I'll be honest and admit that I had never heard of Mulatu Astatke (sometimes spelled Astatqe) before laying ears on this CD. After some digging I discovered that he is a giant in the Ethiopian jazz world and has been making music since the 60's when he started fusing together western jazz and funk with the traditional music of his home country. Unfortunately, trying to find his albums here in the states is challenging without resorting to ordering it. Probably the easiest place to find a few of his songs is on the Broken Flowers Sountrack, or for a larger set try Ethiopiques, Vol. 4.
The Heliocentrics I was much more familiar with. For those not aware of them, they are a musical collective who hail from the UK that bring together all sorts of influences in their music: funk, soul, jazz, hip hop, you name it... But unlike other bands channeling the past and making retro sounding music, the group brings their sound into the present and beyond into the future. Try listening to Age of the Sun below to see what I mean. Any band that is able to use a sonar ping and successfully infuse it melodically into their music is damn talented in my book. Think Sun Ra but funkier.
Put them together and you have truly mystical music. Listen to Masenqo, the album's first track, below and you can see what I mean. It's undeniably influenced by Ethio-jazz and instantly recognizable as having that magical, mystical Ethio-feel to it that is impossible to miss, and yet it layers some booming bass underneath, some walking piano lines, and tints of strings to make a bold statement to open the album. Proceeding through the next thirteen cuts will reveal some songs that bear the distinct signature of one or the other artists involved, but there is also clearly a lot of back and forth between the veteran band leader and the new up and coming band of youngins'.
And because I like this album so darn much, I'm giving away a copy of it to one lucky reader. That's right, leave a comment (or e-mail me) with your name and e-mail address and I'll choose a winner next Mondayish and notify them pronto.
The Heliocentrics - Age of the Sun : Out There
Mulatu Astatke - Metche Dershe : Ethiopiques, Vol. 4 : Ethio Jazz & Musique Instrumentale, 1969-1974
Become his friend on MySpace.