Gabriel Teodros

26 Jan

Through a series of fortunate events, I connected with emcee Gabriel Teodros about a year ago on behalf of Sheeko magazine. Although I still haven’t had the opportunity to meet him in person, I’m pretty confident he’s good people. Here’s our story….

-Alison

It can hurt while it moves you and shock you to life/What else would I do y’all if I didn’t write?

-“Sacred Texts”

“If we don’t write our own stories we’ll be written out of history…I feel like I was given a gift with my music and there’s a responsibility to keep it alive,” says Seattle-based emcee, Gabriel Teodros, on what drives him to write. “I need to, it’s the only thing I know . . . Even if I don’t continue chasing it as a profession I’ll still always make music.”

Photo by Dean Zulich

Photo by Dean Zulich

Although born in the United States, Teodros’ roots run deep. The son of an Ethiopian mother and European/Native American father, his relationship with hip hop culture began at a young age within his south Seattle neighbourhood. Beacon Hill: a community of immigrants. A bright spot among the United States’ mainly white northwest, a patchwork of colours and ethnicities, languages and ways of being. This “part of Seattle you don’t hear about” was the cultural backdrop for much of the artist’s journey.

“A lot of kids in my neighbourhood were affected by gang culture. And I kind of had a death wish. I felt like, at an early age, that I wasn’t going to live to 21,” says the 27 year-old. Although he has spent time in cities like Brooklyn and Vancouver, his time in Las Vegas may have been the most significant. As one out of approximately 30 students of colour in a predominantly white school in Las Vegas, something within him changed. “It was the first time I understood that there was system in place that wanted kids like me to want to die. And understanding that in high school made me want to live,” Teodros explains. The former breakdancer, graffiti writer and closet-emcee finally began to take his career path seriously at age 16, using hip hop to both understand and explain his world.

In 2001 Teodros released his first solo LP, called Sun To A Recycled Soul. That same year, he formed Abyssinian Creole with fellow emcee, Khingz Makoma which released its first full length in 2005, called Sexy Beast.

His latest offering, Lovework, is a manifestation of Teodros’ love – love for his community, love for his people and love for his art. A skillful blend of musicality, political consciousness and clever wordplay, Lovework has received solid reviews from various media sources. The album that has been described as a “stirring exercise in soulful hip hop from start to finish,” was released in 2007 and is available on many digital music outlets.

Photo by Alex Riedlinger

Photo by Alex Riedlinger

“I feel like I get labeled a lot: conscious artist, artist activist. I don’t really feel like it’s an artist’s responsibility to go above and beyond,” says Teodros. “So if you ask me what an artist’s responsibility is, I’ll say it’s also just to make good music, just be themselves, to not imitate anyone else. And push their art and their music forward instead of being another clone for the radio – there’s too many of those.”

There is a surprising frankness to Teodros as he tackles themes rarely explored by men. He says one of the biggest inspirations behind Lovework is the work of bell hooks. Like hooks, he challenges the racism and sexism imbedded in our social systems. With lines like “Many of these sisters that I highly look up to/they can’t get to doors that I easily walk through,” Teodros shows he’s real enough to challenge a system that benefits him to the detriment of others.

“She did that book about black men and she was like ‘I’m doing this basically because there aren’t any black men that are writing books like this,'” he says about hooks . “I felt like it was a call to action, she inspired me that way.”

Perhaps Teodros inherited his mother’s rebellious spirit. The woman he describes as “the strongest woman you would ever want to meet” was the first person in her family to immigrate to America, doing so for college. She eventually welcomed the other members of her family as the conflict between Ethiopia and Eritrea intensified. Even as a teenager in the early 70s she got a job as a machinist; woman enough to step into roles traditionally assigned to men.

While his extended family has not always understood or agreed his path, Teodros says his mother has been one of his biggest supporters. Although she still lives in Las Vegas, she attended workshops and shows on a recent visit to see her son. “Ever since I showed any interest in it, she was like ‘do that, just chase your music. Everything else is not important… if you found something that makes you happy and you know that that’s what you want to do at an early age, go for it,'” he says.

Along with music, Teodros runs hip hop centered workshops to provide a space for kids to use their own voice.  About the East African youth in his community, he says, “I see a lot of ones younger than me who are growing up here who are still hella proud about where they come from.”

Photo by Dean Zulich

Photo by Dean Zulich

“It’s all peace with our generation,” says Teodros about the relationship between the Ethiopian and Eritrean communities in south Seattle. “I’ve heard about people fighting and stuff but I don’t really understand it out here. For the most part, everyone’s like, ‘we should be cool.'”

At this point Teodros, says the greatest desires he has for his people are peace and truth, but whether or not he gets the answers he seeks will be revealed with time. For now, Teodros will continue to challenge his audience, and himself, through his art.

“I want my music to get off of CD and become something that’s living and breathing…something that’s not a repetitive loop, something that’s not the same old shit. I want to push myself always creatively to inspire.”

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One Response to “Gabriel Teodros”

  1. I'M January 27, 2009 at 9:22 pm #

    Fortunate series of events indeed!

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