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Gabriel Teodros Talks about Life, Music, and the Future
AT: You’ve been a busy man lately; you’re doing shows all over and you’re about to drop a new CD, “Colored People’s Time Machine.” Can you give us a little flavor of what cats can expect from Gabriel Teodros in the near future?
GT: I just finished a collaborative project with Amos Miller, the producer behind most of my "Lovework" album. This time we're both on vocals and the working title we have for it is "Air 2 A Bird". Amos was supposed to meet me in Europe to rock some shows I had booked, when the tour got canceled, I somehow miraculously ended up moving into an apartment with a recording studio in Brooklyn, NY. So Amos changed his plane ticket to meet me, and 2 weeks later we have a new album! The music is a perfect moment captured in time, when everything seems to fall apart and you suddenly realize what you were really put here to do. Growth.
I'm gonna’ have to revisit "Colored People's Time Machine" now... I did most of that album in August of this year, in Seattle... It's got a wide array of sounds, textures, different producers and moments. With "CPTM,” I pushed myself to write about something I was scared of talking about for almost every song. The end result is more storytelling, and just a really vulnerable piece of music. I mean I've only performed most of these songs once (my going-away party in Seattle, while the album cover was painted behind me live on stage) and I couldn't even keep it together. I wanted to release "CPTM" before the end of the year but I'm feeling like it's gonna take a little bit more work before I get it there. The "Air 2 A Bird" project is probably gonna come out first....followed by another musical scrapbook in the tradition of "Westlake: Class of 1999" and then "CPTM". It's gonna’ be a busy year.
AT: That’s beautiful! We have a lot to look forward to. So what happened to your Europe shows? They were cancelled? You got booted out of the UK? And you were supposed to connect with the Habesha kin folks too, right? That must have sucked!
GT: I was invited to the University of Kent in Canterbury, UK to perform and participate in an academic conference. The University paid for my plane ticket and I wasn't completely honest about the fact that I was performing when I got to London-Heathrow. The border agents arrested and detained me for 8 hours before telling me I was denied entrance to the country, and would be sent to Iceland, and then the United States. Ending up in New York instead of Seattle you could call a divine accident. The reason they gave for kicking me out of the country was they didn't believe I had enough funds to support myself while in the UK, although no one in the office could tell me what amount would be sufficient. The University did their part and it turned out I didn't need a work visa since it was an academic conference.
But after I got to New York, I found out that in November of last year the UK Home Office issued a 158-page document of new regulations regarding visiting artists and educators. According to these new regulations, artists and academics need to prove that they have at least $1600 sitting in a savings account when they get to Customs, they need to submit fingerprints, biometric data and photographs in advance; and the hosting organization needs to be aware of where they are 24/7. I think the arts and culture in the UK has really felt the effects of these new laws.
There's an awesome organization I found called The Manifesto Club that is campaigning to get rid of these new regulations. Apparently, just this last week, Mulatu Astatke was also denied entrance to the UK. It's affecting everyone. I was forced to cancel the rest of my tour and am really missing out on seeing my family in the UK, Austria and Hungary. Losing the plane tickets, losing the money I had guaranteed for the shows, and having to pay for a place to stay after unexpectedly arriving in New York City has really set me back... If it wasn't for the ability to make new music here, and connect with my folks on the East Coast to build community and share music, I don't even know. But I do feel like it all happened for a reason, and I'm very happy with where I'm at now.
AT: So what’s the low down on “Colored People’s Time Machine?” How many tracks; what’s the vibe on this one? What was the inspiration for the title? Should we expect any guest appearances by kindred spirits or fellow revolutionary minds? Who handled the production? When will it be released?
GT: I can't even tell you how many tracks are on it yet because I'm still re-working it! Like I said, it's a vulnerable piece of music... The title comes from many places... One is an obvious challenge to the idea of CPT, a negative stigma that people of color are always late. I met a brotha last summer in DC when we were at the Tsehai Conference, who said it wasn't until he came that he came to the United States that time became a commodity, something that we lose and that we always chase. He said, "Here, time moves... back home, I move through time!" and it just made sense to me. Also, all music is based on different time signatures... and all I ever try to do with music is capture a moment in time... So to me, the Time Machine is music. And when you talk about music, I really only believe in two kinds: music that is timeless, and music made for the time. I hope to leave behind something that's timeless. And since Hip Hop comes from and speaks to an experience that is unique to Black people, indigenous people, people of color on this planet... "Colored People's Time Machine" is an acknowledgement to all of that.
