MULATU ASTATKE: the bushes vs Debussy

July 29th, 2013

It may have taken decades, but the Ethio-Jazz sounds of Mulatu Astatke are now traveling throughout the world, through Kanye West samples and Jim Jarmusch films, reaching unlikely destinations such as the ecstatic crowds of Calvi On The Rocks in Corsica.

‘Doctor’ Mulatu Astatke as he likes to remind us, is not only a jazzman, but a doctor in musicology, who is eager to add to the lists of achievements of his home country, Ethiopia: coffee, inspiration to the Rastafarian faith, the invention of the musical scale, and it would seem, music conducting.

The bushes. Debussy. In the the mouth of Mulatu Astatke, it’s hard to hear the difference between the two.

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Doctor Mulatu Astatke, "Father of Ethio-Jazz" as his business Card states. Calvi 2013. 
Photography by René Habermacher.

René Habermacher: How did you come to be part of this festival that is very electronic music related?

Mulatu Astatke: Well, you know, I’ve travelled to Europe a lot in the last 3-4 years. The band became very popular, very busy and we did also a completely beautiful cd which will be coming out in October for the Jazz Village. People seem to ask for my band everywhere.

I used to be involved with electronic music a few years back with Heliocentrics on the album “Inspiration Information” (2009). But I really love acoustic sounds very much: real sounds, real music, everything. It’s good for the people to be able to get both sides, they can hear the acoustic but also the electronic music. I think it’s a very good idea to bring me to this type of festival. It’s great.

RH: How do you feel about the younger generation of pop musicians referring to your sound or even sampling, as in the case of Kanye West and other heavyweights of the contemporary pop generation?

MA: I remember the film “The Broken Flowers” by Jim Jarmusch, with Sharon Stone and Bill Murray. (NB- The soundtrack to the film features an eclectic mix of music, chiefly using instrumentals by Mulatu Astatke as the main score mixed with garage rock, metal and reggae.) The film really made a push and brought different crowds to my audience.
Then people started sampling my music. So my audience keeps on growing. I love it, I have no objection to sampling my music, because every time they sample, the crowds come too.

I see all kind of people in London, in Paris, in Australia, everywhere, middle-aged, young, old ages, all kinds of crowd. It helps Ethio-jazz, and also for people to see different directions of music. So it helps so much. I enjoy it. Its beautiful.

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Mulatu with drum sticks shortly before going on stage. The composer’s own signature instrument is the vibraphone,
a set of graduated aluminum percussion bars that resemble a marimba or a xylophone. Photography by René Habermacher

RH: Ethiopian culture pioneered a lot of different things in music. Your work is part of that tradition.
Do you think because you were so pioneering it took quite some time for the deserved recognition to come in?

MA: I put myself as an example and always say: never give up, just keep on pushing!

It’s so great when reality reaches what I always dreamed for this music to reach. If you just get to this point…  it took me around 43 years!
The thing which takes time always give great results. It is what it is: as a musician you come to Paris, play Ethio-jazz, you go to NYC, to Germany, Denmark, Sweden, England: playing Ethio jazz.
And then suddenly this music just develops. Its a great recognition.

I got my PhD from Berklee (NB – Boston, USA) and lectured in different universities all the time. It’s a great achievement for Ethio-jazz to be accepted at Berklee, a recognition of what we have given to the development of modern music, to dance and everything to the world. So I said: it’s not only for Mulatu, but this is a recognition of Africa, which is so great. So this is what we fight for.
Now I also do a lot of research at Harvard, at MIT and also lecturing for National Geography last month at the Royal Albert hall in London about Ethiopian contribution to culture and music.
I talk about African achievements and what it has given to the world

RH: So the theoretical reflection is very important for you.

MA: Very much! If you don’t know the historical aspect and the contribution of your country’s music, you can’t go any further.
The more you know, the more you do research, the more you enjoy.

And the more you can develop the music and show to the world your own contribution.
So research is very important. For example in Ethiopia I go to the rural areas, to the bushes.
There’s one tribe, the Dirashe, who plays a diminishing scale in the middle of a pentatonic five tone scale country like Ethiopia.
In Ethiopia we play only five notes, that’s how Ethio-jazz developed: five notes against the twelve tone scale of American Jazz, you know what I mean. When I studied at Berklee, they were teaching us how Charlie Parker created the modern jazz through diminished scale. But this tribe plays a diminished scale. And great composers like Debussy are on a diminished scale. So what is really very interesting is these tribes have been there for centuries and centuries, so what I want to know is: is it Charlie Parker, was it Debussy,  or this tribe ?

