Teddy Afro : The Story So Far


By Befekir Kebede

Everyone was wondering what Teddy Afro would sing about in his first release since his release from jail. Everyone was having a guess. He spent 16 months in jail and when he came out, the world was a different place in many ways. 

While he was in prison, Ethiopia lost Tilahun Gesesse and the world farewelled Michael Jackson. America sent George Bush into retirement and elected Barack Obaba as its first black president. Most of the world plunged into financial recession and China hosted the 2008 Olympic Games while loosing more than 68,000 of its people to earthquake in the same year. 

Stepping into a world that hosted changes of generational magnitude in just 16 months, Teddy would have lost his sense of time when he came out. Yet his new single, released in October 2009, confirms that Teddy has his sense of purpose intact. And most importantly, he hasn’t lost his sense of place – where he belongs and with whom. 

His controversial trial was based around the charge that he had taken the life of a homeless man in a hit-and-run accident. Deliberate or coincidence, Teddy’s new single is about the destitute and homeless of Ethiopia. The song is a call for all Ethiopians to try and feel the pain, suffering and humiliation endured by those without a home so as to make a concerted effort to alleviate their worsening condition. 

Teddy’s admirers have always given him the compliment that he uses his artistic talent to address a variety of social issues. And his latest single not only confirms his continued success as an exceptional artist, but also shows his potential to foster tangible social changes and awareness about worthy causes through his music. 

Aesthetically, Teddy’s silky-smooth vocals combined with the sounds of jazzy saxophone have given the song its unique touch of class. The choir-like backing vocals have also added another dimension to the song making it even more pleasing to the ear to listen. Teddy is liked among Ethiopians for being ripe way before his time, and in this song, he comes across as an even maturer artist ready to tackle even more serious issues. 

If anything, his controversial trial and imprisonment have resulted in raising his profile even further and doing him more favours than damages. As for this particular single, it has the potential to do for Teddy Afro among Ethiopians what “Man in the Mirror” did for Michael Jackson all over the world.

Teddy Afro or Tewodros Kassahun was born on 14 July 1976 to parents of artistic talents and fame. While his mother, Tilaye Arage, was well known in Ethiopia for her professional dancing in her younger days, his late father, Kassahun Germamo, was a renowned and highly-regarded Ethiopian songwriter. 

Since musical talent runs in the family, it is easy to conclude that Teddy Afro was predisposed to have admirable musical talents too. 

As evidently stated by Teddy Afro himself in his tribute song to his late father called Music – My Life, Teddy’s father always resisted the idea of his son becoming a musician. 

Regardless of his father’s wishes, however, Teddy trusted his own instincts and saw himself doing anything but singing as a career to arguably become the single most popular pop-star Ethiopia has produced in many years. 

Not only is he a vocalist that countless Ethiopians have come to adore, he also writes his own lyrics, which many say are filled with meanings, enabling him to sing songs that mean something. 

His father did not live long enough see the effects of his son’s music on the lives of countless Ethiopians all over the world. But Teddy tells his deceased father in Music – My Life, that he will continue to exist through the artistic works of his son. 

In Music – My Life, Teddy also confesses that his life is intrinsically intertwined with music that he cannot live outside of it, and that he was destined to be what he has become. 

Teddy and his band, Abogida, toured the world bringing many of his sensational songs that have made him famous live to his fans. 

From South Africa to North America, the Middle East and Australia, he criss-crossed the world to entertain and convey messages of peace, love, hope and unity in a language almost anyone can understand. 

Ten years ago, the name Teddy Afro was non-existent as a celebrity and it wasn’t until 2001 that he really stepped into the limelight. What Teddy has become since is something beyond what he would have ever contemplated for himself. 

Besides becoming a household name among Ethiopians almost like no other Ethiopian musician his age, through his music, Teddy Afro has also become such a powerful and patriotic public figure that the regime felt it needed to detain him, whatever the reason. 

So whatever the reason, Teddy Afro was thrown into jail, charged with killing a homeless man while driving, tried in a court that is hardly known for its independence and credibility, convicted of the charges made against him, sentenced to six years in jail and ordered to pay 18,000 Ethiopian Birr. Again whatever the reason, his jail term of six years was reduced to two years and he was finally released on 13 August 2009 – 482 days after his initial arrest. 

He was imprisoned at a place where the regime’s high-profile political prisoners are incarcerated and many believe that during the time of his arrest, Teddy Afro was the regime’s most famous political prisoner. 

Below is how it unfolded.

Teddy Afro released his second album named "Abogida". In this Album, he dedicated one track to the late Ethiopian Emperor, Haile Selassie, referring to him as the Father of Africa. Another song that became very popular in this album was a song that paid tribute to the greatest long-distance runner – athlete Haile Gebreselassie.

