The Jazz of Samuel Yirga Mitiku

I was in Dubai recently, working on a documentary, and on the way back to Cape Town I visited Ethiopia to see some friends and experience some of the Ethio-jazz music I had fallen in love with ever since I first heard Mulatu Astatke and the “Ethiopiques” compilations. Even though I had high hopes, Ethiopia completely exceeded my expectations. On my first night in Addis, I was lucky enough to see an Ethio-jazz funk band called The Nubian Arc play live. For me the standout performance was by Samuel Yirga Mitiku, a young piano prodigy, who also plays in the acclaimed UK-based band Dub Collosus, known for their blending of dub and Ethiopian traditional music. Samuel’s solo stuff is particularly interesting, as he revisits traditional Ethiopian folk songs, with their unique scale progressions and ancient, mystical sounds, giving them a contemporary jazz interpretation. You can sense in his interviews that his aim (like Mulatu before him) is to preserve Ethiopia’s rich musical heritage, and after listening to those fingers play you know it’s in good hands.

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