When interviewing afropolitans, I tend to begin with the question: ‘What is your concept of home?’ Gabriel Teodros answers this question on his sophomore album, Colored People’s Time Machine. The album is a journey through the life of the Seattle born-and-raised Ethiopian-American artist and community activist. It’s a multi-lingual, multi-genre, multi-cultural journey that is chronicled through a variety of diverse lenses and voices.
A curly haired mixed kid raised in Seattle’s South End and Central District, Teodros carved his identity with and between Black music and old-school activists, Mexican and South-East Asian gangs, First Nations Community, a group of Filipino poets, a Chinese landlord and an Ethiopian family he met at the airport as they emigrated to the United States. Teodros calls it "a berbere, tapatio and wasabi mix…we’re making injera, and there’s some kim-chee in the fridge.”
This is certainly reflected in this latest effort, particularly with the diverse group of artists with which he collaborates. The album features vocal, instrumental, and production collaborations with 20 artists as culturally and ethnically diverse as Teodros’ neighbourhood.
On the album, he weaves together the variety of rich cultural influences that form the tapestry of his identity. He explores themes of love (Goodnight, a brief interlude on a long-distance relationship), cultural identity (Blossoms of Fire), personal identity (Alien Native, a biographical tale), the concept of home (Diaspora and Beit), loss (Ella Mable Bright, a tribute to his beloved grandmother feat. fellow Ethiopian-American Meklit Hadero), music (Sun and Breeze, also feat. Meklit Hadero and Amos Miller, and Colored People’s Time Machine), and the music industry (You A Star, on which he warns about the pitfalls of the industry and the danger of buying into the illusion of stardom).
Stand-out tracks include Alien Native, on which Teodros collaborates with fellow social activist and trumpeter, Sonny Singh. The result is a jazz-heavy, poignant personal tale of discovering one’s identity and coming to terms with the inevitable conflicts that arise in a family of various cultures and races: ‘I was raised alienated/native to none/sacred to some/places I’m from/we can never go back/ I’m proud of my background’.
Sun and Breeze, on which the blend of Hadero’s voice and Teodros’ flow is perfection itself.
And Saturn’s Return (featuring featuring okanomodé, Cristina Orbé & Maya Jenkins), a powerful and vulnerable recounting of his very personal struggle and growth as an person and as an artist, on which he talks about losing and regaining faith in self: ‘I had to be broke into pieces so I could be open to grow into who I’m supposed to’…’I am so undone, unactualized…but closer to seeing my purpose in life.’
Musically, the album blends genres effortlessly, and is cleverly produced. It is captivating and smooth-flowing, and never loses its rhythm.
Teodros describes his musical journey as ‘a constant process/unraveling/you call it hip hop/I call it Colored People’s Time Machine’. And he has taken a beautifully collaborative approach to telling his story. A well-crafted, thoughtful, insightful ode to all the people, experiences, places, that have made him who he is today. To borrow a phrase from Lauryn Hill, Colored People’s Time Machine is ‘a well written thesis broken down into pieces.’
So what is his concept of home? As described in various tracks: ‘home is not a place’; ‘home is not a house’; ‘home is an embrace’; ‘home is an a verse’.
CPTY is out on February 19 on Fresh Chopped Beats/MADK Productions. It is available for pre-order HERE.