25 May 2003:
Thousands of Ethiopians attended a charity concert held at Meskel Square in the Ethiopian capital – Addis Ababa. The concert was organised by local Ethiopian artists including Teddy Afro. Although he was in his very early stages of his exceedingly popular singing career, it was reported that many of the attendees of the concert turned out to see Teddy Afro helping raise thousands of dollars for the millions that were affected by the drought of 2003.

September 2004:
Following athlete Kenenissa Bekele’s extraordinary performance at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, Teddy released a sensational single named "Anbessa". In the single the veteran Haile Gebreselassie and the relatively new Kenenissa Bekele are praised for their remarkably memorable and history-making run of the 10,000m race which was eventually won by Kenenissa Bekele. This hero-praising song raised Teddy Afro’s profile enormously and he begun to be seen as a hero himself among Ethiopians.

6 February 2005:
Teddy Afro led stage performances at an unprecedented international music concert to celebrate what would have been the 60th birthday of Bob Marley on 6 February at Maskal Square in Addis Ababa. A number of local and international artists performed on stage before thousands of local and international audiences. The Marley sisters and brothers, the American hip hop singer Lauren Hill, the renowned reggae singer Angelique kidjo and the Florida A&M Choir were among the artists entertaining the crowed. The new Ethiopian pop star Teddy Afro was literally the “star” of the show and the event dubbed “Africa Unite” gave him a rare opportunity to connect directly with his fans and to further raise his profile as a unique upcoming entertainer.

May 2005:
Teddy Afro released his third album, Yasteseryal – meaning redemption- and it became the single best selling album of 2005 in Ethiopia and around the world. The song Yasteseryal became controversial within days. The lyrics say, despite the change of governments since the late Emperor of Ethiopia was deposed in 1974, change was still a long way off in Ethiopia and that the current so-called leaders were no better than their predecessors. The song also attributes Ethiopia’s current woes largely to the focus on retribution and lack of forgiveness that it says was rampant in today’s Ethiopia. Even the problems of hunger in Ethiopia – the song says – is attributable to “our lack of compassion for one another and that needs to change if things are to turn around in our favour”. It also calls for a return to Ethiopia’s core values – a return to faith – and it repeatedly highlights the need for forgiveness. 

The song paints a remarkably candid picture of the unpopular regime in Ethiopia which has become a regime of retribution, thereby masterminding the decline in progress, peace and prosperity. Some in the regime are said to have been offended by a reference used in the song to identify them. 

08 June 2005:
Heavily armed government forces deployed in the streets of Addis Ababa massacred at least 42 innocent civilians on this day for taking part in a demonstration demanding the respect of the outcome of the elections held a month earlier. Most of the dead had gun shots to the head and hundreds were wounded while thousands were abducted and sent to remote military prison camps. 

The killings followed elections held in May in what was promoted as the country's “first democratic elections ever”. An estimated 26 million Ethiopians cast ballots at 35 thousand polling stations across the country. The EPRDF government lost the election as the opposition emerged victorious including a landslide win in the capital. However, the ruling party shut down the ballot counting, kicked out some election observers and announced that it had won. 

Three weeks later Ethiopians took to the streets to protest when it was announced that official election results would be delayed. Subsequently, more than one hundred Ethiopians protesting against the government’s anti-democratic ways were shot dead in Addis Ababa; between 30-45 thousand Ethiopian citizens were arrested in a period of two weeks; the entire leadership of the opposition were detained facing treason charges, and widespread and recurring violations of human rights were recorded.

If the political unrest that made international headlines during that period was a movie, then Teddy Afro’s songs were the soundtracks to it. Even the BBC described his songs as “the anthem of the anti-government protesters” of 2005. His songs about Ethiopia have been able to reinvigorate Ethiopians' love and admiration towards their country and have caused an upsurge of patriotism particularly among the youth, and particularly during this turbulent period.

8 September 2005:
Two days before he was due to perform at Sheraton Addis during Ethiopia’s New Year’s Eve celebrations on 11 September 2005, Teddy was told not to sing the song Yasterseryal supposedly by the owner of Sheraton Addis – the infamous Mohammed Hussein Ali Al Amoudi – a Saudi Arabian /Ethiopian business magnate – who has attracted widespread condemnation among Ethiopians for using his money-power to silence or suppress voices of political dissent through activities of untold bribery. 

Upon receiving the orders from Al Amoudi, Teddy cancelled his show altogether, walking away from a contract worth over 130,000 Ethiopian Birr for an overnight performance.

12 September 2005:
Teddy Afro embarked on an international tour starting from Dubai after he voluntarily cancelled his promoted show at Sheraton Addis.

