on the instrument he introduced to Ethiopia – the vibraphone). It saw release on Ali Abdella Kaifa’s self-named label.

As Falcetto points out on his excellent liner notes to Ethiopiques Vol. 4, there was not much of an instrumental tradition in Ethiopia until the advent of brass bands in the early part of the 20th century. Thus it’s not surprising that outside of the adventurous Astatke very few people attempted to record and release instrumental music in the short period during which the Amha, Kaifa and Phillips released a few hundred 45s and a handful of LPs in the country.

Why this album contains only one song like “Musical Silt” is ponderous. The rest of the album is enjoyable, equally funky and benign. But “Musical Silt,” the only song from the album ever reissued, is a beast. While some might call it dissonant, it’s beautifully modal, a perfect example of the Ethiopian qenet system tempered by the tuning of the Western instruments the musicians play. And the rhythms; each component of the ensemble plays in their own time signature. “The one,” which most fans of funk music so readily anticipate in a rolling groove, never sounds exactly like you’d expect it. But the song chugs along perfectly – it ends some four minutes in, but you wish it would run for hours. A hypnotic groove fo’ sho’.

Thus, while the song owes much to Astatke’s influence, we can’t cease without giving respect to the arranger and pianist Girme Beyene, whose tenure with the band Wallias continued as the band left Ethiopia and toured the USA in the early 80s. This song is arguably his masterpiece, which says quite a lot considering the quality of musicians he produced during his time in Ethiopia (including the awesome Alehmayehu Eshete).

Mulatu Astatke - 2009 - New York - Addis - London - The Story Of Ethio Jazz 1965-1975

Mulatu Astatke
New York - Addis - London - The Story Of Ethio Jazz 1965-1975

01. Yèkèrmo Sèw
02. I Faram Gami I Faram
03. Shagu
04. Emnete
05. Mulatu
06. Yègelé Tezeta
07. Asiyo Bellema
08. Ebo Lala
09. Fikratchin
10. Yefikir Tizita
11. Dèwèl
12. Yèkatit
13. Girl From Addis Ababa
14. Mascaram Setaba
15. Ené Alantchie Alnorem
16. Nétsanét
17. Kasalèfkut Hulu
18. Wubit
19. Lanchi Biye
20. Tezeta

1, 17, 20 are taken from the Amha Records LP "Ethiopian Modern Instrumentals Hits" (AELP10) 1972
2, 3, 15 are taken from the Worthy Records LP "Afro-Latin Soul" (W-1014) 1966
4, 14 are taken from the Worthy Records LP "Mulatu Of Ethiopia (W-1020) 1972
5 is taken from the Philips Ethiopia 45 "Fikratchin" (PH 7-106) 1971
6 is taken from the Amha Records 45 "Yebekagnale / Yegele Tezeta" (AE 160) 1969
7 is taken from the Amha Records 45 (AE 120) 1965
8 is taken from the Philips Ethiopia 45 (PH 7-101) 1970
9 is taken from the Philips Ethiopia 45 (PH 7-105) 1970
10 is taken from the Philips Ethiopia 45 (PH 7-103) 1970
11, 18, 19 are taken from the Amha Records LP "Ethio Jazz" (AELP 90) 1974
12 is taken from the Philips Ethiopia 45 "Yehagere Shitta" (PH 7-100) 1970
13 is taken from the Axum Records 45 "Che Belew / Wubit" (A-004) 1975
16 is taken from the Worthy Records LP "Afro-Latin Soul Vol. 2" (W-1015) 1966

Arranged as a retrospective of the formative work of Mulatu Astatke, the godfather of Ethio-jazz, a fusion of Ethiopian music and—you guessed it—jazz, The Story Of Ethio Jazz is 20 tracks ranging from two to six minutes outlining the development of the form over a 10-year period. Dominated by the vibraphone, Astatke’s signature instrument, the pieces are short, modal and are short on development, but heavy on mood.

That’s really what The Story Of Ethio Jazz tries to impart—a mood, a flavor for the genre. Many of the cuts here are a patois in that they don’t particularly feel like a developed style at all but instead a chunky primordial stew. It’s not your seamless Miles Davis fusion, it’s a more blunt and rash.

And it has its own charm in that way. These are certainly songs of development rather than final forms—this is basically what Astatke had in his vaults—and so it’s more of a piece to either introduce listeners to the basics of the form, or more likely, to give musicologists a record of the genre’s development. Either way, I’m for it.

This album?s subtitle, ?The Story of Ethio Jazz 1965-1975,? might give one pause. After all, it?s only the work of one man, vibes and keyboard player Mulatu Astatke, and no man is a genre, right? But it makes sense when you consider that Ethiopian music so prizes linguistic cleverness that there?s just not much of an orchestral or jazz heritage. Even at the height of Ethiopia?s golden age of pop music, which flourished during the waning years of King Haile Selassie?s reign, not many players played jazz of any stripe besides Astatke and saxophonist Getatchew Mekurya. And while Mekurya?s music simply transferred a traditional battle chant to the sax, Astatke developed a singular synthesis informed by a non-parochial appreciation for non-Ethiopian styles that was quite out of step with his milieu.

But then, Astatke was not your average Ethiopian. He was sent to England to study engineering, but turned out to be a natural musician. He fell for jazz, English style, at nightclubs like The Flamingo and Ronnie Scott?s, then tracked it to New York City, where he spent a few years playing in Latin bands and started evolving a fusion of jazz, Latin, and Ethiopian elements. When Astatke returned to Ethiopia in the late 60s he found plenty of opportunity to work as an arranger and musician behind the era?s great singers, which in turn yielded chances for him to record instrumental b-sides and a couple of LPs. But since instrumental music had no local constituency they were never terribly popular and his career, like nearly every Ethiopian musician?s, hit a wall in 1975 when a Marxist coup ushered in over a decade of martial law. But it gained a second wind in 1998 when Buda Musique devoted an entire volume of its Ethiopiques series his music. Collaborations with the Either/Orchestra and the Heliocentrics followed, and the few tracks of his music that ended up on the soundtrack of Jim Jarmusch?s film Broken Flowers were most memorable thing about the movie. Even so, no one had pulled together Astatke?s NYC and London recordings with those from Ethiopia.

