Like so many of the Afropop artists that are finally gaining prominence in the Western musical consciousness, Mulatu Astatke, the renowned father of Ethio jazz, has been recording for years. Only in the last half-decade has his work begun to earn the recognition that it deserves. In 1998, the French label Buda Musique released a short compilation of Mulatu’s work, entitled Ethiopiques, Vol. 4: Ethio Jazz & Musique Instrumentale, 1969-1974. However, it wasn’t until 2005 that Jim Jarmusch’s film Broken Flowers, whose soundtrack featured several tracks from the revolutionary musician, brought him to the attention of the semi-mainstream.
In 2009, Astatke reached an even greater audience after melding his style of Ethio jazz with the music of The Heliocentrics, in a collaboration which yielded Inspiration Information (TMT Review). Later that year, Strut (the label behind Inspiration) released the retrospective New York-Addis-London: The Story of Ethio Jazz 1965-1975, garnering even more success and exposure for Mulatu.
In the wake of his increasing popularity, Mulatu Astatke began work on a new studio album last year. The album, Mulatu Steps Ahead, features the same style of Ethio jazz collected on New York-Addis-London, but as the name implies, stylistic stagnation isn’t an issue. According to the press release, Mulatu Steps Ahead “explores new directions in fusions of Western jazz with Ethiopian modes, moving forward the pioneering sound Mulatu developed during the 60s and 70s.” For the album, Astatke recruited members of Either/Orchestra, The Heliocentrics, and various jazz and traditional Ethiopian musicians.
Mulatu Steps Ahead is out March 30 from Strut. Shortly after, Mulatu Astatke will begin a worldwide tour, including dates with The Heliocentrics.