Some things about Tedy Afro

 The Teddy Afro Phenomenon: An Analysis

Published: Apr 17, 2012 by bini Filed under: Article Ethiopian News Views: 4,706 Tags: Teddy Afro, Tekur Sew, Des Yemil Sekay, Teddy Afro, Tikur Sew

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Tewodros Kassahun aka Teddy Afro may not have a strikingly different and out of the ordinary voice. But he has a strikingly different manner, philosophy, view and poems. A “controversial” singer of the new breeds of intellectual Ethiopian artists, thinkers and philosophers, Teddy Afro has released his contentiously controversial album, Tekur Sew (Black Person). A short analysis follows.

A Book about Teddy Afro…

One of the very few musicians whose life story has been written is Teddy Afro in today’s Ethiopia.  A young writer who goes by the name Abel Zebene wrote a book titled “Ye Teddy Afro Talakent Mister” literally meaning the secrets of Teddy Afro’s greatness two years ago in 2010. The amateurishly written but well composed book does a secondary review of Teddy’s biography and assesses why the singer was so popular. The book calls Teddy a “revolutionary singer”. According to Abel, it was since Teddy Afro started singing that art received its due place within the society and music albums started to be sold as much as millions of birr.  The writer also states that Teddy regards freedom as his highest virtue in life and fears nothing but God. Ye Teddy Afro Talakent Mister also states that Teddy Afro loves his dad so much. His late father, Kassahun Germamo was a popular journalist and MC. His father is said to be behind the nurturing of today's ethical, nationalist, unitary, loving and wise Teddy. Teddy had one big difference with his dad...Music...his Kassahun wanted the young Teddy to be a Medical Doctor. Teddy loved music. However, Teddy was a high ranking student. Until he completed his matriculation, the author says, Teddy competed with the best ranking students and was his friends were the studious students. 

Singing about three major themes; humanity, unity and love

A critical element that is lacklustre within the Ethiopian musicography is capability of researching, analysing, writing meaningfully, emotive-expressive issue based lyrics and arranging music. Up until recently, almost all singers had written no poems,  composed no song, they only joined art because they had “good” voice. They all were signing/yelling machines proffered lyrics, melody and arrangements by others. They were simply conduits. This resulted in the absence of creativity and originality in music. Almost all songs were about love and hate of a girl friend and boyfriend. Radically though, the happening of Teddy Afro converted that. Music became a timely, emotive, expressive and philosophically researched output. The major make-ups that make Teddy stand out as a popular music player are his unwavering and icebreaking thoughts and philosophies. Teddy is one of the few musicians to cover, sing and preach about justice, ''unity'' and political reconciliation between Ethiopia and Eritrea.  He sings about the unity of Ethiopians. The godly nature and eminence of love is also preached by the young man. He listens to the cries and problems of the public and echoes it. He sermonizes that we should have our own heroes and recognise them: Haile Gebresellaise, Kenenisa Bekele, HIM Emperor Hailsellasie and now King Menelik and his war comrades are some of them. The issue of street children, poverty, HIV/AIDS, lack of political/administrative progress or change, freedom and justice are some of his topics that he often raises and advocates.

In the civil rights movement of the United States and in the road to Zimbabwe’s independence, music played an essential role of unifying the freedom fighters and the masses at the same time raising their morale through messages that defined the purpose of the armed struggle. As a “man of freedom”, Teddy calls himself, intrinsically, Teddy Afro serves as a singer of freedom, unity and change.  

Teddy the aesthetic and philosophical singer

Tewodors Kassahun was born on 14 July 1976 in Kuas Meda area, Addis Abeba. Teddy Afro is one of the few singers whose poems and speeches are highly researched, well thought and measured. His motto, “Love Wins” has been adopted by our team De Birhan Media as our official motto. Abel’s book mentions some of the few sayings of this young singer.

Secondly, Teddy knows the aesthetics of music. He knows and does represent that music is a scientific discipline that requires a concerted research and study. Therefore, he reads, listens and writes music carefully. Music books state that music theory connects four fields of study, such as hearing, singing, reading and writing as shown in the diagram below. 