New York-Addis-London redresses that lack, and in doing so provides a broader perspective on Astatke?s music than Ethiopiques 4 even though they start with the same track. With its moody horn melody, throbbing electric piano, and terse r&b groove, ?Y?k?rmo S?w? is deeply eerie and impossible to forget. But the next track takes us back to New York, where Astatke worked mostly with Puerto Rican musicians. ?I Faram Gami I Faram? begins and ends with elephant-like trumpeting, but what falls in between is a seamless weave of salsa piano and Amharic singing. Even in 1966, when Astatke was just 23 and new to recording, he had a sound in mind that integrated Ethiopian melodies with Afro-Latin rhythms. His mallets and tropical sound effects hint at Martin Denny and Arthur Lyman, the vibrant grooves pretty Nuyorican, the melodies harder to place. But since New Yorkers didn?t quite grasp the pentatonic scales of Ethiopian music, although the trumpeter on ?Mascaram Setaba? comes close. Astatke?s concept didn?t quite gel until he took it back home, and even then it took time. New York-Addis-London includes some of his work singers. The track he crafted for Tlahoun Gessesse has a stripped-down Latin slink in its rhythm that agitates pleasingly against the horns? mournful riffs, but it?s the singer?s voice, chuckling one moment and imploring the next, that dominates. ?Yefikir Tezita,? an instrumental he composed for the b-side of another Gessesse song, brings that pentatonic Ethiopian melancholy into focus, but the rhythm is a little too crisp and simple. ?Y?katit,? recorded five years later, is a total integration, with thick, unhurried polyrhythms rolling under pulsing Wurlitzer piano, snaky flute, and a magnificently degenerate wah-wah guitar lead.

While Strut records has released New York-Addis-London, the man who put it together was Miles Cleret of Soundway Recordings. His liner notes, while not quite so obsessive as those for the Nigeria and Ghana Special releases, are lively, informative, and steeped in love for their subject, while reproductions of old LP sleeves and snapshots of the ever-dapper Astatke offer glimpses into a bygone time. Great stuff.

Mulatu Astatke - 1998 - Ethiopiques Vol. 4 - 1969-1974

Mulatu Astatke
Ethiopiques Vol. 4 - 1969-1974

01. Yèkèrmo Sèw 4:12
02. Mètché Dershé 3:56
03. Kasalèfkut Hulu 2:43
04. Tezeta 6:14
05. Yègellé Tezeta 3:17
06. Munayé 4:58
07. Gubèlyé 4:36
08. Asmarina 4:55
09. Yèkatit 3:55
10. Nètsanèt 5:33
11. Tezetayé Antchi Lidj 6:01
12. Sabyé 5:24
13. Ené Alantchi Alnorem 4:59
14. Dèwèl 4:14

Alto Saxophone – Antonio  (tracks: 1 to 6)
Bass – Giovanni Rico (tracks: 7 to 13), Haylu "Zihon" Kèbbèdè (tracks: 1 to 6), Ivo (tracks: 1 to 6)
Drums – Girma Zèmaryam (tracks: 1 to 6), Tèmarè Harègu (tracks: 7 to 13), Tesfayé "Hodo" Mèkonnen (tracks: 1 to 6)
Flute – Fèqadu Amdé-Mesqel (tracks: 7 to 13)
Guitar – Andrew Wilson (tracks: 6 to 13), Tèklè "Huket" Adhanom (tracks: 1 to 5)
Keyboards – Mulatu (tracks: 7 to 13)
Organ, Electric Piano [Fender Rhodes] – Mulatu (tracks: 1 to 6)
Tenor Saxophone – Fèqadu Amdé-Mesqel, Mogus Habte (tracks: 7 to 13)
Tenor Saxophone [First Tenor Sax] – Tesfa-Maryam Kidané (tracks: 1 to 6)
Trumpet – Fèllèqè Kidané (tracks: 5), Yohannès Tèkolla (tracks: 7 to 13)
Upright Piano – Girma Bèyènè (tracks: 1 to 6)

Tracks 1 through 6 issued June 1972 on the LP "Ethiopian Modern Instrumental Hits" (AELP 10). (Tracks 1, 2 & 5 originally released in 1969).
Tracks 7 through 13 originally released in September 1972 on the LP "Yekatit - Ethio Jazz / Mulatu Astatke featuring Fekade Amde Meskel" (AELP 90).
Track 14 originally released in the USA in 1972 on the LP "Mulatu of Ethiopia" and recorded with Latin-American musicians, including several of Mongo Santamaria's sidemen.

To some, the term "Ethiopian jazz" might seem impossible; after all, it's a very American form. But what's truly surprising isn't the fact that these musicians play jazz so well, but the range of jazz they manage, from the George Benson-ish guitar workout of "Munaye" to the twisting sax of "Tezeta." Really, though, it's more Jimmy Smith than Duke Ellington in its aim (although Ellington is on the cover, on stage with Mulatu Astatke, the bandleader behind all these selections). The grooves often smoke rather than swing, with some fiery drumming, most notably on "Yekermo Sew," and throughout the guitar is very much to the fore as a rhythm instrument. Perhaps the most interesting cut, however, is "Yekatit," from 1974, which is Astatke's tribute to the burgeoning revolution which would oust Emperor Haile Sellassie. Some of these pieces, certainly "Dewel," has seen U.S. release before; the track appeared in 1972 on Mulatu of Ethiopia, which was Astatke's third American LP, showing that jazz aficionados, at least, had an appreciation for what he was achieving in the horn of Africa. Given that many of his musicians had graduated from police and military bands, they knew their instruments well, and had plenty of practice time, which shows in the often inventive solos that dot the tracks. Varied, occasionally lyrical, but interesting throughout, this shines a fabulous spotlight on a hidden corner of jazz.

Mulatu Astatke Featuring Fekade Amde Maskal - 1974 - Ethio Jazz

Mulatu Astatke Featuring Fekade Amde Maskal 
Ethio Jazz 

01. Dèwèl
02. Yèkèrmo Sèw
03. Gubèlyé
04. Asmarina
05. Yèkatit
06. Nètsanèt
07. Tezetayé Antchi Lidj
08. Sabyé
09. Ené Alantchi Alnorem

Mulatu Astatke_keyboards
Fekade Amde Maskal_tenor saxophone, flute
Mogus Habté_tenor saxophone
Yohannes Tèkolla_trumpet
Andrew Wilson_guitar
Giovanni Rico_bass
Tèmarè Harègu_drums

Ethio Jazz was originally released as Yekatit Ethio-Jazz in 1974 on Ethiopian label, Amha Records, bringing together various tracks recorded by Mulatu Astatke between 1969 and 1974. Formed at Boston's Berklee College of Music during the sixties, Mulatu Astatke is a multi-instrumentalist, founder of the Ethio Jazz genre, the first to combine traditional ethiopian sound with Jazz & Latin music. Indeed, in 1966, Mulatu & His Quintet have recorded in New York City, two Afro-Cuban Jazz albums (Afro-Latin Soul, Volumes 1 & 2), which lead him to introduce latin & western instruments in the popular Ethiopian music. Mulatu has gained an international recognition many years later, first  thanks to the Parisian label Buda Musique, which selected some of his best songs included in the volume 4 from the Éthiopiques compilation series, a volume entirely devoted to him (Éthiopiques Volume 4: Ethio Jazz & Musique Instrumentale, 1969–1974). Secondly in US, three of his compositions including Yèkèrmo Sèw & Gubèlyé, were selected for the Broken Flowers Original Soundtrack (2005), directed by Jim Jarmusch. At last, some great names of Hip-Hop have sampled his songs such as Nas, Cut Chemist of Jurassic 5, Quantic or Madlib. 

Mulatu Astatke - 1972 - Mulatu of Ethiopia

Mulatu Astatke 
Mulatu of Ethiopia

01. Mulatu 5:00
02. Mascaram Setaba 2:40
03. Dewel 4:00
04. Kulunmanqueleshi 2:05
05. Kasalefkut-Hulu 2:25
06. Munaye 3:15
07. Chifara 7:00

Piano, Vibes - Mulatu Astatke
Bass – Chuck Rainey, Israel "Cachao" Lopez
Percussion – Marty Sheller
Drums – Bernard Purdie, Don Alias
Electric Bass – Eddie "Gua-Gua" Riviera
Featuring, Bongos, Congas – Armando Peraza
Flute – Roger Glenn
Guitar – Eric Gale
Percussion – Angel Allende
Piano, Electric Piano – Earl Neal Creque
Shekere – Julito Collazo
Tenor Saxophone – Grant Reed, Stanley Turrentine
Trumpet – Lou Soloff
Trumpet, Percussion – Ray Maldonado

Note: I am not sure about the musicians on the album, these names were written on the cassette tape a friend gave me back in the late 80's, I've always assumed that this was the lineup, but I have never been able to find any confirmation of it... Anyone?

By 1972, Ethiopian multi-instrumentalist Mulatu Astatke was twenty-nine, and had already spent time stud ing music in London, Boston and New York. This included spells at two prestigious institutions, London’s Trinity College of Music, Boston’s Berklee College of Music. The time he spent there, influenced and shaped Mulatu Astatke as a musician. This included the two albums he released in 1966, Afro-Latin Soul, Volume 1 and Volume 2. Six years passed before Mulatu Astatke returned with his third album Mulatu Of Ethiopia, which was recently rereleased by Strut Records. It was a very different album, and was his first album of Ethio-jazz from the man who nowadays, is regarded as the genre’s founding father, Mulatu Astatke.

