Ethiopian pop star Teddy Afro delights fans, irks authorities

Ethiopian singer Teddy Afro at his home in Legetafo, a surburb of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on November 27, 2017. (AFP)
Updated 28 December 2017
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Ethiopian pop star Teddy Afro delights fans, irks authorities

LEGETAFO, ETHIOPIA: He may be Ethiopia’s biggest pop star but Teddy Afro hasn’t held a concert in his country for years, some of his songs have been effectively banned, and the launch party for his last album was broken up by the police.
But sitting in the living room of his spacious house outside the capital, Addis Ababa, the 41-year-old musician is relaxed and says he is focused on promoting peace and unity in Ethiopia.
“As a child, I remember that we lived as one nation. We knew a nation that is called Ethiopia,” Teddy said.
“But nowadays, we are identified and called by our ethnic background. And this has already become dangerous.”
Ethiopia has been rocked by widespread anti-government protests over the last two years, killing hundreds and leading to a 10-month state of emergency that was only lifted in August.
In this context, Teddy’s latest album, “Ethiopia,” was released in May and shot to the top of Billboard’s world music chart — despite his songs not being played on state radio and TV.
His lyrics and music videos have often been controversial, and viewed by many as critical of the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), a formerly Marxist guerrilla movement that has ruled the country since 1991.
While fans adore Teddy’s catchy melodies and nationalistic, often historical songs, written mostly in the national language Amharic, the authorities — who brook no opposition — view him with suspicion.

A protest anthem

Teddy — real name Tewodros Kassahun — first crossed the authorities in 2005 when his album “Yasteseryal” came out days before an election that descended into violence after the opposition denounced it as rigged.
That album was a homage to the country’s final emperor from 1930 to 1974, Haile Selassie I, and its lead single “Jah Yasteseryal,” questioning whether the government was improving the country, became a protest anthem.
In 2008, the musician was jailed for more than a year over an alleged hit-and-run killing in a case that many fans believe was politically motivated. He has always protested his innocence, saying he was not even in the country at the time of the accident.
While Teddy’s songs can today be heard blasting from bars and buses across Addis Ababa, Ethiopians still fear playing “Jah Yasteseryal” in public, lest they be seen as agitating against the government.
In 2012, Teddy released “Tikur Sew,” an album that took as its theme Emperor Menelik II, whose victory over 19th century Italian colonial invaders is a defining moment in Ethiopian history.
Yet among the country’s largest ethnic group the Oromos, “Tikur Sew” was seen as an affront because it glorified an emperor who brutally absorbed Oromo territory into Ethiopia’s borders.
The backlash was fierce enough that Heineken — whose beers are popular among Oromos — backed out of a deal to sponsor Teddy’s concerts.
But Teddy says he is unbowed.
“There may be groups that have a negative attitude toward the last Ethiopian kings and history,” he said, sat with a sword belonging to Menelik mounted on a wall nearby.
“While respecting their views as a perspective, the fact that they like or dislike my views will not change the truth.”

End of communist rule

Ironically, it was the EPRDF’s takeover of the country that allowed Teddy’s music to flourish, as it ended the brutal communist dictatorship of the Derg, during which nightlife was suppressed.
While some musicians went on to reimagine traditional styles of jazz or dabble in rock, Teddy distinguished himself by making nationalism a centerpiece of his compositions.
When a rumor spread early in his career that he committed the taboo deed of autographing the breasts of female fans, Teddy batted down the allegation by saying that as an Ethiopian he could never do such a thing, a remark that won him admirers across the country.
His songs have urged harmony between Muslims and Christians and lampooned members of the diaspora who return home with nothing to show.
“He’s preaching what he’s living. We like that, Ethiopians like that,” said Eyuel Solomon, program manager for the capital’s Afro FM radio station.
But the authorities remain firmly opposed to helping Teddy showcase his music.
Not only did police halt his launch party for “Ethiopia,” but a planned concert to celebrate the Ethiopian new year was refused permission and he is still waiting for approval to play a concert marking Ethiopia’s Christmas, in early January.
He insists the restrictions and setbacks do not damage his resolve to use his music as a force for good in Ethiopia.
However, his plans to spread his music more widely are likely to anger the government even more.
Teddy says he hopes to perform in the capital of Eritrea, a one-time territory of Ethiopia that is now a bitter foe, believing a performance in Asmara could improve relations between the two countries.
“What we need is the spirit of love, peace and forgiveness. This is because the current problems are the results of historical resentments,” he said.
“We have to shake them off. We have to leave it behind.”


