Teddy Afro was a rite of passage for me. Growing up in Hispanic metro Phoenix, I was made aware- thanks to sandbox scuffles, that I ranked at the bottom of the immigrant peking order. To encapsulate, remember the scene in Hotel Rawanda when U.N Colonel Oliver illustrates “You’re not even a nigger..you’re an African”. As I learned schoolyard rules, Teddy Afro was mastering the lines between the traditional and reggae. By the time I was 12, his 3rd album and subsequent arrest by the unpopular Ethiopian government had swept Ethiopia and my Phoenix Ethiopian community. Suffocated by his persona, the first Amharic song I registered was Teddy Afro’s Yasteseryal, a scathing portrayal of the new government. Gradually I was lulled into listening to his other tracks. In Abebayhosh, he tethered my grandmother’s folklore with rollicking beats to display Ethiopia’s provincial beauty. In Abogida, he played with double-rooted meanings to express his nostalgia for his first love- the Ethiopian alphabet. In Shemndefer, he celebrated an boundless romance between an Ethiopian Christian girl and her Muslim beau.
There wasn’t a seismic moment when I embraced being Ethiopian. But amidst an atmosphere of assimilation and my parents lethargy, Teddy Afro filled the gaps.