Reading and hearing of music is introvert while singing and writing are extravert acts. Hearing and singing are mainly performed through the good ears of the musician/audience while reading and writing of music are done via the musicological eyes of the musician/listener. A good artist converts these acts into theories in the brain and makes them practical when it is finally produced as a musical output.  Teddy Afro exceptionally from other singers owns these musical interconnections. He listens to other’s music carefully, reads poems, lyrics and all forms of publication from history to current affairs, writes amazing poems that listen to the heartbeats of the audience and sings it beautifully as a result. Taking his latest Tikur Sew/Black person song/Album as an example is worthy here. This song sung as a tribute to Ethiopia’s unifier and sole black African king that defeated a white Western colonising nation, Italy has been labelled by some as “”Ethiopian History/ The Battle of Adewa 101” comparing its deeply researched, analysed and composed lyrics with Freshman Ethiopian history courses offered in Ethiopian universities. This shows the reading and writing aspects of music theory legibly inscribed in Teddy's new album. Similarly, the diatonic arrangement, multilingual singing and voice insertions in Tekur Sew explain the hearing and singing musical qualities and innovativeness of the singer.   

Aesthetics is a sub-discipline of philosophy. Musical aesthetics as a sub genre of it then studies music based on qualities including  lyricism, harmony, hypnotism, emotiveness, temporal dynamics, resonance, playfulness, and color. With a close watch, most of these characteristics of music are boldly observable in most of Teddy Afro’s songs.

Most listeners due argue that Teddy Afro's songs are of emotions and categorically criticize him.   Peter Kivy's analytic philosophy  inspired extensive debate about the nature of emotional expressiveness in music. Most theoretical definitions of music define music as an art of emotiveness.  The fact that Teddy sings emotive songs puts him at the top of musicologists than wannabe singers. Emotiveness has to be expressed in music; that is the role of music.  As to, those who take the experience of music's expressiveness to be a more intimately emotional one (through being predicated on imaginative engagement with the music, say), tend to emphasize that experience as more central to musical understanding, and thus attribute a larger part of music's value to its expressivity. Expressivity is the core part of Teddy’s music in addition to emotiveness. In this day and age of inflation when citizens cannot even afford to buy chicken, millions of Ethiopians bought Tewodros’ album; understandably because his songs are emotive and expressive of their feelings and life.

The Free Dictionary online version dictionary defines lyricism as tthe practice of writing verse in song form rather than narrative form to embody the poet’s thoughts and emotions. A verse that would in short exemplify this definition from the track title “Sele Fiker” meaning for love from his new album is: 

??? ?? ??? ??????

??? ??? ???? ????

This can literally be translated as:

With a soil which is green inside

Why is my stomach starving?

This verse states that Ethiopia contains a fertile soil and land but the nation, millions continue to be hungry and self insufficient. The singer taking himself as the first person character emotionally questions the moral of himself and his compatriots for being stationary than changing the status quo social-economic scenario.  Such exuberance and many other types of lyricisms are exhibited in the singer’s lyrics which are all written by himself. Teddy also introduces new concepts, philosophers, ideas, and personalities. In this new album, he sings about a new character (on the Sele Fiker track) new to most of the Ethiopian music audience, named Tewanye.  Tewanye was a thinker and philosopher who lived around five hundred years ago in Gonder, Ethiopia during the reign of Atse Eyassu. Little has been mentioned or written about him. Teddy now pokes us to read about this philosopher and why we have not followed his steps and moved forward.

Some listeners categorically put Teddy as a bad musician/ unmelodious while many select tracks from his albums that are bad and argue that although he is a good musician, he also has or produces bad music (bad seen against the above aesthetics of music).  Simon Frith (2004) argues that, "'bad music' is a necessary concept for musical pleasure, for musical aesthetics."  Therefore, the fact that Teddy “has or produces bad music” doesn’t necessarily make him unworthy as they rather do beautify the musical aesthetics. Teddy was released from jail in August 2009 for good behaviour, after he served over two years in jail for an alleged hit and run which most consider was “politically concocted attempt of silencing the politically justice minded singer”. Tikur Sew came out after 7 years of his last album….with a reportedly over 5.7 million copies sale in two days. Sources say that Addis Fortune reported on its Saturday 14 April issue that around 300,000 tape and half a million CD distribution was made for the first phase, which makes a turn over sales of 15,000,000. 

What makes Tekur Sew spectacular? And why should it be listened? 

1.      Record breaking album sell – Since the entrance of the legendary singer Teddy Afro into the Ethiopian musicospehre. His latest album has reportedly been sold for over 4.6 million birr. Within four days of the release more than six million copies of the song have been sold, according sources close to the artist.

