Unique blend of musical brilliance at Warwick Arts Centre

Mulatu Astatke
Mulatu Astatke

Mulatu Astatke and guests, Warwick Arts Centre, November 22.

Deep, earthy, gutsy, confused yet melodic and at times soothing - this was music really worth seeing performed live by an embracingly enthusiastic group of people.

Led by Ethiopian-born Mulatu Astatke - known in musical circles as the ‘father of Ethio-jazz’ - the audience was given the privilege of witnessing some extraordinarily talented musicians performing widely contrasting styles and sounds together in a warm and uplifting blend that somehow worked so well.

Musically trained in London, New York and Boston, Astatke is credited with inventing the unique style that brings together pop, modern jazz, traditional Ethiopian music, Latin rhythms, Caribbean reggae and Afro-funk.

The man himself - now almost 70 years old - showed his brilliance on the vibraphone and various bongo-style drums and his enthusiasm in the way he hummed along to his playing. But the evening was made by the collaborative effort as Astatke was surrounded by a fantastic group of seven performers bringing together a whole variety of noises on the trumpet, saxaphone, cello, double bass, drums, piano, bongo drums, maracas and more.

At times I was reminded of the chill-out sounds of bands such as Xero-7; at others, I was hearing Indian classical-like noises from the way the cello was made to sound like a sitar and the bongo drums like a tabla; while there were also tribal-like sounds of a jungle and Western classical noises included.

I had wished that the trumpet and saxaphone had not dominated the overall product so much, but the jazz confusion of the individual players melded together wonderfully - and it was great to see each one given his moment of showcasing what they can do on their own. The pianist’s turn in particular was a moment to remember.

Most importantly - all these guys appeared to be having a cracking time. And they weren’t the only ones.

Sundari Cleal