Who was first? This is the question. These tribes people knew nothing, no painting, nothing, and they play diminished scale. I don’t know how they got it, because they are in the middle of a five note country. How did they manage to get this?

So I raised this question at Berklee and they were so surprised. What they said is: “Oh Mulatu- you got us!”

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Mulatu Astatke received late recognition: Originally supposed to become an aeronautical engineer he was
the first African student in the late 1950s at Berklee College of Music — “the only place in that time,” 
he said, to study jazz. Photography by René Habermacher.

RH: Is there a point where you thought the recognition is starting to come?
where you though somebody starts to understand what you were trying to do with Ethio-jazz?

MA: In Europe and America, they understand and love my composition all the same. But when I went back from NY to Ethiopia, they didn’t like it at all, because they were used to this musical form that we call the current form: malalala…dalala (sings) I remember a long time ago there was a town that told me to get off stage. It was too complicated to them. They could not understand: “is this a joke or what is it?” Playing around: wabadawadawa?” – they don’t dig it. So I finished the piece and went off.

But now, after 10-15, 20 years they go crazy. The whole town of Addis is Ethio-jazz now.
Finally it’s Ethiopians! So I always say: keep on fighting, never stop. That’s the result.

RH: When you worked with those tribes on interpretations, did they have any rejection? 

MA: No. You know, I don’t touch them. I just work behind whatever is going on. I can write beautiful counterpoints and harmonies and they do their thing. I just tell them how good they are. What they’ve done to modern music, their contribution to the world. So they love it.

I do a lot of experimental work with this people. I do beautiful jazz fusions with them.

(NB- Mulatu once brought musicians from four different tribes together in an Addis Ababa television studio and orchestrated a cross-tribal fusion performance. This giving traditional musicians, many of them farmers, an artistic exposure beyond their tribes)

The ideal way  to explore multiple forms of music is through jazz.

In fact there is a Dirashe track is on my new album, and another one with the Surma tribe.
It’s so interesting, I did an experiment with Fatou (NB- Fatoumata Diawara), the Malian singer who is featured in one song,
a fusion of their music with Ethiopian: east meet west. It’s so beautiful, its on my new album called “Sketches of Ethiopia”

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Mulatu in action at Calvi On The Rocks, Corsica 2013. Photography by René Habermacher

RH: Another culture that strongly relates to Ethiopian heritage is the reggae culture, yet in a very different way.
How is your relationship to this?

MA: I really respect them for introducing the Ethiopian, the flags and their love to Ethiopia.
But even though musically we’re in different modes, different scales, different things. When you hear Bob (Marley) and the other ones they use mostly their own stuff.
So actually its not like Ethiopian culture or Ethiopian music, but this is their own way of appreciating music. I like them for promoting our country, for promoting our flag in this world, and for it to become like part of national art. We enjoy them, we love them so much! And now, you see they are adding a lot of Ethiopian modes, Ethiopian scales to reggae currently. There are rastas living in Ethiopia in a place called Shashamane.
Hailee Selassie gave them the land in 1948, so they stay there. And now they start to come into our music: Ethio reggae you know.
But now there are more young Ethiopian musicians, they do a lot of reggae. It’s great I think.

RH: In  2008 you premiered a portion of the Saint Yared opera at Harvard.
Are you continuing on that project?

(NB- The Saint Yared Opera is a project on Saint Yared who is regarded as a saint of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church and credited founder of the Ethiopian Coptic Church Music. He is believed to have been the first to write musical notes, centuries ahead of Western civilisation, and use an ancient form of conducting stick. The composition of the opera will blend the old and the new, and incorporate traditional chant texts in Ge’ez, the Ethiopian liturgical language, but as well electronic elements)

MA: Oh yeah. Thats very interesting. It’s gona be completed very soon. It’s already done actually.
The problem is that l am so busy travelling with other projects: I write for films, I do my experimental works.
I need two to three months to finally put the opera on a stage.

This is a work I’ve done at Harvard.
My paper was about conducting being an Ethiopian contribution to the world.
We used to conduct music in the 6th century, with a stick called a mekwamia.

