Tewodros Kassahun a.k.a Teddy Afro is considered by many as the voice of the generation in the past three decades. His ascent to the zenith of Ethiopian music is attributed to his songs reprimanding administrative and political flaws; celebrating the country’s culture, history, and wisdom; and venerating the greatness and glory of Ethiopia.
Teddy has very rare song releases or public appearances since Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed took power four years ago.
However, this time he has come up with a critical single that slams Abiy Ahmed’s administration and the government’s actions thereof. The song entitled Na’et, released on June 21, broke fans into utter frenzy and applause.
The song is released following the news report of a massacre of about 600 Amharas in Gimbi district, West Wollega zone of Oromia region, and the commencement of PM Abiy’s green legacy tree planting annual campaign.
Among the other topics raised in the song, one is a serious censure of the Prime Minister’s priority of projects like the tree planting campaign amid the chaos the country is suffering through which citizens are being killed in cold blood every day. This rebuke is expressed in the lines that say:
ዘውግ ያወረው ድንበር ማላውን የረሳ/ One who is blinded by ethnic lines and forgot the oath he took
ሳር ያለመልማል ዛሬም በእልፍ አእላፍ ሬሳ/ Nourishes the lawn over myriad dead bodies
The general message conveyed in the song is directed towards the Prime Minister’s paradoxical oblivion to the rampant turmoil in the country while focusing on luxurious projects and beautification.
ብልጭልጭ ቢሆን ዳሱ .../ Though his hall is glitzy
ማን ሊታደም ከድግሱ / Who wills to attend his feast?
ብልጭልጭ ቢሆን ድንኳን/ The flashiness of the house
አይለወጥ ጎግ የእውነት መልኳን/ Would not alter the face of truth
He further tries to vent the suppressed public anger and indignation, the swelling public resentment to the chaos loosened in the country, and the evil outcomes of ethnic politics. The song sums up by affirming the committed loyalty to the country in spite of the rain of menace.
ተላላ ዝንጉ ሰብ የሙታን ሸማ ደዋሪ/ A negligent man who weaves clothes of the dead
ምን አለ አይል ከፊት ሆኖ ቅርብ አዳሪ/ Just dwells on the moment, blind to what’s coming ahead
ተናገር አፌ ደፍረህ ሳትናወጥ ከቶ/ Speak my tongue fearlessly in audacity
ዝም አይሆንም ሜዳ ተራራ ሞት መጥቶ/ The field can’t be silent when a mountain of death is approaching
(. . . )
ዶፍ ቢዘንብ እሳት ሀገሬን ላልረሳት/ Whatsoever fire of wrath rains, I vowed not to forget my country
ቃል አለኝ ኖሬ ሞቼም ልክሳት/ I have promises to repay my country in life or death
In Ethiopian history, music has long been used as an instrument of imparting social and political issues. Music is especially noted to be used in challenging governments in every regime to voice social sentiment and political discontent. During the time of EPRDF the notable musicians in this regard are those such as Teddy Afro and Hacallu Hundessa.
Teddy particularly got the people’s attention during the 2005 contested election with his song Yasteseryal (It mediates God’s mercy) which threw bold criticism on the EPRDF government for administrative failures and becoming just another instance of oppression with no change. His works which followed Yasteseryal, that paid homage to the country’s history, personalities, events, and culture along with his singles addressing timely issues, won him the people’s hearts.
“The enormous response to Afro’s songs clearly shows the public’s appetite for music that voices alternative stories and their desire for stories that involve different voices and different truths. This stresses how music lies at the heart of people’s culture and sense of belonging,” stated Dr. Kristin Skare Orgeret, a Professor in Journalism and Media studies at Oslo Metropolitan University, in her research titled When will the Daybreak Come? Popular Music and Political Processes in Ethiopia, focusing on Teddy’s Yasteseryal album.
Yasteseryal was banned from broadcasting on public media at the time. And Teddy was accused of a hit-and-run crime and imprisoned at the time, which most believe, is a set up by the government that was disappointed by Teddy’s critical laceration.
PM Abiy’s time is marred with ethnic conflicts, the death and displacement of civilians, and the Tigray conflict that waged quite a number of lives and resulted in unspeakable destruction. It is at the peak of this upheaval Teddy’s new song appeared to the uproar & praise of his fans.
Yared Tibebu, a music aficionado says Teddy knows when the iron is hot and blows the strike at the right time, but he thinks this calculation makes him an opportunist. “Though I’m not a big fan of Teddy, I believe his new single is released at the right time and its strong message would be impactful at this particular time,” Yared comments.
“My reservation here is, however, he should have spoken when things were at an earlier stage of exacerbation when his message mattered most. And coming up on the scene after things reached the peak only shows me his urge of taking advantage of the situation to ascertain his public acceptance.”
According to Dr. Kristin Skare, the timely launch of Teddy’s songs gave proof both of a strategist who knew the rules of the cultural industry and his market and of the work of a potential national poet. “Teddy Afro is very aware of what is going on in the nation, more aware than any other artist.”
Teddy released only two singles Demo Be Abay and Armash, songs of national interest, during the time of PM Abiy’s rule.
The remarkable time he publicly spoke of his concerns about the dire conditions in the country in the past four years was during the graduation ceremony at Gondar University when he received his Honorary Doctorate.
“As a mother is relieved and smiles after a painful labor when she delivers her baby, it’s of no doubt that our country would also emerge successfully out from the serious danger it is in,” he said.
Since his debut album Abugida in 2001, Teddy Afro worked his way up to become the musical heavyweight of the nation. His successive albums, Yasteseryal and Tikur Sew, were a success, and his last album Ethiopia, was privileged to hit the Billboard World Music Chart in the first place at the time of its release.
Though late, Teddy’s bold criticism in his new song has made the single sensational and achieved him a wide acceptance. He dedicated the song to “all civilians who suffered extrajudicial killings, physical harm and were displaced from their home and village in the past four years”.
By the time this article is published the single is viewed about 2 million times on Youtube within just two days.