Ethiopian star singer Teddy Afro has not performed in the US since 2007. The reason has to do with legal problems back home. The singer recently served jail time on a charge that may have had a political dimension; Teddy Afro has sung critically about the Ethiopian regime. Primed by years of waiting, some 8,000 fans flooded the DC Armory on January 2, 2010, to dance and listen to one of the most exciting young singers in East Africa today. Afropop’s Banning Eyre and Sean Barlow were there. Here’s a review and photos.
Tewodros Kasahun—a.k.a. Teddy Afro—is without a doubt the most sensational singer to emerge from Ethiopia in the past decade. His 2005 release Yastesseryal became the biggest selling Ethiopian pop album ever and marked him as an artist with the potential to achieve the status of august forbearers like Mahmoud Ahmed and Tilahoun Gessesse. The song “Yastesseryal,” a soulful reggae anthem, tugged at the heartstrings of Ethiopians all over the world. Within its ethereal, grooving lyricism lies an implicit message that Ethiopia’s present government has offered little improvement on the authoritarian, corrupt and ethnically divisive regime—the Derg—that preceded it. Teddy Afro is more than just a reggae singer. He composes in Ethiopian 12/8 rhythms, and sings ballads, as well as songs infused with shades of rock, funk, and Congolese dance rhythms. But his reggae songs stand out because they invoke the spirit, political courage, and to a degree, the piercing vocal intensity of the great Bob Marley, to whom Afro sings an ode in Amharic on Yastesseryal.
It is remarkable that all this excitement should surround an artist that very few Americans—including diehard Afropop fans—know at all. One hopes that Teddy Afro’s next album sees wider US distribution and wins this charismatic performer and songwriter the notice he deserves. African music observers often note that East Africa has produced few singers with widespread international visibility. If Teddy Afro, his producers and presenters play their cards right, he just might prove the exception to that rule.
Contributed by: Banning Eyre
First published: www.afropop.org