He was born in the city of Jimma, in south-western Ethiopia, on ‘19th’ December 1943. Growing up, Mulatu Astatke developed a love of music, and over the next few years, learnt to play a variety of instruments. This included the vibraphone, conga drums, percussion, keyboards and organ. Mulatu Astatke developed into a talented multi-instrumentalist. It looked as if Mulatu Astatke would embark upon a career in music. Suddenly, though, any dreams Mulatu Astatke had of embarking upon a career in music were dashed.
In the late-fifties,Mulatu Astatke’s family sent him to Wales study engineering. That was the plan. Instead, Mulatu Astatke enrolled at Lindisfarne College near Wrexham which prepared him for his studies in London, New York and Boston. After leaving Mulatu Astatke enrolled at Trinity College of Music, where he spent the next few years studying towards a degree in music. Having graduated, Mulatu Astatke began collaborating with jazz singer and percussionist Frank Holder. The pair formed a fruitful partnership, and for a while, Mulatu Astatke was part of London’s jazz scene. Eventually though, Mulatu Astatke decided to head stateside, where he would continue his studies and career.
Next stop for Mulatu Astatke was Boston, and the prestigious Berklee College of Music. He became the first African student to enrol and study at Berklee College of Music. For the next few years, Mulatu Astatke studied the vibraphone and percussion. He remembers: “ I learnt the technical aspects of jazz and gained a beautiful understanding of many different types of music. That’s where I got my tools. Berklee really shook me up.” His spell at Berklee College of Music proved an important period in Mulatu Astatke’s career. So did a journey to New York.
While studying in Boston, Mulatu Astatke would often travel to New York to play gigs, and other times, to watch concerts at venues like The Cheetah, The Palladium and The Village Gate. It was during one of these journeys to the Big Apple that Mulatu Astatke met producer Gil Snapper for the first time. “Gil was a nice and very interesting guy. He produced music and worked with all kinds of musicians.” This would eventually include Mulatu Astatke.
After graduating from Berklee College of Music, Mulatu Astatke moved to New York and continued his studies. It was during this period that Mulatu Astatke recorded two albums for Gil Snapper’s Worthy label.
The first album was Afro-Latin Soul Volume 1 which found Mulatu Astatke taking African music in a new direction. Gil Snapper describes what was at the heart of this new sound on the sleeve-notes to Afro- Latin Soul Volume 1: “he has taken the ancient five-tone scales of Asia and Africa and woven them into something unique and exciting; a mixture of three cultures, Ethiopian, Puerto Rican and American.” This new and innovative sound made its debut on Afro-Latin Soul Volume 1, which was an album of instrumentals that was released in 1966. It marked the debut of Mulatu Astatke and would influence the future direction of Ethiopian music.
Up until Mulatu Astatke released Afro-Latin Soul Volume 1 in 1966, Ethiopian musicians neither used congas nor bongos on when recording popular music. This would change when musicians back home in Ethiopia heard Afro-Latin Soul Volume 1 and its followup. Later in 1966, Mulatu Astatke returned with his sophomore album, Afro-Latin Soul Volume 2. Stylistically, it was similar to his genre-melting debut album. It mostly featured instrumentals, apart from I Faram Gami I Faram where Mulatu Astatke sings in Spanish. Mostly, though, Mulatu Astatke’s vibes are accompanied by a piano and conga drums that ads Latin rhythms. While this was regarded as new and innovative back home in Ethiopia, some critics thought that Mulatu Astatke’s music was similar to many other Latin-jazz records released during the mid-sixties. However, by the time Mulatu Astatke returned with his third album, he would’ve founded a new musical genre. 
As the sixties gave way to the seventies, Mulatu Astatke’s music began to change. This was a conscious decision, and one that was necessary. Mulatu Astatke needed and wanted to develop his own sound, and one that stood out from the crowd.
Mulatu Astatke had decided to develop the sound that had featured on Afro-Latin Soul Volume 1 and 2. To this, Mulatu Astatke decided to add elements of funk and Azmari chik-chikka rhythms to his existing sound. Gradually, this new sound began to take shape. The next step was to return to the studio, and record an album that showcased Mulatu Astatke’s new sound.
By 1972, Mulatu Astatke had gained the necessary skills to fuse the disparate musical genres to create Ethio-jazz. It had taken time and perseverance. Now the twenty-nine year old was ready to return to the studio to record his long-awaited third album, Mulatu Of Ethiopa.
Joining Mulatu Astatke at a studio in downtown Manhattan, were producer Gil Snapper and the band that would record eventually record Mulatu Of Ethiopa. Before that, Mulatu Astatke put his multitalented band through their paces. The band featured some of the Big Apple’s top Latin session musicians and several young, up-and-coming jazz musicians. They would spend the next four weeks rehearsing, and honing Mulatu Astatke’s new sound. He remembers that: “it took them a while to get the right feeling in the music.” Eventually, the band were ready to record what would become a landmark album, Mulatu Of Ethiopa.
When Mulatu Astatke and his band entered the studio, they recorded seven tracks that showcased his new sound. These tracks became Mulatu Of Ethiopa, where Mulatu Astatke and his band took as their starting point the Ethiopian five tonal scale. To the Pentatonic scale, Mulatu Astatke and his band added elements of jazz and Afro-American soul. This new and innovative musical fusion was christened Ethiojazz, and Mulatu Astatke was its founding father.
The release of Mulatu Of Ethiopa was a turning point in Mulatu Astatke’s career. After spending several years searching for his own sound, Mulatu Astatke had eventually settled on what would become his trademark sound, Ethio-jazz. It’s the sound that eventually Mulatu Astatke would become famous for. 
While Mulatu Astatke released his first album of Ethio-jazz in 1972, Mulatu Of Ethiopa wasn’t a hugely successful album, it influenced a generation of Ethiopian musicians. They adopted the new Ethio-jazz sound. For the second time in his career, Mulatu Astatke was influencing Ethiopian musicians from afar. At least his fellow countrymen understood the importance of this groundbreaking album. It was until much later that record collectors discovered Mulatu Of Ethiopa, and realised just how important, influential and innovative an album it was. Sadly, by then, Mulatu Of Ethiopa was out of print, and very few original copies of the album were still available. Occasionally, record collectors chance upon a copy of Mulatu Of Ethiopa, and picked it up in the bargain bins. Mostly though, copies of Mulatu Of Ethiopa were changing hands for large sums of money. What had once been a £200 album was changing hands for upwards of £600. This was a reflection of the importance of Mulatu Of Ethiopa, which was the first album of Ethio-jazz, from the genre’s founding father, Mulatu Astatke. 
Opening the stereo mix of Mulatu Of Ethiopa is Mulatu, which straight away, showcases the new Ethiojazz sound. It’s a fusion of the music of two countries, Ethiopia and Mulatu Astatke’s adopted home of America. Sharp stabs of braying horns leave space for the rhythm section who lock down the groove.
They’re joined by a wah-wah guitar, before the sultry horns flow across arrangement. It’s joined by glistening, shimmering vibes, percussion and later, a fluttering flute. Meanwhile, the rhythm section have locked down the tightest of grooves, as the blazing horns are played with power and passion. They join the vibes and wah-wah guitar in playing leading roles in the sound and success of Mulatu. Not only is it a beautiful, melodic and memorable example of Ethio-jazz, but it’s funky and soulful.
Just a pensive bass and then percusion open Mascaram Setaba before a wah-wah guitar, vibes and keyboards combine. By then, the arrangement is shuffling ruefully and cinematically along. Soon, a flute flutters high above the arrangement, as the bass provides the heartbeat. It joins with percussion, vibes and tough sounding keyboards, and they play their part in rueful, cinematic track that shuffles along as Mulatu Astatqe seamlessly combine elements of jazz, funk, fusion and Latin music.
Vibes shimmer,  while horns head in the direction of free jazz on Dewel. Meanwhile, the rhythm section play with the same power and urgency as the horns. After nearly a minute, a calm descends as the rhythm section locks into a groove with the keyboards and horns. Before long, the rhythm and horn sections play with urgency, while the vibes, keyboards and percussion explore the groove. They then take charge, after the arrangement has been stripped bare. It skips along, as cymbals play. Soon, the rhythm and horn section return, but still the vibes, keyboards and percussion continue to explore the groove, as the arrangement almost dances along and right through to the closing notes continues to captivate.
The rhythm section, wah-wah guitar and vibes are panned right and create a funky a backdrop on Kulunmanqueleshi. It sounds as if it belongs on a Blaxploitation soundtrack. Soon, they’re joined by a Freddie Hubbard inspired flute and percussion are added. Later, the arrangement takes on a tougher, edgier sound. Partly, this comes courtesy of the vibes, percussion and to some extent, the wah-wah guitar. They’re play their part in what sounds like a lost track from a classic Blaxploitation soundtrack.
Slow and spacious describes the arrangement to Kasalefkut-Hulu as the rhythm section play slowly and deliberately, as the rolling bass is joined by vibes, keyboards and slow, rasping horns. Meanwhile, the drums create mesmeric beat, while the horns play a starring role, as the tempo quickens. The horns play in unison, while the rolling bass plays around the braying, ruminative horns. They play a leading role in this beautiful, emotive track that tugs at the heartstrings, as Mulatu Astatqe and his band reach new heights.
Although it’s just the rhythm section and wah-wah guitar that open Munaye, soon, the rest of the band make their presence felt. Especially the blazing, braying horns which soar above the rest of the arrangement. Their playing is powerful and inventive, as the wah-wah guitar and rhythm section create a funky backdrop. However, it’s the horns that are stealing the show, until all of sudden, they drop out at 2.22. This allows the rhythm section and guitar to showcase their skills. Soon, though, the horns sashay in, but occasionally leave space that the drums fill. Meanwhile the wah-wah guitar ploughs a lone furrow in the name of funk, before this genre-melting track reaches a crescendo.
Chifara which closes Mulatu Of Ethiopia, is the longest track on the album. It’s just over seven minutes long, which allows Mulatu Astatqe and his band to stretch their legs. A wah-wah guitar, keyboards and pounding drums join with the probing bass and braying horns. The horns are played slowly, but soon, with a degree of urgency. So are the keyboards, while the rhythm section provide the pulsating heartbeat. Later, a flute flutters above the arrangement as the rest of the band jam. By then, it’s obvious that the four weeks the band spent practising before recording began was time well spent. Not only does the band play with freedom and fluidity, but their playing is inventive. Especially when searing, growling horns embark on one last solo. Again, they’re at their blistering solo plays an important part in this Ethio-jazz epic.
For Mulatu Astatke, Mulatu Of Ethiopia was a game-changer of an album. At last, after years of searching for his own sound, Mulatu Astatke had discovered his own unique sound. This Mulatu Astatke called Ethio-jazz. It was a genre that influenced a generation of Ethiopian musicians when they heard this groundbreaking album. Forty-five years later, and Mulatu Of Ethiopia continues to influence a new generation of musicians.
Similarly, Mulatu Of Ethiopia is an album that continues to be discovered by record buyers. Sadly, it’s long been out of print and has never been officially reissued since then. That was until Strut Records reissued Mulatu Of Ethiopia on CD, triple vinyl and digital download. The CD version features both the stereo and mono mixes of Mulatu Of Ethiopia, which offers interesting comparisons. Obviously, the stereo mix has a much wider and detailed soundstage. Then with the vinyl version of Mulatu Of Ethiopia, there’s the stereo and mono versions, plus a selection of out-takes from the sessions. This offers a fascinating insight into the recording of the original Ethio-jazz classic.
While other artists would release Ethio-jazz classics, Mulatu Astatke had set the bar high for those that followed in his footsteps. Their albums were compared to Mulatu Of Ethiopia, which isn’t just as Ethiojazz classic, but a jazz classic. It’s also an album that will appeal to anyone likes their music funky and soulful. However, Mulatu Of Ethiopia was a career defining album for Mulatu Astatke, the founding father of Ethio-jazz.

