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Teddy Afro, Ethiopia’s biggest pop star, will kick off his 2010 American tour Saturday night at the D.C. Armory. Afro, born Tewodros Kassahun, is known as Ethiopia’s Bob Marley, thanks to his occasionally sociopolitical lyrics and his frequent use of roots-reggae rhythms. Heralded throughout the Ethiopian diaspora since 2001, Afro is little-known in the Anglo music world—-he is not even mentioned at allmusic.com—-but he has received some media attention here in articles discussing his attitude toward his country’s government, as well as his recent jail time.
Afro’s profile at home grew when the Ethiopian government banned several of his songs as part of a 2005 postelection crackdown. Then, after a controversial indictment and trial, Afro began serving a jail sentence in 2008 for a 2006 incident in which he allegedly hit and killed a homeless boy with his BMW and fled from the scene. Afro maintained that he was innocent and that the government trumped up the charges because of his political criticisms. He spent 16 months in jail. A judge had originally sentenced him to six years but an appeals court ruling and time off for good behavior reduced his jail time.
However, don’t expect Afro to cross over to Anglo audiences based on that rebel-poet image, at least immediately. He sings in Amharic and his music often has the very smooth, loungelike feel of quiet-storm R&B. While many of us may just hear polished crooning, the Ethiopian community will hear his messages—-his pleas for peace in his homeland, his pronouncements of love, and his ode to Haile Gebrselassie, an Ethiopian gold medal-winning long-distance runner.
TEDDY AFRO PERFORMS SATURDAY AT 7 P.M. AT THE D.C. ARMORY, 2001 E. Capitol St. SE. (202) 547-9077. $50-$100.