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Ethiopian Love

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Mulatu Astatqe : Mulatu
taken from the album “Mulatu of Ethiopia” on Worthy (1972)

Mulatu Astatqe ft. Fekade Amde Maskal : Ene Alantchi Alnorem
taken from the album “Ethio Jazz” on AMHA (1974)

I recently got a pre-release copy of “Gilles Peterson in Africa”, where you can find the song Mulatu. It’s a ‘wikkid’ compilation, as to be expected from the ‘Best DJ in the World’. Not too many surprises, but strictly solid picks that cover a lot of ground. One disc of 60s and 70’s gems, and another of modern club tracks that are keeping the groove alive. If you’re a semi-obsessive collector like myself, you’ll probably have a lot of the tunes already. If you don’t recognize the song titles, then pick it up. Anyway, Gilles came onto my show back in the Fall right after “Gilles Peterson in Brazil” came out. It was a real treat for me, and we ended up getting on the topic of Quantic- one of my favorite producers. It turns out that he’s currently working on a project with my favorite Ethiopian musical mastermind. I flipped out. I’m still drooling in anticipation of the undoubtedly sick results. You heard it here first (maybe).

Mulatu Astatqe is every rare-groove-record-collector’s-dream-come-true. These tracks, and every other song I’ve ever heard him produce, embody the perfect marriage of moody jazz and a groove that won’t quit. Even his ballads (like Ene, the title translated means “I Can’t Live Without You”) force you to bop your head. I first found out about him by taking out a CD from the NY Public Library- no joke. I couldn’t stop listening to it. Distant wailing horns, interesting time signatures (not featured here), murky funk, and a style of swing that comes directly from the traditional music of Ethiopia. Praises to the most high for the folks at Buda Musique who worked for years to re-issue so much of this music, on vinyl too! You wont hear me say this very often, but any self-respecting music appreciator NEEDS this album.

In part because of an incredibly strong national pride, Ethiopian musicians were generally closed off to influences from international music. The “Golden Age” of ethiopian pop music (1969 – 1975) was taking place during the end of the rule of the steel-spined Emperor Haile Sallassie I. So while much of West Africa was soaking up sounds from Latin music and Afro-American music, Ethiopia remained highly Ethio-centric; despite the lone attempts by our protaganist Mulatu. In addition to studying music and engineering in the UK, he lived and played here in NYC for a while back in the sixties, jamming with plenty of Latin cats at a time when the Nuyorican sound was reaching perfection. It’s actually a crew of Latin New Yorkers who make up the personnel on “Mulatu of Ethiopia”. Mulatu was literally the first Ethiopian musician to study abroad. In ’66 he released two ‘Afro-latin soul’ albums with his Ethiopian Quintet. This was still years before Manu Dibango or Fela Kuti (who was concurrently out in L.A. with Koola Lobitos) would really define their Afro-fusion sound. One wet funk number, and a wind wisped ballad that almost brings me to tears every time; this is just a teaspoon- keep diggin’.