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Mulatu at Calvi On The Rocks, Corsica 2013. Photography by René Habermacher

So I studied the movement. If you look at the military band march, and the man in front waving sticks and things — 80-90% of that movement is from the mekwamia in Ethiopia.
But where did they get this from? This was before existence of symphony or conducting a symphony — and we have it.  If you look inside the Encyclopedia, were there symphony orchestrae in the 6th century? There weren’t.

So I said “OK, there were no symphonies, so then the conducting movement is taken from us.” Of course there were a lot of conducting, there were choirs in Europe of all kind.

But the most of the movement is what they use for the military also. If you use in the symphony a stick like this, the way you move it is exactly the same how we move it.

So they are telling us “you can do your reggae, you can do your jazz, you can do your rap.”
But they say classic music is purely European culture, which Africa has nothing to do with.
They are musicologists for Harvard, Yale, Princeton – so I said:
“look, I am open minded. This is what I found. If i am wrong, tell me, I am learning from you.”

They couldn’t answer me.
So I say: “one for Ethiopia”. They said: “we’ll see.”

[In the opera] there are two great conductors in the symphony, one european with a bow tie, conducting the symphony behind, and a church guy that conducts the choirs.
My dream is to do it in Lalibela (NB- one of Ethiopia’s holiest cities, famous for its monolithic rock-cut churches), the cave.

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Mulatu at Calvi On The Rocks, Corsica 2013. In the late 1960s he had returned to Ethiopia with
the first Hammond Organ and Vibraphones. Photography by René Habermacher

RH: What is the last thing that stimulated you?

MA: That’s really these people in the bushes. They inspire me so much. I have very great respect for them. The more you go closer to them the more you find them so interesting. They have created so many great musical instruments.

Now there are instruments in the bushes they sound like trumpets but made from bamboo. Strings, sound like violins, cellos, that kind of thing.

So I was wondering, let’s do a research – who inspired who ?
When you see these people never had a chance to go anywhere, they have no television, they have no radio, – they have nothing.

So I always think they inspire the developing world. Those are the people that inspire me. The more you go everyday, you learn something.
New ideas, something interesting from those people. They inspire me.

We call them backwards. But they’re not backwards people to me, they are advanced people.
They are ahead. So this this is my life now. I listen to them.
Whenever I have the chance I am in the bushes, I go close to them.
It’s so interesting, so beautiful. That is what inspires me truly.
Upcoming concert dates:
AUGUST 10 – Paris, Trianon

 


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Kostas Murkudis

July 17th, 2013

Putting Kostas Murkudis, with his East German utilitarian approach, at the helm of Closed jeans, a brand defined by the relationship between function and form, is a match in heaven, in a time where the initial idea of fashion is caught between mass production and the arbitrary grip of luxury-obsessed conglomerates.

They each bring their own interesting history and their associations to big names to a collaboration very much anchored in the “now” – on one side, Marithé and François Girbaud, who founded Closed in the 70’s, and on the other, Helmut Lang, with whom Murkudis worked during the label’s early and formative years, though both brand and designer exist in their own right.

For women’s fashion week in September, Closed will open its first flagship store in Paris.

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Overall "Illusion" from the FW 13/14 collection by Kostas Murkudis for Closed Jeans. Photography by René Habermacher

René Habermacher: When I heard you’d be working for Closed jeans, I thought it made great sense with your approach – sustainability, resistance, utilitarianism and uniformity are expressions that come to mind when thinking of your work, and all of these seem to be relevant in the context of jeanswear.

KM: I grew up in the DDR (German Democratic Republic), in East Germany, so these are surely aspects of my work that I value and are part of my professional ethos that I will follow up into the future. It’s my contribution, to make it accessible to more people than for example with my own brand.

I always had “two hearts beating in my chest”: one more poetic, free of necessities, and the other that is more about durability and functionality everyday. I always loved the approach of the Bauhaus, it is very important to me. But I really do love both aspects. Now with my new mission at Closed, I can really apply everything you described, I have all tools and a fantastic team I love working with.
For me this is the perfect balance between the two brands.

Whereas with my own brand, my mini-label that I call my laboratory, I don’t have to think about whether the piece is really durable, has the right pocket or whatever. I just can do projects important to me, which do not necessarily have anything to do with fashion. For example recently I have worked with a royal glass manufactory in Munich, Lobmeyr, that usually do stuff like church windows etc. I think there are so many possibilities and I am very curious for new challenges.

