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Mulatu Astatke (born December 19, 1943) is an Ethiopian jazz percussionist, multi-instrumentalist, composer and arranger, and noted as the founder of Ethio-jazz.
Hailing from the western Ethiopian city of Jimma, young Astatke 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.
After moving to New York City, U.S., Astatke released a pair of albums “Afro-Latin Soul, Volumes 1& 2” in 1966. The albums featured mainly instrumental songs and was 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 release 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.