Gabriel Teodros: His New Album & Video Premiere

Gabriel Teodros Shares His Latest Album ‘Evidence of Things Not Seen’, Including the World Premiere Of His Beauteously Shot Video, “Light Attracts Light & Everything Else Too.”

Gabriel Teodros is an Ethiopian-American emcee born and raised in Seattle, WA. Recognized as a “catalyst in the surge of dynamic underground rap acts from the Pacific Northwest during the first decade of the 2000s”, ever since, Teodros has been unstoppable, performing alongside the likes of Lupe Fiasco, Mos Def & Talib Kweli, Zap Mama, Digable Planets and Fishbone to name a few.

Long before his critically acclaimed solo debut album Lovework, this multifaceted MC has been deeply moving crowds with meditatively conscious music –lyrics that fearlessly wrestles with political and social issues. And it’s through such prolific music work, with the belief “that another world is possible” that he has been on a mission “to bring it to life through music”.

Besides depth packed lyrical content, there is something bottomless and heart grippingly soothing about Teodros’ music. It’s like the perfect synthesis of jazz-tinged soul with Hip-Hop, or it’s like when Hip-Hop meets love and love meets Hip-Hop. A few years back, I remember watching Teodros set the stage ablaze, captivating the crowd with inspirational verses full of conscious lyrics. His clever puns and dynamic delivery was a force to be reckoned with. That was in Ethiopia in 2011; it was Teodros’ first visit to his motherland.

Recently, I caught up with Teodros; our casual chat ended up unfolding as an inspiring piece that speaks to his ongoing creativity, home and loss, and his recent release, Evidence Of Things Not Seen produced by Auckland, New Zealand-based producer SoulChef. A record he describes as “a reminiscent portrait of right now.”

Here is more of what Teodros had to say; including, the world premiere of the soulfully gorgeous video for “Light Attracts Light & Everything Else Too”.

AS4A: As a first generation American, what’s your vision of home?

GT: “Home” has always been a complicated term for me. It means a lot of different

places, and it’s never been one place by itself. When people say “home”, I imagine a land where people have a connection to the land for several generations in the past, with plans to stay there for several generations into the future. This has never been a reality for me, so I tend to think of home as somewhere between 8 cities, 3 countries… wherever my family is, wherever the music is, and mostly wherever my heart is at.

AS4A: Your album cover for Evidence of Things Not Seen, explain the vision behind the concept, if you will.

GT: Before I answer the question, tell me what the album cover communicate to you?

AS4A: Visually, the mic looks like a tool that supports the process of breaking the chain – the chain representing several things (obvious and not so obvious). It seems layered. But it generally speaks volumes to the idea of: peeling the tape to be heard –liberation, to unchaining the shackle, to becoming free and visible. The mic delivers this powerful process in image.

GT: I like leaving it open to interpretation. I thought of this image specifically when I thought of the song “Outside Looking In” and what is happening to a lot of artists I really look up to and admire. It sometimes feels like we are systematically being silenced, even while we have the tools to our liberation, the same tools in the wrong hands can be used to imprison us. The world in the background is meant to be a hopeful vision of the future that exists in my mind. I was originally going to set up a photo with a similar image, but Masood Tahir brought it to a whole other level when he offered to paint it.

AS4A: What’s the album’s relation – theoretically or actually – to James Baldwin?

GT: James Baldwin has just been a huge inspiration on my writing, and life in general, these last few years. I didn’t set out trying to make an album that was inspired by him, but the song “After Dark” was completely inspired by a Baldwin quote from the book Giovanni’s Room. Later on I decided to sample him for the intro of “Greeny Jungle”; then even later he made the chorus for “All In”, which was also the last song recorded for this record. We actually finished the album and I still had no idea what to call it. When I looked at the collection of songs we made, and tried to figure out what they had in common (aside from who made them, and when) there were 2 common themes that stood out: every song had to do with either the feeling of not being seen in some way, or seeing something that doesn’t exist yet. I still couldn’t figure out what to call the record, so I just went back to Baldwin for inspiration like he would magically have the answer, and the title of one of his books, Evidence Of Things Not Seen just captured everything! Baldwin himself got the title from a passage in the Bible, as a reference to faith. I’m not Christian, but the longer you make music the more the process becomes an exercise of faith.


