Mulatu Astatke was born in Ethiopia and came to the West, to London, New York, and Boston, to study music. In the late 60’s and 70’s he pioneered a style of jazz fusion that incorporated Ethiopian sounds, Afro-beat, and Nuyorican club jazz. That makes for a pretty tasty stew that you can eat with your hands. Since then he’s worked with diverse musicians and lectured on music at Harvard, but Steps Ahead (Strut 2010) is his first solo album in 30 years. It’s pretty great, and this is also coming on the heels of an awesome collaboration with erstwhile DJ Shadow backers The Heliocentrics (also through Strut records). I’ll give you a little contrasting taste of each.
“Assosa,” named after a region in northwestern Ethiopia and adapting traditional music of the tribes that live there, is hypnotic and cerebral. Both simple and complex, it’s for sitting still and taking deep breaths. “Esketa Dance,” on the other hand and as the name implies, will get you moving. It’s from the collaboration with The Heliocentrics, whose own genre-schizophrenia suits Mulatu’s compositions exceedingly well.
Mulatu Astatke & the Heliocentrics, “Esketa Dance” [Learn more and buy the album here.]