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Ethiopian Jazz Great Mulatu Astatke Given Prestigious French Award

The 75-year-old musician was given the French Order of Arts and Letters in Addis Ababa yesterday

The godfather of Ethiopian jazz, Mulatu Astatke, is the latest recipient of the French "Ordre des Arts et des Lettres" (Order of Arts and Letters). The French Minister of Culture, Franck Riester, travelled to Addis Ababa to present the award to Astatke, yesterday, at the French Embassy. The visit is part of the initiative established by French president Emmanuel Macron and Ethiopian prime minister Abiy Ahmed to share in honoring their respective cultures.


Born in the south of Ethiopia, the vibraphone and conga drum player later received training in major cities in the US and UK. Through his travels, he began combining musical elements of jazz with the traditions of different cultures to forge a new sound. As BBC reports, "Ethiopian scales have five notes and in Western music there are 12 – Mulatu combined the two to make Ethio-jazz." The new genre created a wave worldwide and furthered the expansion of jazz.

In honoring Astatke, the French Minister tweeted, "Few artists are able to embody in the eyes of the world a musical genre so strongly rooted in a national culture. Mulatu Atskake is one of them." He then later shared a video of Astatke performing with French violinist Théo Ceccaldi together in Addis Ababa. The tweet reads, "a moment of timeless jazz. Watch and listen without moderation."

The Order of Arts and Letters is an award that was established in 1957 to "recognize eminent artists and writers, as well as people who have contributed significantly to furthering the arts in France and around the world" according to the Cultural Services French Embassy in the US.

Check out our playlist of Ethiopian samples in hip-hop below featuring Astatke:


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British-Nigerian Writer Bernardine Evaristo Wins Joint Booker Prize With Margaret Atwood

Evaristo is the first black woman to win the prize, but not everyone is pleased that she had to split the award.

History was made yesterday as the Booker Prize was awarded to British-Nigerian author Bernardine Evaristo for her novel "Girl, Woman, Other," beating out four others including fellow Nigerian Chigozie Obioma. It marked the first time the prestigious literary award was given to a black woman and only the second time it has been given to a Nigerian (Ben Okri in 1995 for "The Famished Road"). In another historical twist for the event, Evaristo shared the award with famous Canadian author Margaret Atwood for her novel "The Testaments," the long awaited sequel to fan-favorite "The Handmaid's Tale." This is the third time the award has been split in its 50 year history and Brittle Paper reports that the judges described the decision as "explicitly flouting" the rules.

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In Conversation: Lemn Sissay On His New Book About Re-claiming the Ethiopian Heritage Stolen From Him by England’s Foster Care System

In 'My Name Is Why,' the 2019 PEN Pinter award winner passionately advocates for children in the institutional care system, and in turn tells a unique story of identity and the power in discovering one's heritage.

It took the author Lemn Sissay almost two decades to learn his real name. As an Ethiopian child growing up in England's care system, his cultural identity was systematically stripped from him at an early age. "For the first 18 years of my life I thought that my name was Norman," Sissay tells OkayAfrica. "I didn't meet a person of color until I was 10 years of age. I didn't know a person of color until I was 16. I didn't know I was Ethiopian until I was 16 years of age. They stole the memory of me from me. That is a land grab, you know? That is post-colonial, hallucinatory madness."

Sissay was not alone in this experience. As he notes in his powerful new memoir My Name Is Why, during the 1960s, tens of thousands of children in the UK were taken from their parents under dubious circumstances and put up for adoption. Sometimes, these placements were a matter of need, but other times, as was the case with Sissay, it was a result of the system preying on vulnerable parents. His case records, which he obtained in 2015 after a hardfought 30 year campaign, show that his mother was a victim of child "harvesting," in which young, single women were often forced into giving their children up for adoption before being sent back to their native countries. She tried to regain custody of young Sissay, but was unsuccessful.

Whether they end up in the foster system out of need or by mistake, Sissay says that most institutionalized children face the same fate of abuse under an inadequate and mismanaged system that fails to recognize their full humanity. For black children who are sent to white homes, it often means detachment from a culturally-sensitive environment. "There are too many brilliant people that I know who have been adopted by white parents for me to say that it just doesn't work," says Sissay. "But the problem is the amount of children that it doesn't work for."

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Shatta Wale in "Borjor"

Start Your Weekend Early With Shatta Wale's 'Borjor'

The Ghanaian star shares the new track and music video for "Borjor" on his birthday.

Shatta Wale is celebrating his birthday by dropping a new track that's sure to get you in party mode.

"Borjor" is an addictive new song built on a mid-tempo afro-fusion beat work and led by the Ghanaian dancehall heavyweight's vocals about the object of his desire.

The accompanying music video, directed by PKMI, follows Shatta Wale and his friends to a day of swimming and messing around in a pool and mansion.

Shatta Wale recently dropped the level-up anthem "Swizz Bank," he also hopped on the same riddim as Vybz Kartel's hit "Any Weather," produced by Shabdon Records.

Watch the new music video for Shatta Wale's "Borjor" below.

For all the best & latest Ghanaian music, follow our new GHANA WAVE playlist on Spotify here and Apple Music here.

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Michael Kiwanuka Pays Homage to the Black Liberation Movements of the '60s In New Video 'Hero'

The artist's latest single references some of his personal heroes including Malcolm X, Fred Hampton, Tupac Shakur and more.

British-Ugandan soul singer Michael Kiwanuka drops another single ahead of the release of his forthcoming album, KIWANUKA.

In "Hero" the singer pays homage to the Black Power and Civil Rights movements of the 1960s and 70s. The music video, directed by CC Wade references several Black leaders and some of the artist's personal heroes including Malcolm X, Fred Hampton, Martin Luther King Jr., Sam Cooke, Tupac Shakur, Marvin Gaye and more. It also depicts the FBI's often illegal efforts to stop Black movements and other anti-establishment groups through its Counterintelligence Program, as noted in Rolling Stone.

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