ADDIS ABABA, ETHIOPIA (AFP) — When Teddy Afro leaps onto the stage the crowd goes wild, clapping in the air and singing along with the man seen by many as the voice of Ethiopia’s conscience.
Fresh from his prison cell, the singer known as Ethiopia’s Michael Jackson delighted tens of thousands of fans with his benefit concert for street children on Sunday.
“He was in jail for more than a year because of his songs. He wants democracy and freedom for us the Ethiopian people. We love him,” shouted Alorachew, a student attending the show at the capital’s sports stadium.
“Last time we saw him it was two years ago. He’s a great artist, different from the others. He comes always with new things,” enthused Sammy, a computer engineer who came along with a bunch of friends.
“He’s talking about topical issues. Most people say there is a political message in his lyrics. I think his message is not always political, but when there is a political message, it is obviously against the government.”
Next to him and slightly the worse for wear, Fredo, a young Ethiopian living in the United States, confided: “I missed Teddy a lot. He’s the best in Ethiopia”.
The singer, whose real name is Tewodros Kassahun and who is seen as close to Ethiopia’s opposition, was sentenced to six years in prison and a heavy fine for manslaughter after a 2006 traffic accident left a homeless man dead.
The Supreme court reduced his sentence on appeal in February and he was freed in August. He has always protested his innocence, saying he was not even in the country at the time of the accident.
For his return to the stage Teddy Afro decided to take up the cause of street children and beggars, who throng the streets of Ethiopia’s cities in their thousands.
All proceeds from the concert will go to an Ethiopian NGO, El Shady, which looks after several thousand street children.
“There are a lot of people. It is even more successful than we had hoped,” Addis Legesse, Teddy Afro’s manager and one of the organisers of the concert, said at the event.
Asked about his protege’s political dimension, Addis said: “Whenever you do something for the good of the people, people talk … but we have no political agenda, we just want to help that’s all”.
Teddy Afro’s goal is to ease the hardship of tens of thousands of the country’s poor children, he said.
“200.000 people are begging in the street in Ethiopia, people able to work, so we have to organise them and take them out of the street. We don’t want to be seen as a begging nation,” said Legesse.