Musically trained in London and schooled in the club scene of mid-'60s New York, Mulatu Astatke stands as the exceptional musical innovator of the Ethiopian groove. Starting in 1969, he created the first bands independent of the military, which had previously dominated the country's music scene. Having immersed himself in Caribbean music, funk, jazz and Latin grooves during his lengthy stint abroad, Mulatu returned to his native land to give rise to a brand new sound.
An album of instrumentals, Ethiopiques Volume 4 is a case study in the inventive blending of influences that comprised the Ethiopian groove. Strains of funk and reggae timings permeate the thick and chunky bass lines, which are pushed prominently forward in the mix. Multiple saxophones swirl with the hypnotic, snake-charming sounds of the East, while at the same time resonating with jazzy tones reminiscent of John Coltrane and Lester Young. Guitar is a main ingredient here, growling with funky distorted wah-pedaled fuzz riffs that sound like they were lifted straight out of an early '70s black-exploitation flick. Drums and percussion combine the punchy funk of James Brown and the Meters with the heavy Latin rhythms of Mongo Santamaria and Willie Bobo. Fusing all of these elements together, Mulatu unleashes a potent brew of afro-jazz grooves that pull you in and leave you in a mystical trance-like state.