By Seble Teweldebirhan
May 9, 2017 (Ezega.com) - It seems puzzling to see people in a cold, rainy morning in Addis Ababa waiting in line to buy a CD album and admit that they don’t even own a CD player. However, many couldn’t pass the opportunity to buy Teddy Afro’s new music album titled Ethiopia. “It has a sentimental value to me’’ said Teshale Moges, a bank teller, as he stood in line smiling and admitting that he doesn’t own a CD players since he considers them outdated. But he proudly said he would keep the new Tewodros Kassahun (AKA Teddy Afro) 5th studio album in his house. The CD was the hottest commodity in the capital Addis Ababa on Wednesday last week, and was sold twice its price in many places. Taxi drivers, book sellers, shoe shining boys, all became salesmen for a day, running around the city convincing people to buy the original CD. In many places, tents served as temporary music shops, playing and selling the new music to waiting fans. In fact, fans of Teddy Afro are overwhelmed by this latest album and seem to lose words to express their admiration and gratitude to the artist. Teddy Afro is once again being seen as the love and peace symbol of this generation, and the golden child of Ethiopia by many.
When it comes to promoting new album and selling music, there is no one who does it better than Teddy Afro. He manages to transcend all the odds of the current music industry, including the fact that people don’t buy music anymore. When it comes to his albums, not only do people buy it as if it were a hot cake, as one social media user called it, they are also willing to pay whatever price asked and carry the album as a trophy. In fact, many people spent Wednesday busy taking selfies with the album they just bought and posting it on social media. Others were engaged in a ferocious fight with those who tried to post his new music online, trying to defend Teddy’s intellectual property rights - a rare display of concern by Ethiopians otherwise oblivious to copyright issues of artists.
The reason for this obsession with Teddy’s music is apparent for anyone close to Ethiopia. Teddy Afro is a voice many long to hear, and there is a significant portion of a population here today hungry, if not desperate, for his messages. He is a commanding messenger of his generation, probably one of very few both courageous and capable enough to say out loud some of the burning issues of many Ethiopians regarding national identity, unity, history and politics. Nowadays, people are somewhat reluctant to express national feelings openly and praise the nation called Ethiopia, as the confrontation from the anti-Ethiopia front has gotten harsh and at times violent. The antagonism towards the long history of the country, that sadly was born and preached by high level academics and politicians decades ago, and now mainstreamed, terrifies those who wish to be proud of their nation’s history and identity openly. It appears just loving the history written before the current history opens a door of insult and name calling. As a result, not only do many Ethiopians shy away from discussions, but also feel frustrated, even threatened, since the new narrative is jeopardizing the unity, stability and prosperity of the nation.
That is where Teddy Afro comes in. Among artists, he alone, at least in the music department, can challenge the anti-Ethiopian sentiment loudly and clearly – and with pride. He stands out as the voice that defends the nation and speaks out the mind of many Ethiopians. Over the years, Teddy has pushed for love, praise and commitment to the history of Ethiopia like no other. He acclaims all ruler and emperors for their contributions, disregarding controversies, making his music a resistance movement to a history that was rewritten. He points out historical mistakes many are afraid to address publicly, from Eritrea, to how democracy and leadership is used or misused, with well-written, story-based lyrics. In this way, Teddy Afro has placed himself in our society as a symbol of audacity as well as message of unity.
The single released weeks ago prior to the album delivered last week does exactly that. In his album cover single titled Ethiopia, Teddy Afro once again calls for a renewed love and commitment for the country he calls his mother and his heart. His other songs in the album also address love, unity, forgiveness, and consideration for one another’s pain. Most importantly, it sends a strong warning to those who otherwise wish harm to the nation, stating that they will burn with the fire they start. From the massive support his album has received, it is possible to conclude that this message resonates with many Ethiopians and brings out the hope that this vision of Ethiopia, however weakened, has the power to come back again and big.
It would be unfair to talk about Teddy Afro’s shine without acknowledging his fierce critics who challenge him from content to melody issues and to his approach to the music business. For some of his critics, he is just a brilliant businessman, actually the only one in the country who turned his music into a multimillion dollar (not birr) business. The late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi called him exactly that, when asked his opinion about the singer. According to his critics, Teddy Afro does not sell music, but message, since the quality of the melody and production of his music is always under scrutiny. Therefore, they question his sincerity and compassion for the country, as well as for the music itself. They claim he is turning national adversity into opportunity to sell by appealing to the heartbeats of many and expressing their frustrations. It is true that Teddy Afro surpasses his generation of musicians by many degrees in both popularity and return on his music business, which allows him to live a lavish lifestyle many creative minds cannot dream of. It could also be argued that, in the entire music history of the country, there is no one who received this level of popularity as well as money all combined together.
There are others who criticize him for some of his messaging, blaming him for insensitive approach to historical grievances of many in the country. Teddy is also at times accused of stealing melody from other musicians as well as using lyrics and sounds that belong to some specific cultures with no credit given to them. He also received his share of criticism on his last album Tikur Sew (Black man), for some historical errors and redundancy.
Notwithstanding all these criticisms, so far, his position as the most revered Ethiopian musician of all time seems secure by his millions of fans, those who really matter. Social media is full of people ready to defend him from every angle for each and every accusation directed against him. As a result, Teddy Afro, once again, is winning on all fronts, protected by love and adored of many. His new album is expected to sell 500,000 copies just in its first week. Online sales are also expected to break records of the Ethiopian online music sales business.
Seble Teweldebirhan is Addis Ababa based Reporter for Ezega.com. She can be reached by sending email through the form below.