Mulatu Astatke and his Ethiopian Quintet - 1966 - Afro Latin Soul Vol. 2

Mulatu Astatke and his Ethiopian Quintet 
Afro Latin Soul Vol. 2

01. The Panther (Boogaloo) 2:20
02. Konjit (Pretty) 3:07
03. Soul Power 5:05
04. Lover's Mambo 2:10
05. Love Mood For Two 4:15
06. Jijiger 2:22
07. Girl From Addis Ababa 3:50
08. Karayu 3:52
09. Raina 4:38

Bass – Robert Cuadrado
Congas, Bongos – Felix Torres, John Perez
Piano, Trumpet – Rudy Houston
Timbales [Tymbali] – Tony Pearson
Vibraphone [Vibes], Piano, Drums – Mulatu Astatke

For those who might not be familiar, Mulatu Astatke is as important to the history of Ethio-jazz as Fela Kuti is to Afrobeat, defining the genre from it's inception. . . . On 'Soul Power', we find another great example of Astatke's signature sound, blending together traditional Ethiopian music with Latin-jazz. Simply put, just another classic composition from one of the genre's most influential and legendary musicians." --Pat Les Stache, American Athlete

Ethiopian sounds with a twist
By Bill Beuttler, Globe Correspondent 
November 5, 2004

It's been decades since Mulatu Astatke has performed his so-called Ethio Jazz in the United States, back when he toured and recorded in the 1960s with his Ethiopian Quintet. But the arranger-composer will be doing so again Wednesday in Arlington at the Regent Theatre, in the first of three concerts with the Either/Orchestra.

A fusion of the traditional music of Mulatu's native Ethiopia and the jazz and Latin influences he picked up as a student in London and Boston in the late 1950s and early '60s, Ethio Jazz enjoyed its short, largely unnoticed heyday between Mulatu's return to Ethiopia from New York in 1968 and the rise of the Marxist dictatorship there in 1974, after which the recording industry in that country remained shuttered for years.

By then, Mulatu had become a major figure in Ethiopian music. He had done so by bringing home and introducing such Western instruments as a Hammond organ, vibes, congas, and timbales, and, more important, by adapting to traditional Ethiopian melodies the composing and arranging skills he had studied under Herb Pomeroy and others during a short stretch at the Berklee College of Music.

Miles Davis, John Coltrane, and others were experimenting with modal jazz at the time Mulatu was studying jazz, and that and other influences shaped his Ethio Jazz.

''I still listen a lot to Gil Evans," says Mulatu by phone from his son's home in northern Virginia, recalling the musicians who affected him most in those seminal years. ''I love George Shearing very much -- I like his changes, I like his approach to his 12-tone music. I was listening a lot to Randy Weston. Coltrane I was listening to a lot. And Miles. Those are the people who really influenced me."

Mulatu's main challenge in combining traditional Ethiopian music with jazz, he says, involved integrating the pentatonic-scale-based melodies of Ethiopia with the 12 tones on which Western music is based. The result, to Western ears, has an eerie, exotic, almost trancelike feel to it, coupled with more familiar jazz, Latin, and soul rhythms and harmonies.

''Whatever you do," Mulatu says, ''if you touch the melody, then the whole thing's going to be changed. So the only thing you have to do to make this music interesting is to really work on the harmonic side of it. So I really worked on what I studied -- nice arrangements and nice voicings and nice soloing."

Mulatu's recorded output has, of course, been sparse. Still, it was recordings that serendipitously brought him together with the Either/Orchestra this past January, when the E/O capped off a two-week tour of the country by becoming the first non-Ethiopian band to perform at the annual Ethiopian Music Festival in Addis Ababa. 

Russ Gershon, Either/Orchestra's leader, became smitten with Ethiopian music after acquiring several CDs from the French producer Francis Falceto's ''Ethiopiques" series, which included Mulatu work from the early '70s.

Gershon went on to include arrangements of Ethiopian tunes on the E/O CDs ''More Beautiful Than Death" and ''Afro-Cubism." Those got noticed by Falceto and led to an E/O appearance in Addis Ababa. (The E/O's live festival performances with various Ethiopian musicians, including Mulatu, will make up volume 21 or 22 of the ''Ethiopiques" series, says Gershon, and probably be released this spring.)

