Mulatu Astatke & Black Jesus Experience: To Know Without Knowing review – an absorbing ride

Like one of its sinuous melodies, Ethiopian jazz continues to take unexpected turns. Melbourne’s Black Jesus Experience are one such, an eclectic eight-piece fronted by a female Ethiopian singer, Enushu Taye, with members of Australian, Moroccan, Māori and Zimbabwean heritage. This, their second collaboration with Mulatu Astatke, founding father of Ethio-jazz, proves an absorbing ride. Astatke, now in his 70s, gets to reprise a couple of his quirky, groundbreaking classics from half a century back, his vibraphone skills intact, but now with a rapid-fire rap or Afrobeat drums dropped in. The musical palette is broad, driven by a fierce horn section led by co-founder Peter Harper, with reggae, funk and Cuban flavours in a mix that’s softened by Taye’s vocals on a brace of Ethiopian wedding songs.

The band wear their politics on their sleeve, whether from the gloriously named MC Elf Tranzporter or on the 10-minute centrepiece, Living On Stolen Land, about Indigenous Australian rights. Like other antipodean bands – say, Fat Freddy’s Drop – collectivity, groove and a powerful live show are prized and shine through; perfect for the festival season we are sadly missing.


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