Seeing is disbelieving: Inside Dubai’s Museum of Illusions

Updated 19 September 2018
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Seeing is disbelieving: Inside Dubai’s Museum of Illusions

  • “We purposely trick the eye and the mind — you get to experience different visuals.” Mohammed Ali Al-Wahaibi
  • Dubai’s newest entertainment offering has only been open for just over a week but is already earning a reputation as the city’s latest Instagram hotspot

DUBAI: Dubai’s newest entertainment offering has only been open for just over a week but is already earning a reputation as the city’s latest Instagram hotspot. This is hardly surprising, because otherwise the Museum of Illusions would not be living up to its name — it is, after all, dedicated to tricking the mind into seeing something that is not there.
But even if you are more “anti-influencer” than “die-hard Insta-storyteller,” that is okay – there is plenty for everyone to enjoy. Key exhibits to look out for include the Vortex Tunnel, the Ames room, the Head on a Platter and the Rotated Room.
Not for the nausea-inclined, the spinning Vortex Tunnel tricks you into thinking the walkway is rotating thanks to a clever setup, while the Ames Room, is a distorted space that makes it appear that you have grown into a giant or shrunk down to become a tiny person. The Head on a Platter is seemingly a favorite with kids, who think it is hilarious that their head can be served up for lunch.
The Rotated Room is one of the most photo-friendly attractions, offering an opportunity to get creative and show your friends and family that you are dancing on the ceiling, just like Lionel Richie did in the music video to his 1986 hit of that name, which was filmed using a similar set-up.
The Dubai venue is the ninth Museum of Illusion worldwide, the latest addition to a brand that launched three years ago in Zagreb, Croatia. Since then, the franchise has spread to a number of countries across Europe, and has been brought to the UAE, Oman and Malaysia by businessman Mohammed Ali Al-Wahaibi.
“I purchased the museum’s rights for the Middle East, and we have been setting up,” he said. “It’s a mix of entertainment and education, and it’s a unique experience that’s fun for the senses.
“We’re adding value to the endless options here (in Dubai). The museum examines the relationship between the eye and the mind. We purposely trick the eye and the mind – you get to experience different visuals.”
Suitable for everyone from the age of three and up, the UAE’s newest entertainment offering features a mix of attractions that are fun for adults and others that are more suitable for the little ones. One of the best things about the exhibits is that most of them are interactive. There are photos, puzzles, games and plenty of “magic” to discover – 80 illusions in total.
“You are part of the illusion, you’re not just a spectator,” explained Al-Wahaibi. “That makes it a lot of fun. We’ve been advising visitors that it takes an hour [to see everything] but they have been staying longer and really enjoying it.”
Located in Al Seef, one of the emirate’s newest developments, tucked behind Dubai Creek, the Dubai venue is the biggest Museum of Illusions to date, “which speaks to the high standards of the emirate,” Al-Wahaibi said. “We wanted to bring an offering that suited the high expectations of visitors. Each museum is designed based on its location, and we’re attracting both tourists and local residents.”
If you want to experience the museum’s fun exhibits but will not be in Dubai any time soon, you will soon get the chance, as the next venue to open will be in Riyadh.
“The Kingdom is a big country and so we wanted it to be one of the first to launch,” Al-Wahaibi said. “The museum is very family oriented and fits well.”
The Museum of Illusions in Dubai is open every day from 10 a.m. Tickets cost $22 for adults and $16 for children. Visit museumofillusions.ae for more details.