''There's not that long tradition of high-level jazz playing that they're coming out of," Gershon says of the Ethiopian instrumentalists he heard on disc, ''so there's a sort of simplicity to the playing that I really like. . . . It's sort of all vibe, all feeling, coming through relatively simple technique."

For his part, Mulatu, whose main performing instruments are vibraphone, piano, and percussion, is delighted after all these years to work with American musicians who combine high-caliber chops and a genuine affinity for his music.

''They feel this music," he says, ''and they really play it so nice."

Mulatu Astatke and his Ethiopian Quintet - 1966 - Afro Latin Soul

Mulatu Astatke and his Ethiopian Quintet
Afro Latin Soul

01. I Faram Gami I Faram 2:25
02. Mascaram Setaba 1:47
03. Shagu 3:00
04. One For Buzayhew 3:25
05. Alone In The Crowd 4:00
06. Almaz 2:50
07. Mulatu's Hideaway 2:40
08. Askum 2:04
09. A Kiss Before Dawn 3:15
10. Playboy Cha Cha 3:50

Bass – Robert Cuadrado
Congas, Bongos – Felix Torres, John Perez
Piano, Trumpet – Rudy Houston
Timbales – Tony Pearson
Vibraphone, Piano, Drums – Mulatu Astatke

Recorded in Brooklyn, NY. Originally released in 1966.

The artist name is Mulatu Astatke & His Ethiopian Quintet on labels, just Ethiopian Quintet on the front cover.

Also released in italy by Cdi in 1966 under the name Jonny "Paciuga" Farmer And His Quintett ?– Pop Art. Tracks are the same as on "Mulatu Astatke & His Ethiopian Quintet ?– Afro-Latin Soul" but appear with different names. Mulatu Astatke and his Quintett are not mentioned on the release.

Born into a wealthy background, 16-year-old Mulatu Astatke left his native home in Ethiopia for England to finish school and study aerial engineering at the end of the '50's. "Science, like biology or chemistry, was given more importance in the education system. Actually, I had an early desire to become an aeronautical engineer, so I had the opportunity to go to an international school in North Wales that gave its students the freedom to try all different types of subjects, including music and the arts."
His mother taught him the piano as the child, but he never dreamed of becoming a musician: "I didn't necessarily grow up with music; actually, I was really involved in mathematics and physics." But in England, everything was different: "I heard music all the time, all the kids at school listen to all kinds of music. Finally my interest also turned to music". His teachers supported him. They found he had a talent for music. "I still studied science subjects for two to three years, I was playing in school bands at the same time." Schoolmates took him to London: "There was a wonderful club in Soho called the Metro. Quite a lot of Nigerians and Ghanaians were there, playing their music. I used to sometimes sit in playing congas. Even then, I thought, why doesn't anybody know Ethiopian music?" He decided to focus on music. "I was studying, and at the same time, I was trying to persuade my family that I should be a musician because that's what I was told. Finally they said, 'Okay, if you want it that much you should go study it,' so I went to London. I went to a community college and studied classical music for a while. I was playing with great musicians in London."

He went to Trinity College, where he studied clarinet, piano and harmonics. He eventually found his way into the London scene, working with many of the leading British jazz players of the era, Tubby Hayes among them. At one point, he was even a member of Edmundo Ros's Latin dance band.

But he wanted to try to compose, and play and write and promote Ethiopian music. "I had a few musician friends and I said, 'Look, I have a background in classical, but I want to study jazz—do you know any places in America where I can go to learn more about that?' Finally, I came up with Berkeley College in Boston, which was the only jazz school in the world at that time. So I went to Berkeley and that's where I really worked my tools."

As the first African student at Berkeley College in Boston, he thought "that if I blend Ethiopian music and jazz directly then it would sound like two cultures going at the same time. It took me time but I somehow managed, somehow I put them together." He called the integration of the pentatonic-scale-based melodies of Ethiopia with the 12 tones, on which Western music is based, 'Ethio-Jazz'. The result, to Western ears, has an eerie, exotic, almost trance-like feel to it, coupled with more familiar jazz, Latin, and soul rhythms and harmonies. Lithe and devoutly sensual, its dreamy melodies are chanted by un-tethered horns and echoed by rippling electric piano.

"During the mid-'60's, no one was really fusing Ethiopian music with jazz," he remembers. "There was Heile Selassie's First National Theatre Orchestra and the police and the army had orchestras. Then there were bands like the Echoes and the Ras Band. The musicians at the time were playing melodies around the four Ethiopian modes using techniques like 'cannon' forms, with melody lines echoing each other. With Ethio jazz, I consciously wanted to expand and explore the modes. My music brought in quite different harmonic structures and a different kind of soloing."

After some years of study, he moved to New York, because its jazz scene was so exiting. He saw most of his idols like Miles Davis and John Coltrane live on stage and Dizzy Gillespie and Tito Puente especially impressed him very much. They influenced him to open up to other musical influences besides jazz.

He established his 'Ethiopian Quartet,' which was mostly Puerto Rican, and in the '60's, they recorded two albums for a small New York label called Worthy (Afro-Latin Soul 1 & 2), and in 1972, another one, Mulatu of Ethiopia. He jammed with Dave Pike, who was Herbie Mann's vibraphonist at the time. Curiously, the music on these three records doesn't really sound like a mixture between Ethiopian music and jazz, but more like a blend between jazz with funk, Latin music and traditional Ethiopian five-tone scales.

On a trip back to Ethiopia, he realized that the atmosphere in Addis Ababa had changed. Since the social turmoil of 1960, Haile Selassie was forced to allow some liberal changes in society. Imported music from Europe and the USA had a marvelous effect on the music scene. Addis Ababa turned into a 'Swinging Addis.' The local music charts were dominated by pop music 'made in Ethiopia,' with local stars like Alemayehu Eshete, Getachew Mekuria or Mahmoud Ahmed. Mulatu decided to go home: "the longer you're creating something outside of your country, the harder it is for your people to understand it."

Upon his return, he went on a field trip to the South of Ethiopia. In Berklee, everybody said Charlie Parker invented modern jazz by playing octatonic scales like Debusy. In South Ethiopia, there was a tribe called the Darasha, "which played music with octatonic scales, which are very importation for improvisations in Jazz. So I went out to the bush, to the huts of this tribe and tried out all sorts of things. These people played octatonic scales, 24 musicians playing bamboo tubes of various lengths." In retrospect, he remarks "we should turn back and give our respect to the bush people. These people are our scientists."

