When thieving megastars ride to chart success sampling another musician’s work, the latter is often overlooked. Mulatu Astatke is one such artist, and there’s a good chance you’ll have heard some of his music without realising it.
This is criminal, because the ‘father of Ethio-jazz’ (believe us, we don’t like that term any more than you do) should by rights be lauded as more than just the creator of a remarkable fusion of jazz, soul and funk with east African roots. Last year the Ethiopia-born, Trinity College-trained musician, now in his 70s, finally got around to releasing an album internationally (in your own time Mulatu) entitled Sketches of Ethiopia. And it’s fair to say it’s been reviewed rather favourably.
Astatke is now bringing his extensive repertoire to the Southbank Centre, where he played three years ago to a hero’s welcome. On Saturday 13 September he will fill the venue with the rhythms of his homeland, and audience members will spend a couple of hours scratching their heads wondering where they’ve heard these songs before.
As ever, Londonist is here to help. Below are five of the better-known tracks which have sampled Astatke’s work, alongside the songs that should be a lot more well known than they are. We recommend you use this handy guide to learn Astatke’s music to the extent that you can talk all the way through the concert about how you’ve been a fan of his for years, while the rest are nothing more than pop-loving fad hunters.
This track wasn’t so much sampled by Nas and Damian Marley in 2010 as kidnapped, brainwashed, given a new name and set of clothes and pushed out into the world blinking as As We Enter. But the skills of Mulatu Astatke are still at the forefront of a song that made the charts in the UK and America.
Tezetayé Antchi Lidj
In a fine example of an artist using Astatke for a leg-up, Pretty Lights (real name Derek Vincent Smith) sampled this track in his 2008 track At Last I Am Free. Never heard of Pretty Lights? He was nominated for the Grammy for Best Dance/Electronica Album at this year’s awards (only losing out to Daft Punk), so he seems to be doing alright for himself.
The race of Dereks must be eternally grateful to Mulatu Astatke, as here we have another one sampling the great man. Derek Murphy, otherwise known as Derek X and more popularly (and perhaps sensibly) as Sadat X, is a member of cult hip hop act Brand Nubian, and also strikes out on his own from time to time. His 1996 release Wild Cowboys sampled the track above. One day, Dereks will rule the Earth.
Perhaps the most recognisable Mulatu Astatke track, though most people would still be hard pressed to name the man behind its classic riff (if jazz can have riffs). This one has been sampled a number of times, for example by Chilean hip hop artist Geoslide in 2005. Geoslide’s version is suitably, almost tragically haunting — Geoslide himself died in an accident in 2010.
Addis Black Widow
Sketches of Ethiopia may be Astatke’s first internationally-released album, but he’s been making music for many years and occasionally with some unlikely collaborators. 2009 saw the release of Inspiration Information, on which Astatke teamed up with The Heliocentrics, a London-based jazz-funk-rock collective, and which includes the manic Addis Black Widow. The track was subsequently sampled in 2012 by American rapper Billy Woods on the drolly-titled Nigerian Email. Whether the lyrics fit the music, we will leave you to decide.
Mulatu Astatke plays the Southbank Centre on 13 September, and tickets are available for £20-25 (plus booking fee) from the Southbank Centre website.