2.      Putting King Menelik II on the map : the singer has put the imminent king of Ethiopia and the black world, called by many who love and respect him Emyee, though with lots of opponents that consider him as a “massacring colonialist”, has been ignored by the current regime as an “enemy and suppressor of their regional kings and regionalism”. Indeed, the negative paintings and falsifications of Menelik II's role was kick started by Western colonialists and supremacists who were humiliated by him. Various books have been written, some Ethiopian ethnic groups have been blindly indoctrinated about the “genocide” Menelik excuted on their ethnic groups. As if there was an expansionist, unifier, and  a nation formed through round table, many Westerner’s and their disciples accuse the Emperor of being brutal while unifying Ethiopia. One strategy applied was fomenting hatred between the two major ethnic groups of Oromo and Amara using Menelik, an Amara (although his mother was an Oromo) as a source of difference. Higher officials and members of the incumbent ruling party TPLF including the Prime Minister Meles Zenawi have spoken and written books that negatively criticized and despised Emperor Menelik II, his ethnic group and any form of association with him. As a result of which the legacy and fame of the Emperor and mentioning his name and roles has been low key. But thanks to the brilliant singer, Teddy has put Emperor Menelik II back on the map. This song beautifully serves as a history reference album. Most feature films and movies  in Ethiopia cost around half a million birr to produce. 

   This song of Teddy, Tekur Sew soon to be released alone cost over 400,000 birr. Many Westerners have also taken part in the shooting of the clip. Hundreds of Addis Abeba University students who took part in the shooting were paid around 500 birr per person. One student said in an interview before Easter "Thanks be to Teddy now that I have my 500, I have money to pay my transportation cost to visit my families of the holiday in rural Ethiopia."

3.      Unifier: Although there have been some reports that stated that Teddy had made factual errors in the naming and context of some incidents in his Tekur Sew lyrics, broadly speaking, it is a well written factual lyrical story that attempts to bring all ethnic groups and their roles in defending  Ethiopia’s sovereignty  to light. There has never been such a music “popular” not traditional, that has such a caliber, mixing and artfulness. Importantly, it has a message of unity. Menelik, the history of Ethiopia and ethnic issues may be very controversial and divisive topics but one thing that Teddy boldly asserted in Tekur Sew is that we all have one commonality that unifies and bonds us, Adewa. The battle and victory of Adewa equalise and justify why we should be together. In the political context, the current togetherness of Ethiopian opposition groups mainly led by formerly secessionist Oromo groups and centralist and unitarist parties receives an indirect endorsement from Teddy’s super production. This art of timely release, as expressed by musical gurus  fulfill the  musical values of emotiveness, timeliness and expressiveness. Additionally, he mixes Amharic and Oromigna languages in this album title, and says ‘ Ijoollee Biyya Keenyaa ’ in  ‘My Children of my country’  with a simile that our similarities are greater than our differences.

4.      Aesthetic values: Tekur Sew contains the major aesthetic qualities such as including  lyricism, harmony, hypnotism, emotiveness, temporal dynamics, resonance, playfulness, and color. Most of the negative, corrective and promotional comments, reviews and criticisms are indications of the music aesthetic values. Tekur Sew, Sele Fiker and Afrikaye hinge the listener to wake up and dance while haile, helm ayedeegemem, Fiyoriana and setehed composed in a slow, low tone and rhythm force us to sit back relax and reflect.

5.      The title: Tekur Sew literally meaning Black Person/man is out of the customary grammatical naming norms and the vocabulay meanings of naming album titiles. Many wondered what he meant by Tekur Sew when the album was promoted months before its release. Blackness or being black has been little used in literary and music arts worldwide or in Ethiopia. Frantz Fanon is one of the few to popularize blackness and color related post colonial theories and broach the issue of colour into the academic discourse. Teddy Afro now ascribes the phrase Black Person/man an honorable and eminent status and class by artistically deconstructing it through King Menelik, pride of black people. This academic song needs to be translated and studied by Afrocentrist thinkers and academics. 

