Ethiopia: Teddy Afro to Sing in Bahir Dar Stadium
Teddy Afro to Sing in Bahir Dar Stadium! Despite Concert bans by his Native Addis, Teddy Afro
Artistic works like ‘Ethiopia’ of Teddy Afro or other works of Ethiopian youth in their respective expertise requires free minds and souls which hate hatred itself. Our history tells us that our bond yesterday was strong and we should remember that we shared everything, including our lives, and have endured during hard times, writes Habtamu Girma.
The music world has witnessed something strange this month. The Billboard World Albums Chart placed Teddy Afro’s latest album, ‘Ethiopia’ on top of the list and the album has so far sold more than 600,000 copies. Teddy is a talented yet controversial singer as his songs speak louder by going beyond cliché themes and passing messages often interpreted as being political. Teddy uses art as a weapon to advance his message and is a solid figure of his generation who talks about Ethiopian identity and consistently speaks of Ethiopian pride.
So what is new about Teddy’s latest album? I give particular importance to the way the lyrics are structured. His songs entitled – ‘Mar Eske Tuaf’ and ‘Atse Tewodros’ – with respective beats appealing to traditional Gojam and Gondar singing styles, brought something unprecedented to the Ethiopian music scene – turning a book into a song. Specifically, ‘Mar Eske Tuaf’ summarized the 552-page Amharic masterpiece novel by Haddis Alemayehu, entitled ‘Fiker Eske Mekabir’ (roughly translated as ‘Love unto Crypt’), in seven minutes and twenty seven seconds. What makes ‘Mar Eske Tuaf’ special is the idea of turning such a monumental novel in modern Amharic literature into an amazing song. Another astonishing thing about ‘Mar Eske Tuaf’ is that its lyrics are structure in such a way that it is expressive of the novel along with its major characters. Another thing worth mentioning is how Teddy artistically mentioned the names of key figures associated with the novel like the author, Haddis Alemayehu, and Wogayehu Nigatu, who is celebrated for breathing more life to the novel in his narration which repeatedly aired in the 1980s 1990s on the Ethiopian National Radio Service to attract millions of listeners.
When carefully observing Teddy’s music career it can be noticed that he preaches about unity, love, brotherhood and peace for all Ethiopians. Teddy’s plea for political openness is both timely and appealing. In his recent blog, an Ethiopian academic and social scientist, Fikre Tolossa (Prof.), wrote about Teddy’s musical fame, and concluded that Teddy’s wide-ranging approval came because his songs call for ‘unity of Ethiopians’. Still, the hypothesis of the professor would require further in-depth inquiry or study.
In his recent interview with the Associated Press (AP), Teddy talked about the political landscape of Ethiopia in the past, present and future. Asked by AP regarding the present Ethiopian political vibe, Teddy Afro replied: “The tendency nowadays in Ethiopia is to mobilize along ethnic lines, not ideas”. What can be taken from of this view is one – a political stand calling for individual freedom. As vivid as we are witnessing today, such a political view has been fading since the year 2005, with some prominent opposition political parties warning that it has been weakening since the past two decades or so. Teddy’s assessment has substance. Many are responding to and/or commenting their inferences in their own ways. The core issue for me is how contradictory or complementary is Teddy’s view to the political goals of the ruling regime, the Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF).
I believe that the two are at most complementary; or doesn’t contradict at least in lieu of the theory and practices of revolutionary democratic rule in the past, present and future. In its political teaching, revolutionary democracy’s end goal is to level the political and economic landscape to be able to exercise liberal democracy, whose political and economic pillars are built upon individual rights than group rights. Revolutionary democratic political philosophy leans upon historical relations between the people of Ethiopia. However, the Ethiopian polity, by way of cultural and economic reasons, has not managed to reach and exercise liberal democracy. Hence, revolutionary democrats staunchly argue that their political governance is righteous and claim that it would be a remedy for past political and economic grievances and/or quests for creating fertile ground in the nation building process. In the past quarter of a century since 1991, revolutionary democratic lines of political governance has brought remarkable achievements in regards to promoting group rights, particularly in addressing those issues like developing one’s own culture and language and freely practicing one’s faith. Hence, we can say the political objective in this regard is solved. On top of that, with the advent of capitalism in the country, higher education and urbanization – all of which characterize the political economy of Ethiopia since the last decade or so – it is expected that a large segment of the population have graduated to the next level, a level where people seek for the respect of their individual rights.