AS4A: The lyrical messaging in “Trans-African Highway” is profound. As you give a clear nod to Pan-Africanism, you say: “Africa unified, especially in the minds of the Diaspora”. Do you believe that the unification of the Diaspora is more important and/ may have relevance to the unification on the continent?

GT: Thank you for catching that. Yes, that line is a reference to how historically Black people in the diaspora, who particularly didn’t know exactly where in Africa they are from, got together and actually helped inspire a Pan-African movement on the continent. I think that piece of history is crucial, and important for Black people everywhere to understand. We have so much to learn from each other, can be so much stronger together, and whenever I see us beefing about someone being “too Black”, or someone being “too African” I just think “that’s white supremacy at work”. We fall right into their trap by not building together.

AS4A: I’m wondering about the track “30-Something, Hella Single”; is that a personal confession?

GT: “30 Something, Hella Single” might be the most vulnerable track on the album, and I’m only realizing it because I still get shy in interviews when people ask about it. It definitely wasn’t written to tell people I’m available (although, I guess that does become a side-effect) but it’s just honest. I’ve been single since I was 29, and I’m 33 now. I’ve only heard what being “30 Something, Hella Single” sounded like in a rap song via one of my favorite MCs, Jean Grae (who I also shout out in the song) but I’ve never heard it from a man’s perspective, that wasn’t in a “I’m heartbroken and I miss my ex” kind of way, or in the “I’m single and I’m trying to get with every person breathing” way either. I’ve actually had some really amazing relationships in my life, and I know what it feels like to be met on so many different levels. I have to say there’s things I look for in a relationship now that I didn’t know was important to me in my 20’s, and I’m not interested in dating someone just for the sake of dating someone, I don’t care what society says. That song is also just about owning and loving your own quirkiness. And I’m hella silly!

AS4A: I can groove all day to “Black Love”; the song takes me back to a time when Hip-Hop aspired and inspired the beauty of love. Tell me about the inspiration behind it.

GT: Thank you, that’s actually still my favorite song I ever had a hand in writing. The story behind that song connects back to your earlier question about home. I had a really beautiful time in Toronto and Montreal last summer, and everyone I spent time with then is a part of that song. I was almost completely surrounded by Black people (literally, from everywhere) and felt seen, loved, cared for… and just felt like myself in ways I don’t always feel in Seattle. I wrote my part of that song thinking “why isn’t everyday like this?” Sarah MK’s verse is more about what going to Ethiopia would mean to her. The 2 thoughts were completely connected to me.

AS4A: The album feels like a classic Hip-Hop groove. How do you stay connected to classic Hip-Hop, especially with how the music industry and mainstream media is?

GT: I’ve always just made the music I wanted to listen to. To me, the source of all wack music (whether it’s popular or not) is when people make something because of the response they think it’s gonna receive. The specific sound of this album though, can be attributed to SoulChef, from Auckland, New Zealand. We did the album long-distance, just sending files back & forth. It was actually the easiest process I’ve ever had with a producer; we finished the whole thing in a few months.

AS4A: Lets go back in time when you were 15 years old. In a video interview released recently, you make a statement about your dream and a vision of Tupac in it. You talk about it like it was a cosmic sign. How far do you believe you’ve come to achieve that which you dreamed of at 15?

GT: Continuing what I wanted Pac to do? His reach was far greater than mine may ever be, but I think of that interview where he said “I guarantee I will spark the brain that changes the world” and then I look at some of the people who constantly blow my mind, that also tell me my music inspired them in someway… and I realize I’m on the right path.

AS4A: You also mention Biggie and his music on the streets of Brooklyn during your youth days in N.Y. If you were asked to pick, who would you say inspired you the most, Tupac or Biggie?

GT: Pac. Biggie was technically a better rapper, but I just felt Pac in a different way. Tupac changed my life.

AS4A: What’s your take on the current state of Hip-Hop; do you feel it’s making a comeback?

