Apologies to anyone thinking this might be the case, but no, the original Ethio-jazz architect is not Mulatu Astatke. The genius from Jimma is the undeniable model maker and developer of the more recent style. However, to sketch and lay out what has become an unequal combination between traditional African sounds and Western influences, was an Orchestral Director and educator of Armenian origin called Nerses Nalbandian. In the early 1950s (when Astatke wasn’t even a teenager), Nalbandian prepared the terrain on which several Ethiopian, African and nowadays global artists refined their entrancing ethio-sound. When Haile Selassie appointed him to become the Director of music of the Ethiopian National Theatre, Nalbandian used his musical ingenuity to accommodate Western instruments in the characteristic Ethiopian musical structures and pentatonic scale.
Mahmoud Ahmed, Bezunesh Beqele, Tlahoun Gésésé and Alemayehu Eshete were only few of the many remarkable musicians, and national music personalities, who sang and played in ensembles led by Nalbandian. Next to Astatke, they defined and developed the style, which still remains today synonymous with elegance, smoothness and a genuine embodiment of Ethiopian identity.
From the proto-ethio-jazz tunes composed by Nalbandian, passing through the Swinging Addis of the late 1960s and the seminal figure of Mulatu Astatke, and finally reaching the exciting new directions undertaken by ethio-jazz in recent years, this playlist aims to introduce you to one of the most popular, tasteful and crowd-pleasing African musical styles.