Guests so far include my cousin Meklit Hadero, Sabreena Da Witch (from Palestine, who was featured in an amazing film you all should check out called "Slingshot Hip Hop" [Hip Hop in Palestine]), SKIM, and I've got one track featuring Okanomodé, Cristina Orbé and Maya Jenkins from Seattle. Producers include Amos Miller, DJ WD4D, Budo (who also produces for A.R.M., Macklemore & Grieves), EarDrumz (of So-Called Musicians & Dirty Scientifix), Crispy (of Godspeed), Justo (of The Physics), DJ Ian Head (Everyday Beats!), DJ B-Girl and Dead Noise (who made a bunch of tracks on my brotha Khingz last album "From Slaveships To Spaceships") Look for it sometime in 2010!
AT: We just launched a digital release of “Andromeda: Chronicles of Blackopia Vol. 1” on AddisTunes in September. How did you become involved in the Kafa Beanz project? In the spirit of the Ethiopian tradition of using hidden meanings, or double entendres, there seems to be a hidden message in “Tizita.” Can you elaborate about this track?
GT: Ellias Fullmore, aka Burntface, reached out and made that happen. Ellias is like family to me – I hope to work with that brotha’ til we're old and grey! I was in Seattle while everyone else was in DC doing the Andromeda project, they sent some beats my way to work on from afar; I sent some vocals back, and one of those results became "Tizita"! It's funny because I just learned what Tizita meant a few weeks before Ellias sent the beat with the guy singing Tizita in the background. Ellias told me it was supposed to be like a love song, so I decided to make a love song that was a metaphor, where the person I'm rapping about isn't a person at all, but she symbolizes our collective memory and how things get lost from generation to generation, especially as people migrate to other places. I'm rapping about my life and my people in there. I didn't even realize that there was a whole genre of Tizita songs that are like Ethiopia's ode to the Blues, and how perfectly my song fits in that genre, until after we released the CD!
AT: One thing people keep saying about you is that you’re just a genuinely good dude. I hear you’re involved in a lot of community activities. So when you’re not writing rhymes, doing shows, and dropping new tracks – how do you spend your time?
GT: I do writing workshops with youth all over the country; I've helped spearhead after-school programs, I organize events – specifically all-ages events that are accessible to the areas of Seattle that don't get a lot of live music but where people stay. I work with Youth Speaks Seattle and I'm part of an amazing project my sister Rahwa Habte started called the Hidmo Community Empowerment Project, which launched out of an Eritrean Restaraunt in Seattle's Central District, one that I always say is just a clever front for a community center. It's hard to sum up everything I do in an interview. In this day and age, I don't know a single independent artist that is able to just be an artist, we all have to wear several hats even if all we want to do is our music, and I've gotten to a place in my life where just doing music is not enough. I have to work with youth all the time; I have to be the “big homie” that i never had; and I can never separate that from my music. I do music and community work for the same exact reasons, and in some ways, to quote the homie Walidah, “I'm still just trying to bridge pieces of myself together.”
AT: When “Andromeda” dropped on AddisTunes, it was truly amazing to see how many fans from the Seattle area were downloading your music. As an independent artist, what words of advice do you have for other artists in terms of building that loyal fan base. It’s one thing to have thousands of Facebook / Myspace/ Twitter friends, and it’s another to actually have people spend their hard earned cash on your music. What’s Gabe’s secret?
GT: I don't have any secrets. To be honest, I don't think I do too well at the whole business side of music either, and I still get surprised when people recognize me in places where I don't live! I do think people might be attracted to my music because of a genuine desire to connect, which drives the music. I still give away more CD's then I sell and I tend to not even think of people as "fans.” I have supporters and friends, homies and family. And if there's any advice I could give other artists trying to build a fan base, is just common courtesy, stuff your mom should of taught you – treat others the way you would want to be treated. Karma is real.
AT: Out of curiosity, what artists are getting heavy rotation in your iPod these days?
GT: Hmmm... in the last month I've only been bumping my own music real heavy. Oh No's "Ethiopium" (thinking about doing a remix project) and Khingz! I've seen some really amazing live shows recently though. Shoutouts to Jennifer Johns, SKIM, Brother Ali, The Narcicyst, Ragtop, Rebel Diaz, Las Krudas, Bocafloja, Eternia, Xperience, Native Guns, Black Stax, Okanomodé and Cristina Orbé!
AT: Anything else you’d like to share with the fans?
GT: Be the change you want to see.
AT: Got it!
Visitor: Dawit (03 Dec 2009 10:31 PM)
I hear Gabe is dropping a couple FREE joints for us soon.
admin (27 Nov 2009 09:38 AM)
Yeah, we can all learn a thing or two from Gabe about helping the kids more.
Visitor: Jony (22 Nov 2009 02:10 PM)
Yo i'm loving this dude. Real good spirit, and i like his commitment to the kids. We could all learn something from this brother. Keep up the positive work Gabe.