Art & Culture

Artist Mulatu Keen on fusing Ethio-Jazz with Turkish Music

ADDIS ABABA – Artist Mulatu Astatke,the father of Ethio-jazz, has created fans across the world for his albums that combined everything from funk and soul music to sounds pulled from African, Latin and Western music.

His music career extends to more than five decades. Many are still fond of his albums of instrumentals that were released during Ethiopia’s Golden ’70s.

He also collaborated with many notable artists, arranging and playing on recordings by Mahmoud Ahmed, while hip hop artists, including Nas, Damian Marley, Kanye West, and K’naan, sampled his songs extensively.

His audiences in the west expanded even further when the 2005 Jim Jarmusch film Broken Flowers featured seven of Mulatu’s songs.

The artist is 79 now, but Mulatu’s work is not yet done.

He is now keen to integrate Ethiopian and Turkish music for his audiences and inspire more musicians.

Ethiopia and Turkey maintain century-old good relations, and music could boost the tie even further, said Mulatu, speaking to Anadolu Agency (AA), headquartered in Ankara.

“I have been seriously contemplating on how to compose a beautifully integrated music of the two nations. I call this possible musical project — Ethio-Turkish fusion,” he told AA.

“In a divided and hostile global situation, Ethio-Turkish fusion could musically present to the world the benefits of maintaining peaceful and trustworthy relations between the people and governments of Ethiopia and Turkey,’’ he said.

Mulatu, who pursued musical studies at Trinity College in London and then at jazz-oriented Berklee College in Boston city of the U.S., noted the similarities between Ethiopian and Turkish music.

“As a musicologist, I still study different countries’ music and Turkey is one of them,” he said, adding that the notable cultural and musical similarities between the two countries serve as an impetus for his thoughts on musical creation.

Marked by eerie and ancient-sounding tones, typical of traditional Ethiopian music, Ethiopian jazz or Ethio-jazz are a unique blend of traditional Ethiopian music with jazz, West African musical styles, and Latin rhythms.

“Ethio-jazz, as I call it, is a creative fusion of the pentatonic scale –based Ethiopian traditional music with the 12-note western jazz and instrumentation,” Mulatu told AA’s Seleshi Tessema.

The artist claims to have succeeded in constructing a unique genre while maintaining the authenticity, color, and texture of Ethiopian music.

“This is the science of Ethio-jazz,” he said, and “touches of Afro-funk, Soul, and Latin rhythms”.

Ethio-jazz “is not only a beautifully harmonized music, but it also conveys a universal message of togetherness, cultural understanding, and respect,” he added.

Apart from inspiring many musicians, his works has taken him to many places across the world.

“Over the past three decades, with many global bands I have performed in concerts in several world cities, and reached western audiences,’’ the father of Ethio-Jazz said.  

Mulatu still plays music regularly with his band at Jazz Mender at Ghion Hotel in Addis Ababa.




Featured Image Caption: Mulatu Astatke on stage at the Big Chill festival, in England, in 2011. [Photo Andy Sheppard/Redferns]