Back in Addis Ababa, he met Amha Ashèté, head of the local Amha Records. He became songwriter, arranger and producer for the label. Between 1969 and 1974, there was hardly any recording published on Amha Records without his participation.

His return was initially greeted with mistrust. By introducing the Fender Rhodes piano, vibraphone and wah-wah pedals into the music, he was accused of imposing western sounds on traditional styles played on centuries-old instruments. Since Ethiopia was the only African country to avoid European colonization (save for Mussolini's brief occupation), it had largely avoided cultural 'contamination.' "But I never thought of jazz as American music," Astatke shrugs. "It was born in Africa and then went somewhere else. So why shouldn't I take it back there?", guardian Instead, he felt like a jazz ambassador, by bringing the Hammond Organ and the vibraphone to Ethiopia. "I changed the whole Ethiopian music," he said without shyness, "combining jazz and fusion with the Ethiopian five-tone scales."

And he started a new band under his own name. With 4 trumpets, 4 trombones and 5 saxophones, it sounded similar to Duke Ellington's orchestra, one of his masters: "Mostly we were playing international music at hotels and weddings but I also presented concerts of ethio-jazz. At first people didn't like it, but eventually the music got quite a following." The bulk of his output on Amha Records was released on 7" singles as well as one LP in 1974 entitled Yekatit Ethio-Jazz.

In 1970, he had the chance to meet Duke Ellington himself who was on tour in Africa. "I was assigned by the Embassy to be Ellington's escort while he was in Addis. We both stayed at the Hilton in Addis and, whatever he needs or wants to know about Ethiopia, I was his guide."

During his music studies in Boston, Mulatu had analyzed his work in detail. "We were due to play an evening concert so I discussed with him if he would consider playing one of my arrangements. I wrote an arrangement of 'Dewel' for his band, a different version which included some beautiful voicings on the horns. He found the structures so interesting and I remember him saying, 'This is good. I never expected this from an African.' He made my day. His visit to Ethiopia remains one of the greatest moments in my life."

By being a popular person and appearing in Ethiopian TV, he even brought musicians from four different tribes together into an Addis Ababa television studio and orchestrated a cross-tribal fusion performance. Even today, confronted with this ethnic music, the wind instruments are captivating for a Western ear and eye. They include long trumpet-like wooden horns called malakat and end-blown flutes that each produce one pitch and together a complex melody.

But times changed drastically after Emperor Haile Selassie was dethroned by a military coup in 1974, and replaced with a dictatorship known as the Derg. It transformed Addis's musical landscape. Not only did the city's social life end abruptly at 10PM, government bureaucrats also painstakingly examined song lyrics before recording sessions were allowed to take place, fanatically weeding out any critical content. As an instrumentalist with a distinct style, unlike other musicians with troublesome lyrics, he didn't fall afoul of the authorities, who arranged for his band to play at official ceremonies.

During the following years, many musicians fled the country and try to establish themselves as musicians somewhere in Europe or in the USA. Astatke stayed in Ethiopia though. "I'm not saying I approved of the regime, but I just concentrated on making music," he says. "But it wasn't like before. You know how the Communists are - choirs shouting, flags waving."

Mulatu taught for a living, though he was pressured out of one university job for promoting "imperialist music," because he was analyzing jazz-arrangements with students.

Although he did not release any records during this period, his three American recordings became collector's items among DJ's. Since it was being played in clubs worldwide, his music prevailed.

In 1991, the regime collapsed and Ethiopia became a democracy. A slow economic and cultural revival developed. Despite being cut off from the world, Ethiopian music had found fame among music fans fascinated by the music of Africa. In 1998, producer and record-collector Francis Falceto started with the re-issue of Ethiopian recordings from the '60's on the French label Buda Musique, which has run up to 23 volumes up to this day.

Volume 4 of the Buda series runs with the title Ethio Jazz and Musique Instrumental, 1969-1974, Mulatu Astatke. With this record, American musician and composer Russ Gershon was smitten by the Ethiopian sound. "They feel this music," he says, "and they really play it so nice." He frequently collaborates with the Massachusetts-based Either/Orchestra, one of jazz's longest running and most important large ensembles. Since 1985, the ten-piece group has traversed the history and stylistic range of jazz to make great music out of unexpected connections between styles and approaches to music. Like the late Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers, the E/O has been a kind of graduate school of jazz, whose alumni include John Medeski, Matt Wilson, Josh Roseman and Miguel Zenon, among dozens of other significant players. Gershon went on to include arrangements of Ethiopian tunes on the Either/Orchestra CD's More Beautiful Than Death and Afro-Cubism. "There's not that long tradition of high-level jazz playing that they're coming out of," Gershon says of the Ethiopian instrumentalists he heard on disc, "so there's a sort of simplicity to the playing that I really like... It's sort of all vibe, all feeling, coming through relatively simple technique." Gershon's records with Either/Orchestra got noticed by Falceto and in January 2004 they where the first Americans ever invited to the Ethiopian International Music Festival.

On their arrival, the band immediately met Mulatu and invited him to play at their concert, with results that surprised and delighted the audience and critics. Since that time, the E/O and Mulatu have performed together in the UK, Holland, Sweden, Finland, Germany, Canada and the U.S.. The E/O's live festival performances with various Ethiopian musicians, including Mulatu, makes up volume 20 of the Ethiopiques series.

Even American filmmaker, and ex-musician, Jim Jarmush discovered the music of Mulatu Astatke through the Ethiopiques series. In 2004, he was in pre-production for his film Broken Flowers and looking for music that would work for long car-rides that the main character, played by Bill Murray travels through the U.S. by car. "When I was writing Broken Flowers, " he said, "I was listening to a lot of his music, and I was thinking, 'How do I get this music into a film that's set in suburban America?' It even led me to make the character of Jeffrey Wright of Ethiopian descent." In the film, Mr. Wright's character, Mr. Murray's next-door neighbor, gets him started on his journey and hands him the disc. Mr. Murray then heads off for a trip around the USA, trying to find his son.

Jarmush met Astatke after a gig with Either/Orchestra in New York. "'I loved the show. I want to use your music sometime,'" Astatke remembers Jarmush saying. "A few months later, his crew called me up. 'We want to use this one, we want to use that one, we want to use this one... ' It was great!" Several songs by Astatke are used prominently in the film, and are on the soundtrack album, released by Decca. "The film's been seen all over the world and Ethio-jazz went with it. It started big things for me." Vol. 4 of the "Ethiopiques" series has seen a bump in sales since Broken Flowers was released. It is now selling about 1,800 copies a week; that is equivalent to the sales of a new album by a world music star like Youssou N'Dour.

