Home > Music > Mulatu Astatke to receive honorary degree from Berklee

Mulatu Astatke to receive honorary degree from Berklee

The legendary Ethiopian composer and musician Mulatu Astatke will be presented with an Honorary Doctorate of Music degree from Berklee College of Music. The presentation will be made at the college’s commencement ceremony, May 11, 2012 at the 7,000-seat Agganis Arena at Boston University. “I am very honored about it, “wrote the 71-year-old composer on his Facebook page after he was advised that he would be receiving an Honorary Doctorate from the world’s largest college of contemporary music.This year’s other honorees are Rock and Roll Hall of Famers the Eagles and 27-time Grammy winner Alison Krauss.This year’s honorary doctorate recipients are being recognized for their achievements and influence in music, and for their enduring contributions to American and international culture, Berklee announced.The annual commencement concert will allow some of the school’s most accomplished students to present a tribute to the honorees, and in some instances play alongside them.

One of Ethiopia’s most influential musicians, Mulatu is the godfather of ‘Ethio-jazz’, a vibrant style of music dating back to the 1960s that combines elements of jazz, early soul and funk with traditional Ethiopian harmonies. Born in 1943, Mulatu became the first Ethiopian musician to study abroad, first at Trinity College of Music in London, and then at Berklee College of Music, where as their first African student he became immersed in jazz. Later, in New York he formed the Ethiopian Quintet along with some Puerto Rican musicians, merging jazz, Latin music and African sounds. Mulatu returned to the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa in the late 1960s, bringing with him the first Hammond organ and vibraphone the country had ever seen. Experimenting with infusing traditional Ethiopian melodies and rhythms with improvisational jazz structures, Ethio-jazz was born.
From the ’60s and ’70s through to today, Mulatu’s global mark on music has been phenomenal. Having worked steadily over six decades, the worldwide public appreciation of his music has been deservedly renewed with many re-issues of his early recordings through the ‘Ethiopiques’ label, making his back catalogue releases collector’s items the world over. Volume 4 of the Ethiopiques series is devoted entirely to Mulatu’s music.
A master of his signature instrument, the vibraphone, along with keyboards and percussion, Mulatu has performed with some of world’s greatest musicians, including Duke Ellington and his Orchestra on their 1971 visit to Ethiopia. In 2004, after meeting the Massachusetts-based experimental Either/Orchestra in Addis, Mulatu began a collaboration with them which continues today. His music was featured on the soundtrack to the Jim Jarmusch 2005 film Broken Flowers, and he has produced songs for many artists from East Africa, including veteran Ethiopiques singer Mahmoud Ahmed.
In 2007, Mulatu completed a Radcliffe Institute Fellowship at Harvard University where he worked on modernisations of traditional Ethiopian instruments and premiered a portion of a new composition, The Yared Opera. Mulatu also recently served as Artist-in-Residence at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, lecturing, giving workshops and serving as an advisor to the MIT Media Lab on creating a modern version of another traditional East African instrument, the krar.
In 2008, Mulatu collaborated with the London-based psyche-jazz collective The Heliocentrics on the album Inspiration Information Vol. 3, which included re-workings of his earlier Ethio-jazz classics, along with new material. The album received rave reviews internationally, and introduced the talents of this revered Ethiopian artist to an entirely new generation of listeners. His recently released follow-up album, Mulatu Steps Ahead has been similarly well-received.
At 71, Mulatu is still wowing crowds with his deft playing and continuously creative compositions and arrangements. He has performed at some of the world’s most prestigious venues, including New York’s Lincoln Centre, the Kennedy Center in Washington DC, Beethoven-Haus in Bonn, London’s Barbican Centre, and the UK’s giant Glastonbury Festival.

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