The father of Ethiopian jazz is always moving—and it keeps his music evolving

Mulatu Astatke

Ethiopian jazz master Mulatu Astatke will be taking a break from his extensive 2018 European concert tour to play at the 19th Cape Town International Jazz Festival. This should come as no surprise given that he has been in global motion ever since his parents sent him to study aeronautical engineering in North Wales in 1956.

But Mulatu (Ethiopians are traditionally called by their first names) soon began trumpet lessons instead, enrolling in London’s Trinity School of Music. While in London he heard performances by Caribbean and West African musicians that awoke his memories of the big bands he had enjoyed at home in Ethiopia. These performances prodded him to consider new directions.

By 1958 Mulatu was the first African student to enroll at what would soon become the Berklee College of Music in Boston. There he traded in his trumpet for the vibraphone. By 1960 he was living in New York City, where he spent more than six years taking part in the world of American jazz, interacting with Latin musicians, making records and performing in concerts.

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