In 2008, Mulatu went to Canada to lecture. There he met Karen P., who is a producer in England. Back in Africa, he remembers, "I got a call and she said 'would I like to go and make a concert in England?' I said 'Okay I'd be very glad to come over ‚but I don't have a band.' She said 'I have a band.' So that's how I met the Heliocentrics." The Heliocentrics is a future-jazz collective, based in London. "We only had one day of rehearsal, but we had a fantastic concert there at a place called the Congo. It was a very successful one, and there was someone from K7 records and they asked me if we could do a CD. So we did a CD together. It was recorded in just 10 days, in the Heliocentrics studio in London."

Bassist Jake Ferguson says, the Inspiration Information Record "is the meeting of two totally different musical worlds, which meant a lot of work and regular re-evaluations. And the occasional heated word.", guardian Drummer Malcolm Catto agrees: "He is a lovely, very humble man and we all embarked on this musical expedition with mutual respect and open minds - we're still learning from Mulatu. He was and is an inspiration."

Working with Either/Orchestra or Heliocentrics involves a totally different chemistry, Astatke says. "It's a different groove, different passion. I like both, and that's why I felt connected, and it came off authentic. The music reflects the connection."

Malcolm Catto, the drummer who is the driving force behind the Heliocentrics says "He's very open-minded — he'll give anything a chance. When we were working with him, we would play festivals where the support bands were pretty wild. You'd be checking them out, then you'd turn around and discover he was standing right behind you, listening."

But with his new record, Mulatu Steps Ahead, Astatke moves toward his origins, to jazz of the '60's, where it's all coming from for him: "I still listen a lot to Gil Evans," recalling the musicians who affected him most in those seminal years. I love George Shearing very much -- I like his changes, I like his approach to his 12-tone music. I was listening a lot to Randy Weston. Coltrane I was listening to a lot. And Miles. Those are the people who really influenced me." Yes, the Miles Davis of Miles Ahead is the true inspiration, but with a special touch from Astatke. Only he can compose pieces like "Green Africa" or "Ethio Blues" that merge jazz from the sixties with unique African sounds. Back in the sixties, Mulatu used to play piano, but today his main instrument is the vibraphone because "its sound resembles that of the African Balafone."

Today, his life is absorbed by music. In Addis Abeba, he has established his 'African Jazz Village,' a combination between a music school and a club. "It's a beautiful place, a beautiful venue," Mulatu said later. He hopes the school will help fuel Ethiopia's current jazz revival, a trend that has seen many Diaspora musicians return to Addis and means that today, music fans can tap their feet and dance along to live jazz at clubs and hotels across the city pretty much any night of the week. "There's one kid who plays there on Saturdays called Bebesha, a guitarist. He has a good future and he is a great fan of Ethio-jazz."

At night Astatke DJ's on the only country-wide music station, except when he is teaching at Harvard, where he is also doing research for a project: "the idea was to write a book of what Ethiopia has contributed to development of music and arts. During my time there, I made a lot of talks to 30 fellows of Harvard, with three other composers, some from Japan. We had great researchers and professors. As a team we gave presentations and discussed at length the development of classical music and jazz and the music, customs and instrumentations happening in Ethiopia that pre-date all of this by many centuries." 

But he does not have too much time for research, because he is on tour all around the world with his new band because he receives a lot of offers.

At Harvard, he started to write an opera, "The Yared Opera," based on Ethiopian Coptic Church music, written around 380 A.D., which will be conducted using the mekwamia, an ancient conducting stick. "There's a beautiful church, called the Lalibela Church. It's made out of one big stone, built up and carved out of one big stone. I really want to open an opera inside that church. I've got to go through about 80 or 85 people to get the permission from the government. So I'm working on that now." And he hasn't figured out who might perform this opera. "I have been contacting a few quartets in Europe and also America. I don't know, maybe even the American embassy could sponsor these guys. So I'm talking with the Norwegian embassy, going to talk with the American embassy and the British embassy. They might be able to bring me those quartets. But, this is not going to be a jazz thing, this is very symphonic. It's music from 360 A.D. against the 21st century—it's a continuation."

The first section of "The Yared Opera" was premiered at Harvard's Sanders Theater in Boston in April 2008. Writing an opera has opened another perspective on music for Astatke: "I think of music as a science. There is no difference between musicians and scientists. They deal with chemicals, we deal with sound. When you're writing for 60 or 70 orchestral musicians, you have to imagine so many counterpoints, so many rhythms, so many instruments. The combination of all those sounds equals this. The chemist combining chemicals equals that. So where's the distinction?"

Mulatu Astatke, is known as the father of Ethio-Jazz. His album, Afro-Latin Soul was recorded in Brooklyn, NYC and was released in 1966 on Worthy Records. This album is a 50 year old creation, which speaks volumes to its quality and significance and to the fact that it can still be enjoyed today. If you’ve seen Jim Jarmusch’s film Broken Flowers starring Bill Murray, you’ll be a bit familiar with Mr. Astatke and his Ethiopian Quintet, as their music is found on the majority of the soundtrack and even features three songs off Afro-Latin Soul. I especially like the album art of the record, it’s simple yet eye catching and the informative commentary found on the back of the record sleeve is short and sweet!

“[…] Mulatu a multi-talented musician, composer and arranger, has created a new sound “Afro-Latin Soul”. He has taken the ancient five-tone scale of Asia and Africa and woven them into something unique and exciting; a mixture of three cultures, Ethiopian, Puerto Rican and American.

Mulatu has brought to America a pulsating dance, called the “Skista”. Wherever he plays the “Skista”, it becomes an immediate craze. Louis Rodriguez, the singer, gives a magnificent interpretation in Spanish of an Ethiopian Skista with “I Faram Gami I Faram”.

During the Session, Mulatu masterfully jumps from vibes to piano to drums. Rudy Houston switches from piano to trumpet to give a soul-stirring rendition of a haunting melody. Felix Torres and John Perez, keep up an exciting conga and bongo background along with the real boss bass of Robert Cuadrado and the tremendous tymbali work of Tony Pearson.

This album is one you will always treasure.
Gil Snapper”