Poor “Jacobim” Mulatu Astatke–the man rivals Haile Sellassie for popularity in his native Ethiopia, and domestically, he’s still mistakenly conflated for the designer from Zoolander whose fashion aesthetic resembled a gay Colonel Sanders. I imagine I am the only one who thinks this. Regardless, it’s been a good year for the father of Ethio-Jazz, with his Mochilla Timeless performance garnering unanimous raves and his Strut collaboration with the Heliocentrics, Inspiration Information, putting a new twist on his classic discography and expanding on his his estimable legacy. If you’re still unaware of said rep, this interview should fill in the preliminary gaps.
Now Strut, who let it be said, I almost universally ride for (save for the new Grandmaster Flash record that unconscionably included a song named “Swagger”) have compiled a fairly definitive compilation of Multatu’s legendary work from 1965-1975, the Golden Age of Ethio-Jazz. Documenting an even earlier sample of work than the previous must-have Ethiopiques anthology, the collection includes Mulatu’s years in New York, where the lingering effect of his Duke Ellington worship met the salsa and jazz-rock fusion then enveloping the Apple. Of course, it captures the bible material cut under the waning years of the Selassie dynasty, most notably immortalized in Broken Flowers. Like all great crossroads music, Ethio-jazz bears a syncretic and seamless blend of influences, and the Boston and Britain-schooled Mulatu is the most polyglot ambassador the genre has. I’m also a fan of his work in Frankie Goes to Hollywood.