6.      Helping the altruist artist: Teddy Afro’s popularity hiked mainly due to his humanitarian and altruist activities.  According to Abel Zebene’s book Teddy Afro’s humanitarian activities began when he started visiting Abebech Gobena Orphanage in Addis Abeba and began donating money. He has been successively supporting the orphanage. Abel writes that the founder of the Orphanage had once asked Teddy Afro to take over the Orphanage and administer it himself. Some of his altruistic and humanitarian activities among many include: donation to those affected by floods in Dire Dawa, financially assisting the late artist Manalemosh Dibo when she was ailing in hospital, giving around one million birr of the income from his concert in Addis Abeba Stadium to a local NGO that worked with street children and beggars and the recent ransom payment of over 700,000 birr for the freeing of an Ethiopian young man arrested in Somaliland. In addition to these, he called for a u-turn of thoughts; this young philosopher taught many to be generous, lovers, optimist, mannered, humble, nationalists, and unified by being an example. The Teddy Afro phenomenon is a phenomenon that has removed the Dergistan and TPLFized old phenomenon of jealousy, hate, contempt, selfishness, bitterness and despotism and replaced them with all those that negate these.

Similarly, around 10 of his songs are composed by an upcoming novice music composer named Michael Hailu. By this, Teddy is assisting Michael financially, networks and  making him popular.


1.      Libe/leben: The most over used word in the new album of Teddy Afro is Lebe/my heart. This writer came across a good number of times in almost all his lyrics. Such repetition should have been removed.

2.      Exclusion of a verse: In the song titled “Hayle” or power, Teddy inserts a poem from the legendary Ethiopian Laureate Tsegaye Gebremedhin’s poem titled Feran (we are afraid). For deliberate or unknown reason Teddy excludes a line from the poem that reads “????? ????? ???” meaning we have closed/censored the voices of souls. The singer might have chosen to quote the last few verses of the poem but still makes it an incomplete poem and de-copyrights Tsegaye. 

3.      Monotonity of love theme and beats: Repetitive themes of love are heard in most of his songs. Like many other singers, they were dominated with monotonous themes of love of a girl. The music composition also shows similarity from one another, this may be due to that fact that around 10 of the songs were composed by one music composer. Resembling beats are heard in most of them.


Some years ago when I was a novice of the Weston world, I was the usual Ethiopian young man curious to know the psyche, behavior of the western man and their views re: Ethiopia. I happened to make few good friends. One of these good friends has been an older man of good breed and with high infatuation of Ethiopians and Ethiopia. This man one day gave us folded gifts to use it as we had nothing to do then and were all “an illegal aliens”. As soon as I arrived home, I opened the gift. It was Teddy Afro’s Yasteseryal album. This is the extent that Teddy Afro has colonized the minds of Western audience. Many people that I find in this part of the world know only two things about Ethiopia; famine and HIM Hailsesllasie. But now there is a third addition; Teddy Afro, Ethiopia’s new brand name.  Tikur Sew is a success; if art is to be a scientific and philosophical tool of peace, development and reconciliation, there is no better examplar.

Teddy afro is an inspiration of the new generation. African youth can be inspired by their artists and exemplary icons when their barrel holding leaders fail them. Tewodros is one of those that inspired Ethiopians all across the world to think twice about the value of their unity, love and freedom. Teddy Afro has made his fiancée public; winner the title of Miss Ethiopia 2006 and an independent journalist and film director by profession. We wish them well.

The poem below summates my point of view in this write up. It is a poem put as comment under Dawit Kebede's article. Tekur Sew is a pill to those diseased with hate and falsehood. 

??? ?????? ??? ?????? 

April 17, 2012 at 8:48 am

*******??? ?? ?????::*******

???? ??? ??? ????:-

??? ???

??? ?? ?????::

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?????? ?? ?????

??? ?? ???:-

???? ???:-

???? ?? ????:-

???? ????:-

????? ??? ???? ????{-

???? ???

??? ?? ?????::

????? ?? ???? ????:-

?????? ??? ???? ???

???? ???? ??? ??????:-

???? ???? ???? ????:-

???? ?????? ???? ????:-

?? ?????

??? ?? ?????::

????? ???? ???? ???:-

??? ?? ??? ???? ????::

??? ??? ?? ??? ????:-

????? ??? ?? ??????::

??? ???? ?????? ????:-

??? ???

??? ?? ?????::

Let’s promise to put Emye Menelik back on the map!

Viva Emperor Emeye Menelik, pride of the black race and God bless the young thinker, Teddy Afro!!!!!!!!

By T, Staffer of De Birhan Media

17 April 2012

The views expressed in this article are the author's own.

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