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Shirt and Jeans FW 13/14 Kostas Murkudis for Closed. Photography by René Habermacher

RH: You’re working for quite some time in fashion now. When you started, fashion was something different: in the 90’s, fashion still had a socio-cultural context, was a compass and expressive part of movements. Today it’s different, its not really that a social movement expresses anything through dressing codes.

KM: That’s true and has obviously social, socio-political, and sociological causes. There is very little happening that could tempt for re-orientation. I do really hope that finally something will be happening. Or has it started already? When you look what is going on in Brasil, or Turkey, in countries where I would not have expected that this kind of movement would be surfacing.

The situations in Greece, Portugal or Spain, France and possibly soon England, don’t look so great either, but something is happening and I am hoping very much that this will spread across cultures and regions, and maybe create the necessity to develop new codes. Obviously they have to develop themselves, we as designers can’t help it.

RH: For quite a while fashion hasn’t had a cultural value of progress, it has become more a simple “garment industry.”

KM: That’s right. Fashion is not allowed to be like this anymore. It’s the very capitalist approach to define success only through growth, to which the big houses are forced to: generating work, circulate money, this and that – it’s not about content at all. In fact it is even arbitrary who designs. It is the brand with its margin that is in focus.
If that’s what’s thriving in society, fashion can only be its image.

On the other hand, design has become another aspect – let’s take an example like the iPod, or the iPhone and what has been generated here: a simplicity, practicability and a beauty of objects that have not been produced like this in a while.

It’s not about developing funky variants and decorations, but to work continuously on refinement and improvement with every generation, which I believe impacts our everyday culture. Even kids are not seduced to just buy something new because there are some new crazy buttons added. And you don’t have the desire to buy a jeans with 25 embroideries and absurd stitchings on the butt that are completely pointless. This pointlessness, this battle of material is not working anymore.

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Jeans dress FW 13/14 Kostas Murkudis for Closed. Photography by René Habermacher

„First there is nothing, then a deep void and finally a blue depth.“
Yves Klein.(Leitmotif for the colour codes to the SKYWALK CAPSULE COLLECTION No.1)

For example my brother Andreas, who owns a concept store in Berlin, he affords himself the luxury to buy only what he thinks is really good, regardless of the label. He buys what is up-to-date in his eyes. He was totally shocked about the pricing for which it’s possible to get good design that is on top politically correct produced in Italy: good quality fondly fabricated from great fabric. Not that this is world changing…

RH: But democratic?

KM: Democratic in a positive way. I didn’t really want to use that word. When my brother saw the Skywalk Capsule Collection in Berlin, he went to order straight away several looks from the FW collection, saying: “wow, this is really cheap- and so cool, but really cheap”.
Of course we have the same approach, maybe also because we grew up in the DDR: for us longevity or functionality and beauty don’t have to cancel each other out.

RH: What is your relationship to glamour?

KM: I try to stay remote, but sometimes have to make compromises. My relationship is rather an aversion. I come from a very simple background and it really does not touch me to hear “who was where with who wearing what”, that doesn’t interest me.

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Right Side two pieces from the SKYWALK CAPSULE COLLECTION: Murkudis took inspiration from a vintage aviator suit,
using the cuts and details to create a minimal wardrobe: a shirt, a blouson and pants for men and women.
Boots: vintage DDR army. Photography by René Habermacher
„Earth is a delicate shade of blue“
Yuri Gagarin (Leitmotif for the colour codes to the SKYWALK CAPSULE COLLECTION No.1)

RH: Tell me a little more about the Skywalk Capsule Collection…

KM: The idea was based on the desire to bring the brand back to an international level, and the one of the brands defining aspects: the idea of unisex, that I thought very interesting and gave me also the possibility to explore menswear more, find a different angle and define their image more sharply.

Because the project was a very small range, I had to stay quite precise as well in material as colour and design, but it was the first time that I had the chance to show pieces that one actually can afford. If you look at the product, it appears at first sight quite minimal, even though its technology is actually very complex, which is something I wanted to put forward as well.

But because of all this, it was quite obvious to me to give the collection somewhat of a poetic moment.

RH: Yet here is also a practical thought behind it?

KM: Of course. It was to show the brand’s core, and a product that should function in the everyday life over long time.

