The good people over at We’ve Got The Jazz are kind enough to share this interview they recently had with hip hop artist, teacher and activist Gabriel Teodros. From Africa straight to Seattle: Gabriel Teodros has a lot to share with you. A very interesting interview about the past, the present, and the future of various topics.
Music: Gabriel Teodros – No Label
Your latest official album ‘Lovework’ has a recurring theme of social justice; needless to say, it’s beautiful. Could you go into a little bit about the inspiration behind the album and where the title came from?
‘Lovework‘ was a life-changing moment that got captured one Spring… The title comes from a couple different places… bell hooks’ whole series on love: ‘All About Love’, ‘Salvation’ and ‘Communion’… a Khalil Gibran passage from ‘The Prophet’ on work and love… The word ‘Lovework’ reminds me that to know real love we have so much work to do in unlearning every lie we were taught about what love is, and even more work in dismantling systems of domination that stop people from really being loving.
The inspiration is my life as well as every community i come from… Hip Hop, South Seattle, the Central District, Ethiopia, East Africa… etc. I wanted to model the kind of man i never had to look up to growing up… to redefine black masculinity in ways that challenge and reject patriarchy… and i wanted to make a piece of music that made women feel as loved as i felt when i heard Mystic’s ‘Cuts For Luck & Scars For Freedom’.
Could you tell us a little bit about your ethnic roots and background?
My mother is from Ethiopia, she immigrated to the US in the late 60′s, first to Baltimore and then to Seattle in the early 70′s, when there were hardly any Ethiopians here at that time. She came to the US for school, with $100 in her pocket and she knew only one person, and just made it happen! I remember her saying she never thought she could live the life she wanted to as a woman in Ethiopia the way it was… and more recently she said she never wanted to return to Ethiopia until she can make a positive impact for the lives of people across the entire country.
She met my pops through organizing, they both opposed the Vietnam war, (my dad’s actually still involved in the anti-war movement) and he is of Scottish, Irish and Native American descent. I was born, my parents split up, The Derg came into power in Ethiopia, followed by famine, and another war, that lasted for yeeears back home… so my mom sponsored as many family members as she could, while raising me on her own. I met grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins, etc. as they came to the country for the first time and lived with us. Seattle’s Ethiopian and Eritrean community is HUGE now. You could say it’s a different world then the one i grew up in…
Can you explain what ‘Abyssinian Creole’ is—and if there are any plans for future releases?
Abyssinian Creole is a group comprised of myself and Khingz… we started it back in 2001 while we were on a trip to New Orleans… we were already friends who made music together but the conversations and experiences shared there, made us want to make music together forever! His family from Haiti, my family from Ethiopia… never seeing “home”… growing up in South Seattle with Hip Hop providing so much of our cultural foundation… It’s deep, but that’s Abyssinian Creole. The oldest African civilization with the newest African tongue. The only country in the west to lead a successful black revolution with the only country in the east to never be colonized by a European power.
Our only album as Abyssinian Creole to date, dropped back in 2005, is entitled ‘Sexy Beast‘. We’re still best friends but have just been focusing on different things musically since then… Khingz is of course featured on nearly all my releases and i’m on almost all of his… in 2009 he dropped 2 stunning projects: The full-length ‘From Slaveships To Spaceships’ and the ‘Cold-Hearted In Cloud City’ EP, both on Fresh Chopped Beats/MADK Productions. As far as future Abyssinian Creole releases go… we’re not working on one yet, but anything’s possible! God-willing.
I had never known the Seattle had such a prominent hip-hop scene until stumbling across your music. The Seattle sound is something unique in its own sounding organic and extremely jazzy, where did you pick up your influences and develop your skills locally?
Locally? i would have to say the freestyle sessions outside Westlake Center on 4th & Pine from ’98 – ’01 might of had the biggest impact on me… Asun a.k.a. Suntonio Bandanaz and all of Alpha-P had an influence, they pushed me so hard! isangmahal arts kollective… open mics on 7th & Jackson. Khingz… Maroon Colony & Monsta Squad. Sho Nuph… Vitamin D and all of Tribal Music. The Poetry Experience at Langston Hughes Cultural Arts Center. Black Anger. Silent Lambs Project. Jasiri Media Group… Sureshot Sundays @ The Sit-N-Spin. i travelled to Vancouver, B.C. a lot too…
So i have to say Moka Only had a HUGE influence on me too, as well as the whole City Planners crew. And they’re not local to Seattle but it doesn’t feel right to not mention my high school years in Las Vegas… Da Joynt, ‘Doin It In The Park’ at Jaycee Park every summer, and Kool DJ EQ… and i also have to include L.A., the big homies from Project Blowed in my list of influences/mentors… Abstract Rude, Aceyalone, Medusa, 2Mex, Xololanxinxo, Orko Elohiem, etc. I wouldn’t be the same emcee without all of them!
The rise in the ‘digital age’ has spawned a whole new generation of bedroom producers and bedroom recording studios. How do you feel about the ease in which beats/tracks are made today and how, if applicable, has this affected you?
It’s had a HUGE affect on me! I feel like we were the last generation of MC’s that HAD to have a live stage show to get noticed… and actually that was all you needed when we first started! I remember when having even a single song on CD was a big deal… and you either had to work really hard, and have people already believe in you to get studio time, or just have a lot of money to spend. I remember when all i wanted to do was put out vinyl… then the year after we released our first 12″ single… records nearly stopped selling in the US altogether. We were the first crew that i remember seeing at Westlake Center hustling tapes! I’m sure there were many others before us in Seattle, like i know SPECS-ONE had tapes out when i was in middle school… but i wasn’t seeing them grinding at that time, and i remember we stood out because no one in our city was hustling like we were, i paid rent and lived for over a year, mostly off of independent CD sales.
