On 13 August 2009 at around 5 PM quietly outside the high court in Lideta in Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian singer Teddy Afro was finally released from prison. Freemuse caught up with him the following day at this mother’s home, where he gave this short interview.
Reggae and pop singer Teddy Afro (real name: Teodros Kassahun) was initially sentenced to six years inprisonment after being found guilty of committing a hit-and-run accident on a late night on 2 November 2006.
Hardly anyone knew the time Teddy Afro was going to be released which was why so few people waited outside the gates of the prison. It appeared obvious that the authorities did not want any big crowd to pay tribute to the singer.
Freemuse: First of all congratulations for your release. How would you sum up your two years in prison? Do you think there was more to the trial?
Teddy Afro: “Life in prison is very tough, but I had a good time, because I had a good relationship with the people who were arrested in the Kaliti jail. So you can say it was nice, it wasn’t bad, but of course, it is tough. I made it good by keeping my spirit up.”
How did you manage to keep you spirit high, keep yourself going?
“I was praying and I was reading some books, that’s it.”
Was prison a place for inspiration music wise?
“Of course it inspired me to write some poems, but I didn’t write any poems that talk about jail life. I have a plan, maybe — it depends on the situation, and on behalf of God… I haven’t any plans to release some album soon, maybe after one year… one year and a half, I think so.”
I was in court, when you pleaded “not guilty” — that you were innocent. Do you still stick to it, and do you think it [the trial] wasn’t fair?
“To be honest with you, it wasn’t fair. I didn’t kill anyone. I wasn’t even in Addis Ababa at the time when the guy was dead. Anyway, it already happened, but I want to keep my good spirit. Thank you for coming.”
Harsh response from authorities
Back in 2005 the pop star released an album called ‘Yastesarial’. Most songs related to the political situation of the country as it was facing national elections. The singer talked openly about his wish to see change in the country. For a brief short period of time, Ethiopians actually believed that it was possible to change power democratically through the ballot.
In Addis alone thousands of people queued up to ask for a change of government altogether. The authorities’ response on the other hand was very harsh. It is estimated that at least 200 people died during riots, and Teddy Afro himself fled the country for the US, in a sort of temporary exile.
The restaurant and club he used to own with another singer closed down, quickly replaced by another restaurant.
During his stay in the US Teddy Afro came out with a new album, ‘Live from Chicago’.
Even his lawyer was sentenced last year to a month in jail, supposedly for contempt in court, despite that the remarks he made about the trial were said outside of the court.
Suspicions rose, when no one witnessed the actual accident at the time, and when it was revealed during the trial that the victim had two death certificates. The first one indicated that the death happened before Teddy Afro’s arrival from the US, and a following one, which was added as evidence later, was dated a day after Teddy’s arrival from the US.
Photo from July 2008. Courtesy of Ethiopian Media Forum