Ethiopian singer Tewodros Kassahun’s most anticipated and highly promoted studio album was released to great fanfare at the beginning of May, 2017.
More popularly known as Teddy Afro, his latest album — his fifth — comprises 15 songs of tribute and love that touch on issues of solidarity, reconciliation and the hope of living collectively in a diverse country. The album also includes a song with lyrics in a coded language, which is being interpreted by some as a rebuke to his detractors.
Ever since he caught the public’s attention with his debut album in early 2001, Teddy Afro has been a household name in Ethiopia. He is a melodic singer and prolific songwriter. “Ethiopia”, a single that appeared on his new album, racked up millions of views on YouTube as soon as it was released. His album attracted sales of up to 15 million Ethiopian Birr — a feat that no other Ethiopian singer has ever managed to accomplish — which is telling commentary on his popularity.
The recurring theme in Afro’s albums, is the need to nurture countrywide harmony, unity, and love which transcend ethnic and religious boundaries in his beloved Ethiopia.
Expanding upon this foundation, this latest album solidifies this message, both in thematic content and lyrics. While the album is mainly an Amharic language pop music offering, some segments of lyrics are inserted into his Amharic songs from other Ethiopian languages, such as Afan Oromo, Tigeregna, and Sidama, which all reflect the singer’s philosophy and interests.
He blends his version of reggae with Ethiopian beats, styles, and instruments. His deployment of the sound of mesenqo, a single-stringed Ethiopian bowed lute, which he mixes delicately with acoustic guitar, bass guitar and drums — while he sings in Amharic and Afan Oromo on one of the tracks — is a great example.
The response to Afro’s album has been mixed. Teddy’s fans and detractors either apotheosize or admonish him based on his fame, his lyrical perspective — even his album’s cover art.