Teddy Afro, the New Reggae God of Ethiopia

Though the late Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie was considered a god by Rastafarians, in Bob Marley's day, reggae music wasn't popular in Ethiopia. Now, though, reggae is huge in the East African nation, and there's no bigger star than Teddy Afro.

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REBECCA ROBERTS, host:

Reggae is huge in Ethiopia, and the most popular artist there is Teddy Afro.

(Soundbite of music)

TEDDY AFRO a.k.a TEWODROS KASSAHUN (Singer): (Singing) (Foreign language spoken)

ROBERTS: He has a hit record called "Yasteseryal," which celebrates the former Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie. And while Selassie was regarded as a living God by Jamaica's Rastafarians, he was maligned in his own country for years. Teddy Afro blends a reverence for Selassie with praise for Bob Marley.

Banning Eyre has a review.

(Soundbite of music)

TEDDY AFRO: (Singing) (Foreign language spoken)

BANNING EYRE: An Ethiopian praised songs to Bob Marley let alone Haile Selassie would have been radically out of step with the times during Marley's heyday. Selassie was turned down in coup in 1974 and the regime that replaced him scorned everything the emperor represented. That regime lasted until 1991 by which time it was so widely detested that many Ethiopian secretly longed for the days of the emperor. Today, this young singer, Tewodros Kassahun, a.k.a Teddy Afro is tapping into powerful emotions when he lauds Marley, Selassie, and in this song, the emperor's wife, Princess Ategi(ph).

(Soundbite of music)

TEDDY AFRO: (Singing) (Foreign language spoken)

EYRE: Style here is not reggae but a pop adaptation of Ethiopian folk music. You can spot it by that rolling triplet rhythm takete(ph), takete, takete, takete. Teddy Afro's music spans a few styles including club grooves like this song about a person who talks but nobody is listening.

(Soundbite of music)

TEDDY AFRO: (Singing) (Foreign language spoken)

EYRE: Most of all, Teddy Afro's reggae anthems have made him the darling of Ethiopians worldwide and none more than "Yasteseryal."

(Soundbite of song, "Yasteseryal")

TEDDY AFRO: (Singing) (Foreign language spoken)

EYRE: This song's Amharic lyrics recount the modern history of Ethiopia, all with an Arab nostalgia for the Selassie era. You can also get a DVD video version loaded with this vocative news real footage that amounts to an implicit indictment of the current Ethiopian regime. No surprise, the song has been banned from the country's state-run airwaves just grist for the mill of it's sensational popularity.

(Soundbite of song, "Yasteseryal")

TEDDY AFRO: (Singing) (Foreign language spoken)

EYRE: These days, Teddy Afro is so controversial at home that he has to perform his concerts to the cities with large Ethiopian communities like Atlanta, Washington, D.C., and Toronto. So far, his fans are mostly Ethiopians but that could change. He has a voice, a gift for a hook and a moral presence, unlike any Ethiopian singer we've heard. Teddy Afro might just turned out to be the breakthrough artist East Africa has been waiting for. A Bob Marley for a new time.

(Soundbite of music)

TEDDY AFRO: (Singing) (Foreign language spoken)

ROBERTS: Banning Eyre is senior editor at Afropop.org. He reviewed "Yasteseryal" by Teddy Afro.

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