Another year and another controversy surrounding a would-be concert by Teddy Afro, dubbed by many as the most popular, if not populist, contemporary Ethiopian singer and song-writer. Enjoying the support and admiration of many, Teddy Afro, 39, tweeted a message to his modest 3,000 plus followers, and for the less than half a million Facebook fans, on August 1 and 3, 2015, that he would be performing at a live music concert with Abogida Band, at Laphto Mall on the Ethiopian New Year’s Eve.
Owned by the family of Hailu Shawel (Eng.), a leading opposition figure, the multi-complex building next to Bisrate Gebriel Church, off South Africa Street, would not have been the first to host Teddy. In his signature entro, Teddy Afro (@TeddyAfroMusic) tweeted, “Addis Abeba . . . We shall celebrate the new year together.”
One of the organisers of the anticipated concert, Ballers Lounge, located at Laphto Mall, shared Teddy Afro’s social media announcements on their Facebook page. The news was greeted with upbeat and positive vibes, among Addis Abeba’s party goers and fans alike. AZ Entertainment, the co-organisers of the concert, and Ballers Lounge, had reportedly agreed to pay the singer 1.2 million Br to perform.
A minimum of 5,000 to 6,000 fans were expected to attend the concert, where tickets would sell for 700 Br, and seats for VIPs would go for 1,200 Br, earning organisers close to five million Birr. Deals for the venue and promotional tasks had been completed, before the announcement was presented to residents of Addis Abeba, who were up for competing concerts planned on the same day.
The state broadcaster, in partnership with the Government Communications Affairs Office, had organised a live show to be transmitted from the Millennium Hall on Africa Avenue, after enlisting known performers. Another, even more highly priced, concert was held inside the Ghion Hotel, presenting Ethiopia’s soul queen Aster Aweke, and a relatively younger performer, Madingo Afework. It was described by observers of the music industry as the largest attended event ever held inside the hotel.
Teddy Afro’s planned concert on Friday night was an event that was not meant to be.
On September 5, Teddy extended his apologies to his fans through his social media platforms, and announced that the concert would not be taking place.
“After so much effort and hard work, the concert won’t take place,” Teddy said on his posting. “We haven’t obtained permit from the relevant agency.”
The relevant agency he referred to are two departments under the Addis Abeba City Administration: The Cabinet Affairs Directorate and the Office of the Mayor.
Yet, no defined set of directives exists for such events to require permissions as such, said Gedion Timotios (PhD), an assistant professor at Addis Abeba University’s School of Law.
“Though there is no legal requirement to seek permission to organise a concert, it is mandatory to notify various agencies in the city – such as traffic, police, emergency services and the Mayor’s Office,” he told Fortune.
Experience, however, shows that organisers of concerts and other events where larger public gatherings are planned, do require “permissions”, beyond notifications, from city authorities. Gedion attributes this to the, “overall restrictive legal and administrative environment in the country.”
Despite having submitted a notification letter to the City Administration more than a month and a half ahead of the scheduled date, no response was received from officials of the two departments. Feleke Negash, head of Cabinet Affairs; and Asseged Getachew, chief of the Mayor’s Office, have declined to explain the administration’s failure to respond in time to the organisers’ submission, despite repeated efforts by Fortune to determine exactly what had occurred.
The authorities’ reluctance to clear their position on the issue can only reinforce the public’s view that the administration had a desire to prevent Teddy’s concert from taking place. In the absence of official justification, rumours began circulating from authorities’ who were allegedly averse to Teddy’s public appearance, about organisers’ inability to finalise and submit all documentation in preparation for the event, and about the roof at the venue being under repair due to leaking water. Organisers adamantly denied the latter two, citing in particular that the concert would have taken place at an open-air court.
Neither Teddy nor his current manager, Getachew Manguday, was available for comment.
The prior announcement and a later cancellation of the concert follow a rather similar pattern in the performer’s previous affairs. Teddy is a rather polarising figure due to his lyrics on historical and political issues, which are considered divisive. A controversy forcing a delay or total cancellation of a musical event, built added anticipation and hype around the actual date of the concert.
One enthusiastic fan of Teddy Afro anticipating last week’s concert was Selamawit Legesse, 25. She was eagerly awaiting the New Year’s Eve concert, after discovering about it on social media, only to be disappointed, not knowing the exact reasons for the concert’s cancellation or postponement.
“What I heard was a technical problem in the sound system,” she told Fortune, while walking to Africa Avenue (Bole Road) on Friday afternoon. “But it was not very clear – in the end I decided to go to Aster and Madingo’s concert.”
Unlike Selamawit, Temesgen Melese, a music album retailer around Piazza, is not concert fan. However, he was made aware of Teddy’s planned concert and its subsequent cancellation from a radio show.
“It is not clear to me why they cancelled it,” Temesgen stated.
While Teddy Afro’s saga continues to remain an issue of interest with the latest concert cancelled, some residents of the city and even fans were completely unaware of the announcements made by the singer. Yared Worku, a clothing retailer at Piazza, was one of those fans completely unaware of the planned concert and its apparent cancellation or delay.
Such unawareness was also observed among partygoers who had lined up at the Aster–Madingo concert such as Mahlet Negusse and Betlehem Asfaw. They had bought tickets for the Ghion concert, and had no information about the announcements made by Teddy.
“Had we known that Teddy was going to have a concert and if indeed the concert was to take place, we would not have come here,” they said.
It is such sentiments of fans’ divided loyalty, that some in the music industry believe was behind organisers reluctance to push city authorities to issue permits and authorise deployments of law enforcement and emergency contingencies. A heightened expectation may have been deliberately set in motion; delaying an event or the launching of a product could have positive marketing results with fans being more willing to pay whatever the price of admission to the rescheduled event.
One such believer is Belay Befekadu, a young DJ entertaining holiday shoppers at Getu Commercial Centre, on Africa Avenue. Although he understands Teddy attracts a significant amount of pressure due to his politically slanted lyrics, Belay also thinks last week’s concert was delayed because, “there were other concerts in town on the same night and the decision to postpone it was made to avoid competition.”
Alazar Ahmed, marketing and promotion expert, specialising in niche markets, disagreed. He sees the Teddy Afro Brand as an established mark in the Ethiopian music industry and it was unlikely that organisers would delay it to avoid competition.
“If anything, it reflects badly on the organisers, with hints of limited planning and execution capacity,” Alazar said. “It was also a huge inconvenience for the fans.”
For Kibrom Tsegaye, a 24 year old die-hard fan of Aster Aweke, it was of no effect whether Teddy had a concert or not; he would always go to a concert where Aster was performing.
“I already knew that Teddy had announced a concert on the same day as Aster’s,” he told Fortune. “But I find her more entertaining and enjoyable than Teddy. I bought tickets for the Aster–Madingo concert.”
With every controversy adding more currency to the Teddy Afro Brand, it is not far- fetched to think that the singer employs such tactics of associating himself with highly controversial developments to market his brand. Any publicity is good publicity, as those in the industry would say. And with his business savvy, Tewodros understands far too well the place of his brand in the Ethiopian society, to play his cards at the right time to mobilise his fans.
Selamawit, who has always been a fan, is hopeful that Teddy will have a concert just around the next holiday. She may be in for a pleasant outcome; organisers told Fortune that all outstanding issues “will be resolved and the concert will take place, with a 95pc possibility,” during the upcoming Mesqel holiday.
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