The fact that group rights have got full respect in the current political setup of Ethiopia has been amplified repeatedly by many political pundits and high ranking EPRDF officials. For example, in the March-April 2016 edition, Addis Ra’ey magazine, the party’s ideological publication, it has been penned that the identity issue in Ethiopia has been resolved. Similarly, during a forum staged by Fana Broadcast Corporation in late 2016, Bereket Simon, one of the veteran bigwigs of the ruling party, said that the questions regarding identity, cultural right and self-rule of nations, nationalities and peoples of Ethiopia have already been resolved.
However, Teddy Afro, who is pleading for more political openness and is currently 40 years old, was only a 14-year-old boy when the EPRDF seized power in 1991. In that regard, Teddy’s political views or conceptions are, to a large extent, reflections or products of the political governance of the EPRDF. Hence, that can be considered as one success of revolutionary democracy, whose end result would be to achieve that. The political economy of Ethiopia in the past two decades or so reveals two scenarios; both connote that the Ethiopian political landscape has been updated to accommodate idea-centric political groups. It has embarked on the process of graduating from ethno-centric to idea-centric views.
In both cases, Teddy’s position is a natural element that is expected to emanate from the system in both scenarios. If we assume that Teddy’s conception is the product of the system, it means that the system is credited to help him graduate from ‘group mentality’ to ‘individualism’, hence, celebrate ideas over ethnic lines. Even if Teddy was not a supporter of group right, which is the first principle of the EPRDF from the outset, our time triggers for such thinking to emerge or at least not to be crushed. So, Teddy’s call for political openness is timely since it is high time to challenge the monopoly of a political system that advances ethno-centric political groups (parties). So what does it mean for revolutionary democrats? One thing the revolutionary democratic rule shall be clear with is that those who cater to this evolved philosophy are growing large and require political representations. At this juncture, at least in my own assessment, this new social class is likely to be large enough in comparable with the size of some dominant ethnic groups in Ethiopia. In one recent informal discussion I had with one friend of mine, he estimated the new class, which prefers individual identification over group identification, to be more than ten million. Ignoring the exact figure for a while, given the fact that the urban population of Ethiopia is estimated to be above 20 million and the emerging social class, which prefer individual identification appeals largely to urbanites, one can make a reasonable guess and come close to the ten-million estimate.
That being said, I argue that Teddy’s plea for more openness and asking for political reform is the product of the time itself – a fundamental question of our time that needs to be addressed by those at the helm. Given that the major players of politics in Ethiopia are not the people but the political elites, finding the answer to those questions is primarily the responsibility of the political elites. It is my belief that Ethiopians are taken as being passive by their leaders throughout history and are expected not to challenge leaders or politicians, a reflection of which we are seeing on the current generation. In that regard, I argue that the most important task of our generation is to maintain the unity of Ethiopians and uphold the pride of the country.
Hence, artistic works like ‘Ethiopia’ of Teddy Afro or other works of Ethiopian youth in their respective expertise requires free minds and souls which hate hatred itself. Our history tells us that our bond yesterday was strong and we should remember that we shared everything, including our lives, and have endured during hard times. Such is the power of history in maintaining and even further cementing the cohesion of all Ethiopians, a force strong enough to withstand any move or incident inflicted to weaken (detach) our connections. If I have to say one thing regarding the importance of Teddy Afro’s musical works, it is their importance in bringing those traits to the fore. More importantly, Teddy’s ‘Ethiopia’ is a reminder to our political elites (both in the ruling and opposition camps) that they should cleanse their minds from revenge, hatred and grievance – the three nemeses of the people of Ethiopia that are responsible for eroding our unity and impeded our progress in all aspects of life.