In his 5th album, Ethiopia, Teddy afro plunges us deeper into his trek of Ethiopian nationalism. As happy as we are to have a full album, if compared to his previous albums and keeping in mind the resources at his disposal, Teddy’s artistic capacity are not realized. The patriotic line-up, though terrific, has already been executed in Tikur Sew (album #4). The fusion pieces so seamlessly placed in previous albums i.g Bob Marley, Oh Africaye, Korkum Africa are revisited BUT yet again confined to a reggae sphere. Notably missing are his iconic love songs. The love songs in Ethiopia are so lack-lustrous they make you wonder if they were thrown in as a concession to his apolitical base. Overall, Ethiopia’s patriotic tracks are powerful enough to override a lack of thematic and artistic growth. Ethiopia, at its best, gives us traditional melodic inspiration and lyrical depth to evoke an imagery of Ethiopia [past and future] that renders a visceral euphoric reaction. To that end, Teddy Afro gives us a familiar repertoire to soothe and glorify our Ethiopian self-image.
Opening Ethiopia with…Ethiopia, Teddy Afro slaps a heartfelt and melodic anthem with a galvanizing yet predictable recitation of Ethiopia’s iconic places and moments.
Views is to Hotline Bling as Ethiopia is to Atse Tewodros. Following Tikur sew’s (album #4) epic anthem Meinilik; a rapturous and unapologetic commemoration of Ethiopia’s complicated founding father Emperor Meinelik, Teddy pours his heart and maybe even lungs into Atse Tewodros. The ode to Emperor Atse Tewodors uses the ubiquitous musical styling of the late king’s city of Gonder to enflame national pride and skillfully juxtapose Ethiopia’s dismal global-standing to her former glory. In lamenting Emperor Atse Tewodors’s martyrdom, Teddy cautions us “Ante yemotkilat hager kibraw endayeresa” transl: “May the country you died for not forget her dignity.” For the polishing touch, Teddy balances the late King’s Amhara-centric leanings by belting shouts-out to various Ethiopian providences. We expect to thump to this song at every gathering #Summer17
Nowhere else in this album is Teddy Afro’s artistic creativity and love for Ethiopia compounded like in “Mar be Tuwaf (Fiker eske Mekabbir)”. The third song in Ethiopia opens with the call of the washintu/cascacading water/ eerie liturgical orthodox chant. Before we can make the sign of the cross, Teddy Afro thrusts us into a familiar folk-like melody. From here the scene to Fəqər əskä Mäqabər (Love to the Grave) an iconic Ethiopian novel by Ḥadis ˁAlämayyyäehu, is set. Teddy Afro bridges literary device, Gojame folk to give life to a work of fiction published in 1966. Teddy Afro’s signature depth triggers the Ethiopian psyche. Be the Ethiopian Tegaru, Sidamo or Oromo, we are all transported to the rolling hills of Gojam returning from those sweet 7min and 23sec more emphatic and enlightened.
Teddy Afro’s popularity is telling on multiple fronts. To broach a complicated and sensitive topic, Teddy’s music is in inexplicably linked to Ethiopia’s identity crisis. Starting from the loss of a biblical origin story vis-à-vis Coup of Haile Selassie in 1974 to the harrowing wars and famines in the 1980’s; Ethiopian’s in their lifetime saw nothing tangible to take pride in and even more dangerous, nothing to unite them. Compounding the self-deprecation, Ethiopia’s current nominal Democratic Federal State, in its struggle to compete in a global market, has neglected to foster the cultural integrity of Africa’s only non colonized country. Teddy Afro, reflects the diaspora’s populist cries. Denouncing an Ethiopia that is broken into tribes and calling for “unity” and a return to the Ethiopia that by virtue of their admonishment was “whole.”
His music and intentions are beautiful. Alas, linger and scratch the surface of Ethiopian history and the world is gray and music is but a subjective escape.