November 2005:
The government ordered that Teddy Afro’s songs dubbed political be banned from playing on the government-controlled National Radio and on FM 97.1 in the clearest confirmation that freedom of speech was seriously under threat.

21 July 2006:
Teddy Afro returned to Ethiopia after touring the world for 10 months. From South Africa to North America, the Middle East and Australia, he criss-crossed the world to entertain and convey messages of peace, love, hope and unity in a language almost anyone can understand. Some of the cities he showed live performances are Dallas, Chicago, Seattle, Los Angeles, San Jose, Washington DC, Atlanta, Minneapolis, Toronto, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Nairobi, Johannesburg, Paris, Perth, Melbourne and Jerusalem. In the 10 months period, Teddy presented about 33 concerts around the world; released DVD’s of his concerts and also released another sensational single named “Wode Hager Bet” – meaning back to Ethiopia. 

4 November 2006:
Teddy Afro arrested and released on bail (50,000 Ethiopian Birr), on the same day, after police charged him of a hit and run accident. The detention followed an alleged death of an 18-year-old so-called street-dweller on the night of 2 November 2006 – on Taitu Street that leads from the Grand Palace to the Sheraton Addis.

07 June 2007:
America’s National Public Radio (NPR) presented a short radio feature on Teddy Afro on its popular show called “All Things Considered".

The show named “Teddy Afro, the New Reggae God of Ethiopia ”, said: “though the late Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie was considered a god by Rastafarians, in Bob Marley's day, reggae music wasn't popular in Ethiopia. Now, though, reggae is huge in the East African nation, and there's no bigger star than Teddy Afro.”

10 September 2007:
Teddy Afro released an energizing single for the New Millennium citing “reconciliation” among Ethiopians as the theme of the first year of the new millennium. The song also pleaded with Ethiopians abroad to return to Ethiopia ending their emotionally uncomfortable status as the “Ethiopian Diaspora”. 

12 September 2007:
On the day Ethiopia welcomed its New Millennium, Teedy chose to perform in the southern Ethiopian province of Jimma to promote reconciliation among residents of a town called Beshasha – 80km away from Jimma, which was the scene of a religiously triggered sectarian violence in 2006. Many Ethiopians expressed their admirations for Teddy and his thoughtful actions which in tern helped raise his profile even higher.

18 November 2007:
Teddy Afro held his first live music concert in almost three years in Addis Ababa at the city’s Ghion Hotlel. He also had concerts this month in Seattle and Chicago in the United States.

18 April 2008:
In a move that upset many Ethiopians, the government imprisoned Teddy Afro on this day – a week after he released a new single for Easter celebrations. Although he was sent to jail accused of killing a homeless person in Addis Ababa in a hit-and-run accident that allegedly took place more than a year prior to his arrest, many Ethiopians believe Teddy was imprisoned for he criticized the regime in some of his songs. Because of the nature of some of his songs, which are labeled “political” and critical of the Ethiopian regime, many say it was only a matter of time before Teddy – like thousands of Ethiopians before him – was put to jail. 

5 May 2008:
A New York based independent non-profit organization known as Committee to Protect Journalists said on this day that “police in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, have detained a journalist and three support staffers of a private entertainment magazine [in relation to] to a cover story about the high-profile trial of Ethiopia’s most popular pop singer, Tewodros Kassahun”.

4 August 2008:
Teddy Afro’s lawyer – Mr Million Assefa – and editor-in-chief of the Amharic weekly Addis Neger magazine – Mr Mesfin Negash – were arrested on this day after they were accused of contempt of court.

11 August 2008:
The Los Angeles Times published a feature article titled: “In Ethiopia, jailed singer Tewodros Kassahun is a political symbol.”

Among other things, the article said: “…fear of government intimidation remains strong and many have interpreted the arrest of Kassahun as a warning against speaking out. Two Ethiopian journalists have been arrested for writing sympathetically about the singer’s case.”

1 December 2008:
Eight months after his arrest, the controversial court in Addis Ababa delivered a guilty verdict against Teddy on his 12th court appearance.

5 December 2008:
Teddy Afro sentenced to six years in jail on this day and ordered to pay 18,000 Ethiopian Birr. He was sentenced on his 13th court appearance since his arrest on 18 April.

18 February 2009:
An appeal court in Addis Ababa reduced Teddy’s jail term from six years to two years. Teddy, therefore, will be freed by April 2010. The guilty verdict however is upheld.

13 August 2009:
After 482 days in prison, Teddy Afro was released on this day. Upon his release, he was briefly shown on the national television answering questions about his time in jail

Source : ethiopianmillennium.com

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