His wish has come true.
Nowadays, adventurous musicians around the world experiment with the exotic sounds, scales, and instruments of Ethiopian music — just like Mulatu Astake experimented with Latin music & American Jazz when he got to the United States.
Read this article to learn more about these musicians who create astonishing, genre-bending music influenced by Ethio-Jazz. Watch cool videos, and listen to a Spotify playlist that introduces you to this exciting music being made in Ethiopia and around the world.
Listen to, and follow this playlist of funky Ethio-Jazz…
Intriguing, Breathtaking Ethiopian Jazz Funk
Mistakes On Purpose
You’ve met the phenomenal Akalé Wubé in my first Ethiopian music article here. Girma Bèyènè is a popular Ethiopian lyricist, composer, arranger, vocalist, and pianist, most active during the golden era of Ethio-Jazz. He left Ethiopia during the Derg military dictatorship to live in the USA where he disappeared into the diaspora and ceased to play music. After over 20 years he’s now making a comeback on this remarkable record.
The comeback took place in 2016 during a memorable concert alongside Akalé Wubé at the Studio de l’Ermitage in Paris. Under the direction of Francis Falceto (director of the famous Ethiopiques series) Girma and Akalé Wubé came together and recorded this album in order to immortalize this renaissance.
If you like this music, but don’t know the Ethiopiques series…you must check them out!
Francis Falceto, a French music producer and promoter, fascinated by Ethiopian music, went about diligently collecting and recording Ethiopian music and compiling, a now 30-volume series, called Ethiopiques on the French label Buda Musique. You can listen to my favorite compilations here.
Éthiopiques Volume 30: “Mistakes On Purpose” will blow your mind. The combination of the exotic Amharic lyrics with Akalé Wubé’s inspired musicianship is like nothing else, and is clearly the best example of Mulatu Astake’s quote above.
“Ené Negen Bay Manesh” starts the playlist with, what I assume is an ode to Ethiopia, since that’s the only word I understand. The foreign lyrics only make this song cooler; understanding the story isn’t essential.
Akalé Wubé really jams on this one. Listen for the breakdown about halfway. A groovy piano leads us in, then rousing horns, and wild wah-wah funk it up and bring it to fever pitch before Girma resumes the story.
Then the band shines on the instrumental, “Muziqawi Silt” — originally by Walias Band, which included Girma Bèyènè, Hailu Mergia, and featured Mulatu Astake’s vibraphone playing on this classic. This is a staple of Ethio-Jazz that everyone covers — and here Akalé Wubé kills it! They play it straight, but make it funkier & more modern sounding. They also make it much more percussive, and the wah-wah cooks!
From The Heart
Hoodna’s musical director is guitarist and composer, Ilan Smilan. The cultural and musical environment that surrounds the group has a great effect on its creative process. Exposure to Ethiopian, Eritrean, and Arabic musical traditions, coupled with an ongoing study and exploration of different Jazz styles, creates a unique blend which has made The Hoodna Orchestra one of the most appreciated and sought-after live shows in Israel.
“Yelben” (from my heart in Amharic) is the 2017 single from the Hoodna Orchestra and Tesfaye Negatu, whose family immigrated from Ethiopia to Israel when he was 15. It is a melancholic, yet irresistible, love song that reflects a painful longing for a love that is long gone. The song was written by the Ethiopian poet and singer Demisu Belete and composed by Ilan Smilan.
The B-side is a dope instrumental song — “Beza” (“on my side” in the Ge’ez language). Both songs were recorded live in the Hoodna studio, on mostly analog equipment. The songs convey a respectful nod to the glory days of Ethiopian Jazz and pop in Addis Ababa during the 60’s and 70’s. This is the first in a series of collaborations between the Hoodna Orchestra and Ethiopian singers and musicians both from Israel and Ethiopia.
Watch Hoodna Orchestra & Tesfaye Negatu capture the vibe of an Addis Ababa night club from the early 70s on “Yelben”…
On “Helios Victor” they pay homage to the Ethio-Jazz groove with a genre-defying song full of deep baritone sax, moody organ, and wah-wah sounds that take you on trip to the other side of the sun.
