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The 5 Best Mulatu Astatke Samples in Hip-Hop

We break down the 5 best samples of Mulatu Astatke's Ethio-jazz in hip-hop, featuring tracks from Nas, Damian Marley, Cut Chemist and more.

At 72 years-old, Mulatu Astatke is a walking legend.


Known as the pioneer and inventor of Ethio-jazz, Astatke sparked a musical revolution by pairing jazz with traditional Ethiopian melodies and instrumentation, as well as Latin rhythms.

Standing over the timbales, conga drums and, of course, the vibraphone—instruments that he introduced into Ethiopian popular music—Astatke can still be caught playing on any given night at Addis Ababa’s African Jazz Village or across the globe. He recently played at New York City’s Met Museum.

“As you know, all these rhythms we’re talking about were born in Africa. And I’m an African. You have to listen to the combination of this music. We have five notes and four different modals in Ethiopia. That’s what I have used [for Ethio-jazz],” Astatke told Okayafrica in an interview from last year.

As those Ethio-jazz sounds have spread across the world since their inception in the early 1970s, they’ve become cult favorites for beat heads, producers, and MCs to chop-up, sample and rap over.

Below we focus on the 5 best Mulatu Astatke samples in hip-hop.

“Yègellé Tezeta” Sampled by Nas & Damian Marley

Nas and Damian Marley sampled Mulatu Astatke’s 1972 track “Yègellé Tezeta” for their hip-hop-meets-reggae joint album Distant Relatives. The pair used the bass line, high-end melodies and pretty much most of the other elements from the original as they trade bars that touch on themes of ancestry and the plight of African states (the album includes song titles like "Africa Must Wake Up").

Nas and Damian Marley can be heard delivering lines like, "Y'all feel me even if it's in Swahili / Habari Gani / Mzuri Sana / Switch up the language and move to Ghana," throughout the song. It's not Amharic but the Ethio-jazz sound of the beat is definitely there.

“Gubèlyé” Sampled by Oh No

Stones Throw Records rapper/producer Oh No’s entire 2009 album Dr. No’s Ethiopium is a must-listen for anyone fond of Ethiopian jazz and folk samples.

In one of its standout tracks, “Juke Joint,” the California-based producer flips what’s originally a serene and somber composition from Mulatu Astatke (1974’s “Gubèlyé”) into a spell-binding head-nodder.

“Kasalefkut-Hulu” Sampled by J-Live

“Kasalefkut-Hulu” (1972) has been sampled countless times—it’s been used by Wu-Tang affiliate Killah Priest, it’s heard on a song that features Mystikal and Master P and a later version of it can be spotted in K’naan's “ABC’s” and Four Tet’s “Parallel Jalebi.”

Our favorite though has to be its use in J-Live’s “Longevity,” as Mulatu Astatke’s undeniable vibraphone melody is contorted into the perfect sonic bed for the New York MC's lyrical finesse. The Sister Nancy, MC is my ambition, sample doesn’t hurt either.

“Addis Black Widow” Sampled by Gaslamp Killer

Mulatu Astatke collaborated with London-based musical collective The Heliocentrics on the 2009 album Inspiration Information, Volume 3. A few years later, Brainfeeder producer Gaslamp Killer transformed Astatke & The Heliocentrics’ “Addis Black Widow” into the haywire blend of distorted beats and chiptune keyboards heard in "Impulse," a track featuring Daedelus. This could be Ethio-jazz for a dystopian future.

“Emnete” Sampled by Cut Chemist

The high melodies from Mulatu Astatke’s 1970 track “Emnete” are expertly chopped-up to accentuate this beat from Cut Chemist (heard around the :57 second mark). The veteran DJ/producer, a former member Jurassic 5 and Ozomatli, used the sample in “East Side,” a track from his 2010 Sound of the Police, which also features a host of other Ethiopian-inspired beat work.

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Introducing OkayAfrica's 100 Women 2020 List

Celebrating African Women Laying the Groundwork for the Future

It would not be hyperbole to consider the individuals we're honoring for OkayAfrica's 100 Women 2020 list as architects of the future.

This is to say that these women are building infrastructure, both literally and metaphorically, for future generations in Africa and in the Diaspora. And they are doing so intentionally, reaching back, laterally, and forward to bridge gaps and make sure the steps they built—and not without hard work, mines of microaggressions, and challenges—are sturdy enough for the next ascent.