Apart from that, the beauty of a product becomes apparent in its use, becomes part of our lives and our bodies. That’s what makes a jeans. It only becomes your jeans, and a great one, when it deforms on your own body, through use, through touch, through creases, through whatever. It becomes part of your being. That makes it truly beautiful when it is beautiful.

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Felt Perfecto Jacket and Jeans, both FW 13/14 Costas Murkudis for Closed. Photography by René Habermacher

RH: With a clientele living in the most various meteorological conditions, does it really make sense today to produce season-oriented collections?

KM: This is a totally legitimate question. Also as we know that the big producers often deliver new products up to twelve times a year.
So for smaller brands it is indeed worth considering to orient themselves differently because they have no chance to stand up against this moloch of an industry.

In a way we are overtaking ourselves with everything: when the sales start the season hasn’t even really begun, there is a resort collection, a pre-collection and a in-between collection- that is all a bit absurd. I see that with my brother, who says “I don’t need a pre-collection that is delivered in November when its perhaps snowing here and -30 celsius”. That makes no sense.

On the other side I am bound to the cycles of the classic way of producing 4 collections a year.
I think the problematics are there for everyone, but no one has yet found an ultimate solution, or takes the risk to say ‘I am going to position myself entirely new in this context.’

RH: In your case do you do a presentation, or are you considering eventually a show?

KM: Right now this is not a real topic for us. Maybe next year or after that, it really depends on how we develop and what our expansion will bring.

RH: The one thing I find puzzling is with all the coverage on the shows, once the products are in the shops, you are already bored of them.

KM: I totally agree with you that three weeks after the shows you vaguely remember and when the products are delivered to the shops you practically forgot about it all. This wish and desire to own the pieces immediately is fading in that period.
But that’s what you have Zara for: they deliver within three weeks after the show a dampened version for those who can’t wait at all and never really got it anyway: those will buy the cheap copy (laughs).
By then the others just saw the newest collections and are wondering that they have ever liked the current one…. I look at this smiling.

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Left: Jeans dress, Right: Split neck pullover and Jeans, all FW 13/14 Kostas Murkudis for Closed.
Boots: vintage DDR army. Photography by René Habermacher

RH: You do have a special relationship with Japan, is that right?

KM: Yes, when I was a small kid, I started to do judo. I had a fantastic teacher that I absolutely worshipped as a living hero.
I was excited to wear these suits, the belts. The scent of the mats, the bows, this outlandish language had fascinated me. To me it was of course an escape from my Greek moulded DDR prosaicness and the pressure to perform. I did virtually absorb all these words, ceremonies and preserve within for years.

When I started to be interested in the arts I read a biography of Yves Klein, and realised he was a judo master like me, and eventually lived in Japan. I think his work was to some degree influenced by Japanese moments, in their simplicity and splendidness. This has really accompanied me ever since. The Bauhaus would have been unthinkable without the Japanese influence. In many aspects this influence has developed with me, the desire towards the exotic but as well the austere, the sophistication and the celebrated. The handling of colours, surface but also the poetic moments and the spiritual aspects behind.

I celebrated plenty successes in Japan and grew with these, so I owe a lot to the Japanese. We found each other. I was always fascinated and excited about it, to the point that Gordon, one of the owners of Closed, and I started to take Japanese lessons.

This hunger is not satisfied yet- and will always find itself in my work again.

RH: What is the last thing that stimulated you?

KM: I was very inspired by the exhibition of Martin Kippenberger: the incredible freedom of a man in dealing with the most different tools. I have great respect for his state of mind that moved me to tears of joy. I haven’t laughed that much for a while. All my senses had been spurred through this.

CLOSED

This interview and photographs are a Stimuleye exclusive
interview and photography RENÉ HABERMACHER
fashion editor SUZANNE VON AICHINGER
hair JONATHAN GEIMON @ AIRPORT AGENCY using Bumble and Bumble
make up MIN KIM @ AIRPORT AGENCY
model KATE B @ NEXT MODELS
thank you VERSAE VANNI @ NEXT PARIS
and LIBRAIRIE Ofr PARIS for your support

 


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valli mythologies

July 2nd, 2013

The Stimuleye presents a new film for Giambattista Valli’s fifth haute couture collection for Fall 2013, following last season’s Jonas Mekas-influenced film The Other Side of Paradise.

This season, the themes are goddesses, fine porcelain and… Lee Radziwill makes a sublime and subliminal appearance.

Giambattista Valli Haute Couture 5


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