The music world has witnessed something strange this month. The Billboard World Albums Chart placed Teddy Afro’s latest album, ‘Ethiopia’ on top of the list and the album has so far sold more than 600,000 copies. Teddy is a talented yet controversial singer as his songs speak louder by going beyond cliché themes and passing messages often interpreted as being political. Teddy uses art as a weapon to advance his message and is a solid figure of his generation who talks about Ethiopian identity and consistently speaks of Ethiopian pride.
So what is new about Teddy’s latest album? I give particular importance to the way the lyrics are structured. His songs entitled – ‘Mar Eske Tuaf’ and ‘Atse Tewodros’ – with respective beats appealing to traditional Gojam and Gondar singing styles, brought something unprecedented to the Ethiopian music scene – turning a book into a song. Specifically, ‘Mar Eske Tuaf’ summarized the 552-page Amharic masterpiece novel by Haddis Alemayehu, entitled ‘Fiker Eske Mekabir’ (roughly translated as ‘Love unto Crypt’), in seven minutes and twenty seven seconds.
What makes ‘Mar Eske Tuaf’ special is the idea of turning such a monumental novel in modern Amharic literature into an amazing song. Another astonishing thing about ‘Mar Eske Tuaf’ is that its lyrics are structure in such a way that it is expressive of the novel along with its major characters. Another thing worth mentioning is how Teddy artistically mentioned the names of key figures associated with the novel like the author, Haddis Alemayehu, and Wogayehu Nigatu, who is celebrated for breathing more life to the novel in his narration which repeatedly aired in the 1980s 1990s on the Ethiopian National Radio Service to attract millions of listeners.
When carefully observing Teddy’s music career it can be noticed that he preaches about unity, love, brotherhood and peace for all Ethiopians. Teddy’s plea for political openness is both timely and appealing. In his recent blog, an Ethiopian academic and social scientist, Fikre Tolossa (Prof.), wrote about Teddy’s musical fame, and concluded that Teddy’s wide-ranging approval came because his songs call for ‘unity of Ethiopians’. Still, the hypothesis of the professor would require further in-depth inquiry or study.
In his recent interview with the Associated Press (AP), Teddy talked about the political landscape of Ethiopia in the past, present and future. Asked by AP regarding the present Ethiopian political vibe, Teddy Afro replied: “The tendency nowadays in Ethiopia is to mobilize along ethnic lines, not ideas”. What can be taken from of this view is one – a political stand calling for individual freedom. As vivid as we are witnessing today, such a political view has been fading since the year 2005, with some prominent opposition political parties warning that it has been weakening since the past two decades or so. Teddy’s assessment has substance. Many are responding to and/or commenting their inferences in their own ways. The core issue for me is how contradictory or complementary is Teddy’s view to the political goals of the ruling regime, the Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF).