Ethiopian Jazz Music to Discover and Enjoy

This article is a collaborative effort, crafted and edited by a team of dedicated professionals.

Contributors: Andranick Tanguiane, Fred Lerdahl,


Find a new favorite Ethiopian Jazz musician to enjoy, with music recommendations and reviews to help you get started.

The Origins of Ethiopian Jazz

Ethiopian jazz is a unique and intriguing genre that deserves to be explored by music lovers everywhere. This style of music has its roots in the country’s rich history and culture, and has been influenced by a variety of different musical genres over the years. If you’re looking for something new and exciting to listen to, Ethiopian jazz is definitely worth checking out.

The Music of Ethiopia

Ethiopian music is a mixture of traditional music that has been passed down orally, as well as more modern music that has been influenced by other genres from around the world. The traditional music of Ethiopia is very unique and uses a variety of instruments, many of which are indigenous to the country. The most commonly used instrument in Ethiopian music is the masenqo, a one-stringed fiddle. Other popular instruments include the krar (a six-stringed lyre), the washint (a flute), and the begena (a ten-stringed zither).

The modern Ethiopian jazz scene began to take shape in the 1960s, when artists like Mulatu Astatke began to experiment with blending traditional Ethiopian music with American jazz and Latin American rhythms. This new style of music quickly gained popularity, both inside and outside of Ethiopia, and has continued to evolve in the decades since. Today, there are a wide variety of Ethiopian jazz artists making exciting and innovative music that is sure to please any fan of jazz or world music.

The Influence of Jazz

Jazz is a music genre that originated in the African-American communities of New Orleans, United States, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Its roots are in blues and ragtime. Jazz is seen by many as “America’s classical music”. Since the 1920s Jazz Age, jazz has become recognized as a major form of musical expression. It then emerged in the form of independent traditional and popular musical styles, all linked by the common bonds of African-American and European-American musical parentage with a performance orientation. Jazz is characterized by swing and blue notes, call and response vocals, polyrhythms and improvisation. Jazz has roots in West African cultural and musical expression, and in African-American music traditions including blues and ragtime. As jazz spread around the world, it drew on different national, regional, and local musical cultures, which gave rise to many distinctive styles.

The Pioneers of Ethiopian Jazz

Ethiopians have been playing jazz since the 1930s, making them some of the pioneers of the genre. The music has been a staple in the country’s nightclubs and hotels, and has been evolving ever since. Ethiopian jazz is a unique blend of traditional Ethiopian music and American jazz, and has been influenced by both cultures.

Mulatu Astatke

Mulatu Astatke is one of the fathers of Ethiopian jazz, a stylish synthesis of traditional Ethiopian music with bebop, Latin, and R&B influences. Born in 1943 in the capital city of Addis Ababa, Mulatu was exposed to Western music at an early age; his father was a diplomat and his mother a singer. He began playing piano at age four and went on to study at London’s prestigious Trinity College of Music. After returning to Ethiopia, he founded the country’s first jazz band, the Walias Band, which enjoyed great popularity in the 1960s.

Astatke’s trademark sound is a distinctive blend of traditional Ethiopian scales and rhythms with Western harmonies and improvisation. His innovative style has influenced many subsequent Ethiopian musicians and helped to create a new genre of music that is beloved both at home and abroad. If you’re looking for something different in your jazz collection, look no further than Mulatu Astatke!

Mahmoud Ahmed

Mahmoud Ahmed (born May 10, 1943) is an Ethiopian singer of Amharic songs. He has been described as Ethiopia’s greatest living musician. Ahmed was born in the city of Addis Ababa. His father was a baker who played saxophone and loved to listen to jazz and blues music. Ahmed’s mother died when he was three, and he was raised by his father and grandmother.

He began singing at an early age and by the time he was ten he was performing with a local band. He quickly developed a reputation as a talented singer and soon began appearing on radio and television. In 1963 he won a singing competition which led to him being offered a scholarship to study music in Cairo, Egypt.

Ahmed’s career really took off in the 1970s with the release of a series of very successful albums. His popularity continued to grow in the 1980s and he became an international star, performing at sold-out concerts around the world. He has continued to release new albums over the years and remains one of Ethiopia’s most popular musicians.

