“Ethiopia is one of the richest countries in the world…music, dance, culture” Dr. Mulatu Astatke
“Ethiopia is one of the richest countries in the world…music, dance, culture…from our 4th century music… the movement of the makwamia, tenetsil and kebero used in church before European symphonies. We also had great tribes that play diminished scales, like what is used by Charlie Parker…used for improvisation. That is just one of our contributions to jazz,” said Father of Ethio-Jazz, Dr. Mulatu Astatke. “The French analyze music. That is how I got this prize. Harmony, melody, rhythm…they analyze the science of what I have put together. I am thankful for the support of the Ethiopian people, my son, my wife and my daughter, Ethiopian PM Dr. Abiyi, Mayor of Addis, Minister of Culture and People of Ethiopia and France.” This was part of the acceptance speech by Dr. Mualtu Astake at the French Embassy, September 19 in receipt of the French National Order of Arts and Letters from visiting French Minister of Culture, Mr. Franck Riester. “Few artists are to embody in the eyes of the world a musical genre so strongly rooted in a national culture. Mulatu Astatke is one of them” Riester tweeted.
So what is the French National Order of Arts and Letters? It’s an award established by the Ministry of France in May 1957 recognizing significant contributions and/or propagation of the arts and literature. My research couldn’t find other African born and based artists, besides the jazz genius to receive the honor; a rank known as chavalier or knight, sealed when the recipient is pinned with an eight point green enameled asterisk attached to a vertical striped green ribbon. Factoid: Only 200 people in the world per year are considered for the honor. Other popular juggernauts in music to receive the award include Stevie Wonder, Bob Dylan, Ringo Star and composer Quincy Jones. Congratulations Dr. Mulatu! But before moving on I must emphasize the significance of this honor recalling the words Gesh Mulatu shared with me the day before the ceremony. “They should understand what Africa is all about…scientists in sound. My music unifies Ethiopia culturally through four modes…north, south, east and west; all using these modes.” Ethio-Jazz is a musical kwankwa, a language listened to and enjoyed by fans from Addis Abeba to Amsterdam, Lagos to Laos, Cairo to California and beyond, whose ages range from 19 to 90. Some listen for nostalgia, tizita while a new generation, including Nas and Damian Marley to WuTang Clan, sample dope melodies. It’s all about Africa for Mulatu, at the end of the day, and he is thrilled that France has recognized the contributions from his beloved country, Ethiopia.
Across the pond in the UK, Aida Muluneh, dubbed the “powerful afrofuturist” by creativeboom.com’s Katy Cowan, shares her passion of using art to challenge commonly held notions about African life. Aida says, “My main goal in building this collection is to address the issues caused by a lack of access to clean water, and the impact that has not only on a society as a whole, but on women, particularly in rural regions. My focus in this project was to address these topics without the cliché that we see in mainstream media. In a sense, to advocate through art.” The show runs September 24 to October 20 at Somerset House in London. As a fan and friend of Aida’s and having even co-curated with this extremely talented and focused futurist photographer, I can say her identity as an Africa woman is the basis of much of her work.
Several other shows opening here in Addis include QALBII IRREECHAA by Daniel Asfaw on Thursday September 26th at Guramayne Art Center. While this weekend Addis Fine Art Gallery opens a solo exhibition for veteran painter Lulseged Retta. The Ethiopian Academy of Sciences presents Ziget-ism by Tesfahun Kibru, curated by Asni founder and artist in her own right, Konjit Seyoum. The show runs until November 21st and is a perfect title, rust-ism in English, conjuring notions and use of iron oxidation in Tesfahun’s original creations in metal, leather, wood and cloth etc. Through this concept he is said to “…investigate(s) form, color, and sound to enable him to make sense of his environment…and the role of the artist.” I previewed of some of the work and it’s incredible; depicting musicians, animals, and abstracts that would be at home in a futuristic world. It’s a must see for the entire family.
Finally, a secret space I call the Office Gallery, operated within the Ethiopian Tire & Rubber Economic Plant Head Office by artist and art philanthropist Gossa Oda, is a cool space to view something completely different. Experimental art amongst other new creations can be experienced in the character filled aged building located up the road from Ministry of Culture and Tourism and across from the Ministry of Health. Enjoy!
Dr. Desta Meghoo is a Jamaican born
Creative Consultant, Curator and cultural promoter based in Ethiopia since 2005. She also serves as Liaison to the AU for the Ghana based, Diaspora African Forum.