Mulatu Astatke
07 10

To Know Without Knowing Agogo Records

To Know Without Knowing – Mulatu Astatke’s new album with Melbourne-based eight-piece Black Jesus Experience – opens with a track that bears the Ethiopian legend’s name. The first half of Mulatu features funky guitar stabs, sub-Saharan horns that corkscrew through the mix, and Astake’s sensual vibraphone, harking back to the classic recordings that have long seen him bestowed with the title “the father of Ethio-jazz”. But the track switches up to a more double-time rhythm over its second half as rapper Elf Transporter enters to pay respect to the Aboriginal Australians known as the “traditional owners of Melbourne”. Given the gravity of it appearing on a signature track, it perhaps underlines that Astatke, at age 76, is determined to try daring new concepts.

Recorded between Addis Ababa and Melbourne, the album is dense, guest-heavy, spotlessly produced (maybe a little too cleanly produced, in fact) and heavily invested in both cultures. Australian injustice is revisited on Living On Stolen Land, which features an impassioned vocal from local singer Vida Sunshyne, while moments of levity include Lijay, an upbeat ditty that incorporates reggae influences. Astatke’s vibraphone playing throughout is a reminder that he’s one of the greatest players to pick up the soft mallets, though his craftsmanship does feel obscured by the sheer number of musicians and vocalists he’s working with. Beginners should start with his 1972 masterpiece Mulatu of Ethiopia, but To Know Without Knowing is undeniably another bolt to his great legacy.