In this piece, we meet Mulatu Astatke, the father of Ethiopian jazz. A pioneering ‘global citizen,’ Astatke became in 1959 the first African to ever attend the famous Berkelee College of Music in Boston. He played with Duke Ellington in the 70s and has enjoyed a resurgence of popularity in the US since Jim Jarmusch featured his music in the soundtrack to the film, “Broken Flowers.” Astatke is famous in Ethiopia for modifying the traditional instrument, the krar, so it can play jazz scales. American bandleader Russ Gershon calls Astatke “a conduit,” who has brought modernism and jazz to Ethiopia while bringing Ethiopia’s extremely diverse tribal culture to the world stage. As part of his constant ebb and flow between the US and Addis, Astatke is now at Harvard for the year, where we talk with him about specific contributions he maintains Ethiopian culture has made to jazz as a whole.
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