Now it’s like EVERYBODY has a CD, is in your face trying to sell it, and most aren’t that good. So i have days where i feel like it’s gotten too easy, and times when i really miss when it was ALL about the live show. But then at the same time i’m thankful for the ease that we can make music and get it out to people… I’ve embraced the changes as much as anyone… you won’t catch me on any day now trying to sell my music to a stranger… and i owe so many of my successes of late to the internet. I love that if you make good music and put it online, a few people can discover it and it can affect the entire planet, with no record label to assist. It’s exciting. I can focus on other things now and let the internet do what it does.
Music: Gabriel Teodros – Sexcapism
You are a not only a hip hop artist, but also a teacher and activist. How do you feel about the state of the educational system across the country, and especially in California? Has this recent downturn affected your source(s) of inspiration? Will we see more works geared toward any of these issues?
You know for the longest i’ve said watch California… what they do with the schools and the prisons there soon becomes a trend for the entire country. I don’t know why Cali gets it the worst, and they always get it first… but the rest of the country always follows. Whether it’s the 3 strikes law, the gang databases, the harsher sentences for graffiti writers… all that. I bring it up because the school system and the prison system work together in this country, in the worst way… in Seattle right now they shut down so many schools, are building a new prison, and are trying to take away the students choice of where they want to go.
I work mostly with high schools and some middle schools so it affects my students deeply. The school system is sick. It affects my life so of course it’ll be in the music… but more then that i hope to keep it pushing with the artists-in-the-schools programs we’ve been doing, as well as supporting so many of the amazing after-school programs folks in the community are doing. There is good work being done… but we need so much more.
So many of our cities problems i think can be traced to how resources are being spent… the more money they spend on increased policing and building a prison is just making the problem worse. The programs that really help our youth i feel like they exist despite the city, not because of it. We need a deeper structural change… from the School System to the City and maybe this entire country itself.
Your recent tour in Mexico with Bocafloja, CAMBIO, Para La Gente, and Eternia caught my attention. I know at some of the venues there were many power outages and other technical difficulties, but the fans remained live. Can you tell me more about your experience?
That trip to Mexico was one of the highlights of my life!!! The Hip Hop scene there, at least the people that came to our shows, were all youth… and you could tell Hip Hop was their whole life… it felt like we were in New York in the ’70s or ’80s when it was still new and fresh! Having people in Mexico embrace our music with such open arms was like nothing else… and to meet people out there that even knew about Abyssinian Creole! That was crazy.
So the show at Foro Alicia in D.F… the venue is packed way past capacity, and the second song into my set, the lights go out on the entire block. I look around, stunned for a second, realize it’s not just the sound… but all the electricity, and i’m thinking “let’s not have a riot… the people came for a show” so i bust into an acapella… no beat… no microphone… just my voice… and i’m also thinking “they may not understand my language, but i want them to know my spirit” so i go extra hard. I get through the first song thinking “wow, that was probably doper then my set would of been”. Then Boca tells me it’s the entire block that went out… Omar from PLG hops on the drums, we do another song with no sound… and one by one every performer on the bill rocks with no electricity… and no one in the crowd moves. For 2 hours.
After a while the crowd starts chanting for Boca… and when he goes on, i swear every single person in that venue started yelling every lyric of every song… it was so beautiful. Bocafloja is the most humble superstar i know, for real. When the lights finally come back on, people were rejoicing like God just came back and touched em all… folks were crowd surfing and all. Eternia rocked an incredible set before the lights went out again… and the lights kept going on and off the whole night. Still one of my favorite performance memories ever. And we all became family. Can’t wait to go back! I literally have days now where i just long for Mexico for no reason at all…
You have been releasing mixtapes and tracks through your blog, but when are we going to see another album release?
This year, 2010, i’m hoping to release 2 albums… just figuring out the logistics now. The music is already done and recorded, for the most part. ‘Air 2 A Bird’, which is a group project i did with Amos Miller… and my new solo lp ‘Colored People’s Time Machine’!
A lot of us hip hop heads have that one song or album that got us hooked to the culture. Do you remember a specific incident/song/album that sparked your interest or involvement in the world of hip-hop?
Hip Hop has always been there for me growing up… from breakdancing being present along with my earliest memories of life in South Seattle… to writing graffiti during my middle and high school years… i actually wanted to DJ more then anything else but to be honest the only thing i was ever good at was MC’ing. I can recall the moment i knew i would make music for the rest of my life… If you remember September ’96, 2Pac took 4 bullets after the Tyson fight in Las Vegas… It was the 2nd time he had been shot… the first time he survived 5 bullets and bounced back better then ever… so a lot of us thought he was going to survive this too. There was 6, maybe 7 days after he got shot, before he actually passed away.
So the night before he passed away i had this dream. (I take a lot of real life advice from my dreams) From my house on Becaon Hill, i found a way to get to this staircase underground… it led to like a subway tunnel with windows, and in through the windows bled a pure light. I understood this train as the train to the other side, where you went there was no coming back from. I knew 2Pac was here and he hadn’t caught his train to the other side yet, so my mission was to lead him back to the staircase, so he could climb back up and come to life again.
I found him waiting for his train, grabbed his hand, and tried telling him how important his life was… how he had the ears and hearts of our entire nation, how he hadn’t seen his potential yet, and how he was supposed to lead us all to our liberation. I talked and talked, he laughed and listened. When i was done talking, he just shook my hand, laughed, and said the words “It’s on you now” I woke up, heard the news that he passed away, and the rest of my life became painfully clear. “It’s on you now.” I was 15 years old.
Have any parting words, shout-outs, or announcements?