In short, the women on this year's list are laying the groundwork for other women to follow. It's what late author and American novelist Toni Morrison would call your "real job."

"I tell my students, 'When you get these jobs that you have been so brilliantly trained for, just remember that your real job is that if you are free, you need to free somebody else. If you have some power, then your job is to empower somebody else."

And that's what inspired us in the curation of this year's list. Our honorees use various mediums to get the job done—DJ's, fashion designers, historians, anthropologists, and even venture capitalists—but each with the mission to clear the road ahead for generations to come. Incredible African women like Eden Ghebreselassie, a marketing lead at ESPN who created a non-profit to fight energy poverty in Eritrea; or Baratang Miya, who is quite literally building technology clubs for disadvantaged youth in South Africa.

There are the builds that aren't physically tangible—movements that inspire women to show up confidently in their skin, like Enam Asiama's quest to normalize plus-sized bodies and Frédérique (Freddie) Harrel's push for Black and African women to embrace the kink and curl of their hair.

And then there are those who use their words to build power, to take control of the narrative, and to usher in true inclusion and equity. Journalists, (sisters Nikki and Lola Ogunnaike), a novelist (Oyinkan Braithwaite), a media maven (Yolisa Phahle), and a number of historians (Nana Oforiatta Ayim, Leïla Sy) to name a few.

In a time of uncertainty in the world, there's assuredness in the mission to bring up our people. We know this moment of global challenge won't last. It is why we are moving forward to share this labor of love with you, our trusted and loyal audience. We hope that this list serves as a beacon for you during this moment—insurance that future generations will be alright. And we have our honorees to thank for securing that future.

EXPERIENCE 100 WOMEN 2020

The annual OkayAfrica 100 Women List is our effort to acknowledge and uplift African women, not only as a resource that has and will continue to enrich the world we live in, but as a group that deserves to be recognized, reinforced and treasured on a global scale. In the spirit of building infrastructure, this year's list will go beyond the month of March (Women's History Month in America) and close in September during Women's Month in South Africa.

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Burna Boy 'African Giant' money cover art by Sajjad.

The 20 Essential Burna Boy Songs

We comb through the Nigerian star's hit-filled discography to select 20 essential songs from the African Giant.

Since bursting onto the scene in 2012 with his chart-topping single, "Like to Party," and the subsequent release of his debut album, L.I.F.E - Leaving an Impact for eternity, Burna Boy has continued to prove time and again that he is a force to be reckoned with.

The African Giant has, over the years, built a remarkable musical identity around the ardent blend of dancehall, hip-hop, reggae, R&B, and afropop to create a game-changing genre he calls afro-fusion. The result has been top tier singles, phenomenal collaborations, and global stardom—with several accolades under his belt which include a Grammy nomination and African Giant earning a spot on many publications' best albums of 2019.

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(Photo Illustration by Rafael Henrique/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Rejoice! WhatsApp Places New Restrictions on Chain Messages to Fight Fake News

To combat the spread of misinformation due to the coronavirus outbreak, users are now restricted from sharing frequently forwarded messages to more than one person.

The rise of the novel coronavirus has seen an increase in the spread of fake news across social media sites and platforms, particularly WhatsApp—a platform known as a hotbed for the forwarding of illegitimate chain messages and conspiracy theories (if you have African parents, you're probably familiar). Now the Facebook-owned app is setting in place new measures to try and curb the spread of fake news on its platform.

The app is putting new restrictions on message forwarding which will limit the number of times a frequently forwarded message can be shared. Messages that have been sent through a chain of more than five people can only subsequently be forwarded to one person. "We know many users forward helpful information, as well as funny videos, memes, and reflections or prayers they find meaningful," announced the app in a blog post on Tuesday. "In recent weeks, people have also used WhatsApp to organize public moments of support for frontline health workers."

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The Ghanaian heavyweight rapper shows up with the fire bars over an Altra Nova-produced beat.

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"Sub Zero" follows the star Ghanaian rapper as he throws back criticisms that have come his way from other rappers with his own ice cold flow. The new track was produced by Ghanaian beatmaker Altra Nova and mixed by PEE On Da BeaT.

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