Down The Ethio-Jazz Boulevard
Funky Ethio-Jazz Brass
Their sublime sound is inspired by the golden age of Ethiopian music of the 1960’s and 70’s, filtered through a lens that is uniquely Los Angeles. Acknowledging the diverse musical foundations of Ethio-Jazz, the ensemble also draws inspiration from the rhythmic and melodic textures across Africa, Central/Latin America and the Caribbean. On the rousing, “Sidama de Cali,” you can hear these influences all come together beautifully.
Old Ethiopian Soul Music Is New Again
In this Spotify playlist he appears twice — first on “Yegle Nesh” — an intoxicating tune lead by Hailu’s organ playing. Listen for the funky flute breakdown 😉
Thanks to Awesome Tapes From Africa, he and his marvelous music get a resurgence. Hailu Mergia & Dahlak Band’s record, Wede Harer Guzo, was cassette-only when it came out in 1978. Awesome Tapes From Africa re-released it in 2016. It’s a singular, mellow, exotic record with lots of accordion, distinctly Ethiopian sounding organ, and deep bass lines. A nice mellow tune from this album closes out our Spotify playlist.
Watch him jamming with his new band, and listen to his story here…
Electrifying Ethiopian Music
“Tenesh Kelbe Lay” is a high-energy tune on which you can here a little of all these influences — and it’ll make you want to dance.
Sensational, Wild World Music
Prepare yourself for a brilliant blend of Caribbean & Ethiopian music on “Enjera.” It’s a funky Ethiopian Jazz groove with a splendid steel drum dancing on top of the syncopated beat, accompanied by a funky flute, and horny horns.
Enjoy another stupendous song courtesy of Paris DJs. This one by the Spanish band, Pyramid Blue, doing “African Jungle.” These guys are great genre-benders, and here they take on the Ethio-Jazz groove…
The Godfather Of Ethio-Jazz
Now in his 70s, the father of Ethiopian Jazz, is still going strong in Addis Ababa…with an influential radio show, music club, hotel, and school…sharing and disseminating his love of Ethio-Jazz. He’s still making great records too, like Sketches of Ethiopia from 2013.
In this Spotify playlist listen to a gorgeous instrumental, “Hager Fiker,” which showcases his vibes skills, as well as potent percussion & wind instruments. “Surma” is an animating pan-African tune with guest vocals by Fatoumata Diawara, a beautiful singer born in Côte d’Ivoire to Malian parents. It’s cool to hear the marriage of West African music and Ethio-Jazz.
Then, hear “Munaye” — a super funky song with bold brass, potent percussion, and a great example of how Mulatu Astatke was influenced by Latin Jazz. It comes from the remarkable remastered version of his debut album, Mulatu of Ethiopia, which Strut Records re-released in 2017.
Watch a quick interview with Mulatu Astatke & check out his school, the African Jazz Village…
East Africa Meets West Africa
African Adventurers From Austin
Hard Proof also has an Ethio-Jazz offshoot, The Azmaris. Apparently, enjoying music by Mulatu Astatke and other Ethio-Jazz legends a little too much birthed a band that now plays deep groovy instrumentals and other exciting explorations.
Listen to (and get a free download) their killer take on Mulatu Atake’s “Yekatit” for the “Live at Level One Sound” cover series…
Ethiopian Explorations: From The Motherland to America
In 2016 he teamed up with phenomenal future-Jazz saxophonist, Kamasi Washington, on the “Wejene Aola” single on Soundway Records to explore even more Ethio-Jazz grooves. Check out their killer collaboration in this Spotify playlist.
Learn more about multi-talented, Dexter Story, hear him speak about making music inspired by his love for African music & playing it from an African-American perspective. Watch his band playing live with Kamasi Washington & Ethio Cali…
A Jazz Leviathan
The group was founded in 2013 by saxophonist Zakari Frantz and pianist Pierre Chrétien of the Souljazz Orchestra, both looking to explore new directions in modal, spiritual and esoteric Jazz music (without getting weird & avant garde). They recruited like-minded trumpeter Ed Lister, double bassist Alex Bilodeau, and drummer Mike Essoudry for the journey, and the new combo was soon on its way.
This is accessible, soulful, cutting-edge Jazz at its finest. Here, listen to their Ethio-Jazz inspired tune, “Blue Nile.”
Ethio-Jazz from Brooklyn
Take a trip to Ethiopia with DJ Jazzcat &
his Akalé Wubé special on Mixcloud. Bon voyage…