The New Wave of Ethiopian Jazz

Ethiopian Jazz is a relatively new genre that is rapidly gaining popularity. This type of music combines traditional Ethiopian sounds and instruments with more modern jazz elements. Ethiopian Jazz is a great way to discover and enjoy new music from a different culture.

The Youngsters

These days, a new generation of Ethiopian musicians is taking the country’s rich musical tradition in exciting new directions. Thanks to the internet and social media, young Ethiopians are connecting with each other and with audiences around the world like never before. As a result, a whole new Ethiopian jazz scene is emerging, full of fresh energy and creativity.

One of the most exciting things about this new wave of Ethiopian jazz is the way it blends traditional sounds with contemporary influences. For example, many of the new generation of Ethiopian jazz musicians are incorporating electronic elements into their music, giving it a modern edge. At the same time, they’re also staying true to the roots of Ethiopian music, making sure that the old traditions are not lost.

If you’re curious to explore this new wave of Ethiopian jazz for yourself, here are some artists to get you started:

– Mulatu Astatke: One of the godfathers of Ethiopian jazz, Mulatu Astatke is still making great music at the age of 80. His latest album, ‘Mulatu Of Ethiopia’, is a perfect introduction to his unique sound.

-OK Jazz Band: This up-and-coming band is taking Ethiopian jazz in exciting new directions. Their debut album ‘Ethiopian Dreams’ is full of beautiful melodies and infectious grooves.

– The Walters: The Walters are an instrumental trio who combine Ethiopian melodies with elements of funk and soul. Their self-titled debut album is a joy from start to finish.

So there you have it – a taste of the new wave of Ethiopian jazz. Why not give it a try today?

The Veterans

The New Wave of Ethiopian Jazz takes the best of the traditional sounds of Ethiopia and combines it with the cool, sophisticated vibes of Jazz to create a whole new genre of music. While there are many incredible up-and-coming artists making waves in the scene, let’s not forget about the veterans who laid the foundation for this new sound. Here are just a few of the Ethiopian Jazz greats that you need to know about.

Mulatu Astatke is often referred to as the “godfather” of Ethiopian Jazz. He was born in 1943 in Jimma, Ethiopia and is a multi-instrumentalist, composer, and bandleader. He is credited with popularizing Ethio-Jazz with his groundbreaking 1970 album, Mulatu of Ethiopia. He has since released over 20 albums and has toured all over the world. Astatke was recently featured in Kabul Dreams, a documentary about the Afghan music scene.

Alice Coltrane was an American jazz pianist, organist, harpist, and singer who was married to legendary saxophonist John Coltrane. She was born in 1937 in Detroit and began playing piano at a young age. She collaborated with her husband on numerousalbums, including A Love Supreme (1965), one of the most critically acclaimed jazz albums of all time. After her husband’s death in 1967, Alice continued to perform and record under her own name. Her 1972 album World Galaxy is considered a masterpiece of spiritual jazz. She passed away in 2007 at the age of 69.

Getachew Mekuria is an Ethiopian saxophonist who leads The Ex, an Amsterdam-based band that melds Ethiopian music with punk rock and other Western genres. He was born in Ethiopia in 1946 and started playing saxophone at the age of 14. He later studied ethnomusicology at The University of Washington where he met his future bandmates in The Ex. Mekuria has recorded over 20 albums with The Ex as well as several solo albums. In 2017, he was awarded an honorary doctorate by The University of Washington in recognition of his musical achievements.

Ethiopian Jazz Festivals

Ethiopia is home to some of the best jazz festivals in the world. From the Addis Jazz Festival to the Aïr Änä Zagorä Festival, there are a variety of festivals that offer something for everyone. If you’re looking for a new place to discover and enjoy great jazz music, Ethiopian jazz festivals are a great option.

The Addis Jazz Festival

The Addis Jazz Festival is an annual event that takes place in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa. The festival was founded in 2009 by Ethiopian-American jazz musician John Coltrane and features a mix of local and international artists. The festival is held in early February and typically lasts for five days.

The Ethiopian Music Festival

The Ethiopian Music Festival is an annual event that takes place in the capital city of Addis Ababa. It is a celebration of the country’s rich musical tradition, and features a wide variety of performances by local and international artists. The festival attracts music lovers from all over the world, and is a great opportunity to experience the best of Ethiopian jazz.

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