Teddy Afro is a pop singer in Ethiopia who often writes and sings about timely issues and political subjects that make him stand out from other singers. His romantic songs are also equally well received. Furthermore, Teddy cleverly understands the business side of music unlike his predecessors, popular mainstream singers like him such as Tilahun Gessesse or Asnaketch Worku who barely benefited from their creative works.
In fact, most of Ethiopia’s old school singers lived their remaining few years in poverty, some rescued by the country’s only billionaire: Sheik Al Amoudi, who is also the richest black person worldwide. In contrast, Teddy is quite entrepreneurial in his musical endeavors, i.e., he knows what people want to listen, and what he needs to do to reap what he sows and to stay on top of the market. For example, he plans very carefully when, where, and how to release his albums. In short, he is both creative and business-minded. Often times his album release dominates the music market, scaring other musicians from releasing their new albums because of their fear that they may get overshadowed.
Teddy recently released his latest album, which fans have been anticipating its arrival enthusiastically, and upon arrival the album has received mixed reactions from the public as expected because of the controversial nature of the song that serves as the title of the album: Tikur Sew (Black Man). Though his fans are as supportive as always, others question Teddy’s motives.
Tikur Sew is an upbeat song and a tribute to Emperor Menelik II of Ethiopia, the first African leader who defeated the Italian colonial forces at the battle of Adwa in 1896, securing Ethiopia’s independence, though he compromised the region that is now an independent country, Eritrea—which stayed under Italian colonization until 1941 (the British took over in 1941 after Italy lost in WWII), and reunited with Ethiopia in 1952 under Emperor Haile Sellasie, but a protracted war that lasted close to 32 years resulted in its final independence in 1993 (Per BBC: In 1952 the United Nations resolved to establish [Eritrea] as an autonomous entity federated with Ethiopia as a compromise between Ethiopian claims for sovereignty and Eritrean aspirations for independence. However, 10 years later the Ethiopian emperor, Haile Selassie, decided to annex it, triggering a 32-year armed struggle. This culminated in independence after an alliance of the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (EPLF) and a coalition of Ethiopian resistance movements defeated Haile Selassie’s communist successor, Mengistu Haile Mariam). Emperor Menelik is also criticized for brutally crushing his domestic opposition—those who resisted his governance and expansionist policies that gave rise to the Ethiopia we know today. In light of these facts, the song is partly controversial since it just praises the Emperor without any critical insight.
The song honors Empress Taytu Betul, too—the wife of the Emperor, credited for being a powerful woman behind him and a key player in the battle of Adwa and the years that came after it. Other important names are also mentioned in the song such as Alula Aba Nega and Balcha Aba Nefso—both well-respected generals.
Overall, for Teddy’s supporters, no doubt the song’s main goal is reminding young Ethiopians of the victorious past and celebrating the valiant patriots who aggressively fought hard and saved their country from becoming a colony—that, of course, excluding Eritrea, for reasons mentioned above. And for those who doubt Teddy’s motives: the patriotic facade is just his way of being business savvy—that he knows what sells well. Who is right and who is wrong? Only Teddy knows the answer. But the fact remains that such controversy and his talent keep him on the spotlight.
Another aspect of Teddy that makes him unique: he takes his music videos just as serious as he takes his music. Therefore, it is not surprising he often releases high quality videos. And this time he has surprised his fans, releasing the Tikur Sew music video this past week, shortly after he released his album. This music video is by far one of the best coming out of Ethiopia. The cinematographic quality is not only well done, but it captures the mood of Ethiopia in 1896.
The quote at the end of the video reads: There is no future without the past. Though I understand what they want to say, I wonder why they skipped the present. The past is in fact more important to the present than to the future. We look at the past to build on what has been done and to avoid repeating similar mistakes in the present—so we can have a better future. You can’t have a future without the present; both the past and the future are meaningless without it. One of the reasons why Ethiopia remains a poor and politically divided country, despite its fascinating history and natural resources, is the fact we have yet to reconcile with the present. It is great to remember the past, both the good and the bad. However, what we do in the present is unquestionably the most important one.
Let me stop there.
Hope you enjoy the song! 🙂
Please be warned that the video has some graphic parts as it depicts war. Though you will see swordsmanship, which Ethiopian warriors were very good at, the video is not too graphic. Having seen The Passion of Christ or any of Hollywood’s war movies, this one is tolerable.