Ethio-Jazz with Mulatu Astatqé and the Either/Orchestra

Some shows seem obscure until you start to work on them, and then all of a sudden there’s something perfectly natural — familiar, even — about them. The music of Mulatu Astatqé fits that bill perfectly. He’s a sort of national musician of Ethiopia, an instrumentalist (on piano, organ, vibes and percussion), composer, and arranger whose work spans decades and whose collaborations span oceans.

So a quick primer on the music we’ll be talking about this hour, in case it’s not yet familiar to you:

It’s patchwork music, a music of forced migrations and atmospheric borrowings and continental cross-pollinations. It is, basically, a couple hundred years of history in musical form. It’s West African rhythms and melodies travelling on slave ships to the Americas, where they eventually morphed into African-American spirituals and blues and jazz and samba and soul (and on and on). And then it came back to Africa — East Africa — to Ethiopia, where, during the short, magnificent flowering — the “Golden Age” — of popular music that lasted for the decade or so prior to the country’s 1974 Stalinist military coup, all of these Western sounds with African roots (think Duke Ellington and James Brown and Tito Puente) combined with the traditional Semitic-like melodies and modes of the nearby Middle East.

That, in a nutshell, is the pedigree of Mulatu Astatqé, who studied Western music in London and Boston before returning to Ethiopia to brew up the “Ethio-Jazz” movement in front of international audiences in the “Swinging Addis” clubs of the late 60s and early 70s.

It’s thirty years later — we’ll find out about those intervening thirty years during the show — and in Astatqé’s recent collaborations with Boston’s Either/Orchestra, African music comes full circle, and then across the Atlantic again for another go around.

We’ll be talking to Astatqé and Either/Orchestra founder and bandleader Russ Gershon about their cross-generational, cross-cultural, cross-linguistic, cross-everything musical parternship, one that, like their dovetailing traditions, makes a lot more sense the more you hear.

Mulatu Astatqé

Musician/Arranger, Ethiopiques, Vol. 4

[In our Boston studio]

Russ Gershon

Musician/Producer, Ethiopiques, Vol. 20

Founder and bandleader, Either/Orchestra

–> Discography

–> Biography

[In our Boston studio]

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