Maybe you’re aware that Ethiopia was a hot spot for jazz in the late 60s and early 70s. Addis Ababa was known as “Swinging Addis,” and the music scene was on fire. But all that changed in 1974 when a military dictatorship deposed Emperor Haile Selassie and imposed a curfew, stifling artistic expression until 1991. The flourishing music scene was destroyed over night.
But back in 1969, a man named Amha Eshèté started a small record label and began recording everyone who was making music in Addis. In five years, he recorded about 250 singles. When the military junta took over Ethiopia, Eshèté was exiled to the U.S., where he lived for the next 20 years. Somehow, the master recordings of his catalogue ended up in a warehouse in Greece, where they were forgotten about until the mid-90s. It was then that the French record label Buda Musique started sorting and compiling the music and began rereleasing the fabulous collection. There are currently 27 volumes in the Ethiopiques series.
Since the issuing of the first Ethiopiques record, interest in the music exploded. Jim Jarmusch scored his film Broken Flowers with the music of Mulatu Astatke. The Dutch punk band The Ex visited Addis and found sax legend Getachew Mekurya doing a weekly gig in the Sheraton Hotel. They invited him to Amsterdam and their collaboration resulted in a new album.
And the music continues to be discovered by new fans. Recently, hip-hop artists have started mining the archive for great samples. K’naan samples six different Ethiopian artists on his album Troubadour. The most prominent sample is on his tune “ABCs,” in which he samples Mulatu Astatke’s “Kaselefkut Hulu.”
Another sample you may recognize is on the Nas and Damian Marley collaboration “As We Enter.” They sample one of Mulatu Astatke’s best known tunes, “Yegelle Tezeta.”
Check out how Nas and Damian Marley use the sample:
“As We Enter” by Nas & Damian Marley
My favourite tune in the whole collection is by Mulatu Astatke. It’s called “Tezeta.” Tezeta is the name given to something that’s nostalgic, often a melancholy tune. This composition channels both joy and sorrow beautifully.
on Mar 08, 2012