Ethiopian Jazz Great Mulatu Astatke Given Prestigious French Award

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The 75-year-old musician was given the French Order of Arts and Letters

The godfather of Ethiopian jazz, Mulatu Astatke, is the latest recipient of the French “Ordre des Arts et des Lettres” (Order of Arts and Letters). The French Minister of Culture, Franck Riester, travelled to Addis Ababa to present the award to Mulatu, at the French Embassy. The visit is part of the initiative established by French president Emmanuel Macron and Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed to share in honoring their respective cultures.
Born in the south of Ethiopia, the vibraphone and conga drum player later received training in major cities in the US and UK. Through his travels, he began combining musical elements of jazz with the traditions of different cultures to forge a new sound. As BBC reports, “Ethiopian scales have five notes and in Western music there are 12 – Mulatu combined the two to make Ethio-jazz.” The new genre created a wave worldwide and furthered the expansion of jazz.
In honoring Mulatu, the French Minister tweeted, “Few artists are able to embody in the eyes of the world a musical genre so strongly rooted in a national culture. Mulatu Atskake is one of them.” He then later shared a video of Mulatu performing with French violinist Théo Ceccaldi together in Addis Ababa. The tweet reads, “a moment of timeless jazz. Watch and listen without moderation.”
The Order of Arts and Letters is an award that was established in 1957 to “recognize eminent artists and writers, as well as people who have contributed significantly to furthering the arts in France and around the world” according to the Cultural Services French Embassy in the US.