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Mulatu Astatke received  an award from the Italian Embassy on Friday, October 14, 2016. The musician is often referred to as the godfather of Ethiopian jazz The award was given to the musician at the African Jazz Village, a jazz club located in the Ghion Hotel

Mulatu was born on 19 December 1943 in the western Ethiopian city of Jimma.  He was musically trained in London, New York City, and Boston where he combined his jazz and Latin music interests with traditional Ethiopian music.

As a young man, Mulatu was sent by his family to study engineering at Lindisfarne College in Wales in the 1950s, however went on to graduate with a degree in music, later studying at the Trinity College of Music in London, UK. In the 1960s the percussionist moved to Boston, U.S. and studied vibraphone and percussion at the Berklee College of Music, where he explored his interest in Latin jazz.

Mulatu Astatke
Mulatu Astatke performing at the African Jazz Village, a jazz club located in the Ghion Hotel

After moving to New York Cityhe released a pair of albums “Afro-Latin Soul, Volumes 1& 2” in 1966. The albums featured mainly instrumental songs and were credited for establishing bongo and conga drums as standards in Ethiopian popular music. In 1972 the composer released the album “Mulatu of Ethiopia”, introducing the sound, now known as Ethio-jazz, both in Ethiopia and the U.S. Around this time the percussionist collaborated with revered artists including Mahmoud Ahed and Duke Ellington, which represented the golden age of instrumentation and rhythm in Ethiopia’s pop and jazz circles.

Following the Derg military junta, the majority of Ethio-jazz labels in Ethiopia were forced to flee, including Amha Records, which had released the bulk of Astatke music in the country. The musician kept a relatively low profile during the 1990s, with his music only found in certain underground circles, however he received somewhat of a resurgence in the 2000s among western audiences, thanks to his feature in the 2005 Jim Jarmusch film Broken Flowers, and being sampled by the likes of Nas, Damian Marley, Kanye West and Cut Chemist.

In 2004 Astatke collaborated with the U.S. band Either/Orchestra, subsequently making appearances in Scandinavia, London, New York, Canada and Germany. The percussionist later worked with the London-based collective The Heliocentrics, which featured re-workings of his classic Ethio-jazz material as well as new productions.

Mulatu continues to grace world class jazz festivals across the world taking the Ethio-jazz to his fans.