GT: I don’t think Hip-Hop ever went anywhere! Its exposure definitely changed due to the Telecommunications Act of 1996 and media consolidation, but people never stopped making real, authentic and dope music. I also don’t think that what we saw in the end of the ’90s, as far as what Hip-Hop was like in the mainstream will ever come back. That’s about exposure though, not music. I would argue that the amount of classic Hip-Hop music being made has only increased since the 1990s.

What’s different now (thanks to the exponential growth of technology) is there’s just more music being made than ever before, and immediate international distribution via the Internet. There’s less quality control now, and I would say less rites of passage for younger artists coming up that are still developing their craft. I’m of the last generation that had to prove themselves on stage before earning a chance to record in a studio. The result of all this is, good music can be hard to find when mediocre music is everywhere.

I think we’re in another clutch moment right now, comparable to what happened in 1996, with this whole “Net Neutrality” decision on the horizon. Things with good music reaching your ears are either gonna stay the course it’s been on, or immediately get much worse. But there are always surprises.

AS4A: Topics regarding displacement – from African political displacement to economic gentrification that happens in the U.S. – seems to be a recurring theme for you? Why do you feel you need to talk about?

GT: It’s just a theme that comes up a lot in my everyday life, and I don’t have a solution for it. There’s this interview with James Baldwin where he said he writes to describe, because once you know what a problem is, it becomes easier to outwit. To describe something you have to know it, and to know it you have to face it.


AS4A: Tell us about the song “24-hour layover”, off the album Children of the Dragon; it has a migration/travelers feel to it. What is it about?

GT: That song was about what it felt like to leave people in Ethiopia, that I love and didn’t know when I would see again, just because of work. That moment in my life made me wonder if it was the same feeling that the rest of my family had when they left the country, and didn’t know when, or even if, they’d get to return. It was written and recorded literally on a 24-hour layover that I had in Washington, DC, on the trip back to Seattle from Addis Ababa.

AS4A: What do you think are some of the challenges [African] migrants face, and what role does your art play in narrating or becoming a tool to comfort or help overcome any loss?

GT: Isolation in this country is a huge challenge; I hope the music lets people know they are not alone. I think of the music as a way to keep culture alive, to carry on tradition even in a foreign tongue. There’s a lot of healing that happens in the songwriting and performing, I always hope that healing is shared with people listening that are going through similar experiences. Also the music is a tool to build community.

AS4A: Musically speaking, what’s your connection and involvement to the motherland?

GT: After going to Ethiopia in 2011, the connection is super strong. It’s one of the places I think of when I think of home for sure. I wish I were more involved than I am though! There’s so many artists that we got to perform with that I really love out there. Fendika, Ethiocolor, Munit Mesfin, Saba Kahsay, Addis Acoustic… on & on. We just all need to get together more often.

AS4A: How easy is it to make your work relevant and/or make it connect with everyday people in Ethiopia or other parts of Africa?

GT: I was actually really surprised how easily the music connected with people back home. I thought what we do might be too different, that the language thing could be an issue, but there was so many people that were just waiting for what we had to offer. It was amazing, life-changing. I think the music is easy for anyone to connect to once they see it live.

AS4A: What are your thoughts about music – Hip-Hop in particular – coming out of Ethiopia?

GT: I have to say Ethiopia has some of the most amazing dancers I’ve seen anywhere on the planet. I actually don’t know about a Hip-Hop scene in Ethiopia. I suspect there is one, but I didn’t find it in 2011. I did meet tons of people that listen to Hip-Hop music, but I only met 2 rappers (who weren’t traveling with us) the whole time I was there. One was just for a split-second in Addis, and the other was a teenager who freestyled with me in Harar, and he rapped in 4 languages. I’ve heard of several other rappers that live in Ethiopia now, but I honestly wasn’t into their music. It seemed too much like they were imitating the American mainstream. I did see a video Africology posted once of a younger MC in Addis, who gets it… I’d love to hear more of that brother. There are also some dope electronic producers coming up now, peace to Endeguena Mulu!

I can say everything I love about Hip-Hop, I actually found in an Azmari Bet [call-and-response style music]. Which makes me think what we call Hip-Hop has actually just been done since forever.

You can purchase Evidence of Things Not Seen here

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