‘I only listen to Ethiopian jazz,’ an upper-class partygoer haughtily proclaims in Paolo Sorrentino’s recent film ‘The Great Beauty’. It’s an astute observation by Sorrentino, at once parodying the elitism that surrounds jazz in general and referencing the cachet that the Ethiopian scene currently enjoys among connoisseurs. Known as ‘ethio-jazz’, the genre – a fusion of native folk music, synth-based rock and Western jazz – has recently gained exposure in Europe through the sprawling, wonderfully eclectic ‘Ethiopiques’ compilations. Its enticing mix of exotic hamonies and familiar instrumentation has influenced the likes of The Heliocentrics, Nas and Damian Marley (whose 2010 hit ‘As We Enter’ samples an Astatke track).
Mulatu Astatke is known as the father of ethio-jazz, and with good reason: the veteran percussionist and bandleader has been innovating in the genre ever since the sixties. Having studied engineering in Europe, Astatke returned to his homeland keen to weave the sounds he’d heard abroad into indigenous musical traditions, and launched a trend. The use of his tracks on the soundtrack to 2005’s indie sleeper hit ‘Broken Flowers’ reinforced his cult status, and he’s since collaborated with various Western bands. For this one-off gig at Le Trianon, he’ll be backed by the British jazz collective Step Ahead for a heated setlist of classics and new tracks. No elitism here – just good ol’ fashioned jamming.