Home PR Project Preview: Ethio-Jazz’s Black and Latinx Roots

Preview: Ethio-Jazz’s Black and Latinx Roots


Widely considered the “Father” of Ethio-Jazz, Mulatu Astatke was born in the western Ethiopian city of Jimma. A vibraphonist, percussionist, and keyboard player, he received his musical training in London, New York City, and Boston, where he came up with the idea of combining Jazz and Latin music with traditional Ethiopian music.

In the 1950s, his family sent him to Wales to study engineering. Instead, he earned a degree in music at the Trinity College of Music in London.

In the 1960s, Mulatu moved to the U.S. and studied at Berklee College of Music in Boston, where he was the first Ethiopian and African student. There, he studied vibraphone and percussion. Also, he became enthralled by the idea of combining Ethiopian music with Western Jazz and rhythms. After much thought and improvisation, Astatke managed to combine the pentatonic scale-based melodies of traditional Ethiopian music with the 12-note harmonies and the instrumentation of Western music, giving birth to “Ethio-jazz.”

After graduating from Berklee, he moved to New York and frequented The Cheetah, The Palladium, and the Village Gate and immersed himself in New York’s vibrant Latin music scene and the music of Tito Puente, Tito Rodriguez, Cal Tjader Miles Davis, and John Coltrane.

In 1966, Mulatu recorded the series, Afro-Latin Soul, Volumes 1 & 2. “He has taken the ancient five-tone scale of Asia and Africa and woven them into something unique and exciting; a mixture of three cultures, Ethiopian, Puerto Rican, and African-American,” read the liner notes …

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© 2020 Tomas Pena

A graduate of Empire State College with a dual major in journalism and Latin American studies, Editor-in-Chief Tomas Peña has spent years applying his knowledge and writing skills to the promotion of great musicians. A specialist in the crossroads between jazz and Latin music, Peña has written extensively on the subject. His writing appears on Latin Jazz Network; Chamber Music America magazine and numerous other publications.


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