In celebration of Black History Month, KEXP’s Alina Santillan interviewed numerous local and national African American artists about what Black History Month and Black Future mean to them. Seattle based hip-hop artist and KEXP DJ Gabriel Teodros, who is of Ethiopian and Scottish descent, tells us about Black August and shared insight into an artist who was very influential in inspiring his 2014 album Children of the Dragon.
KEXP: What does the idea of Black History or Black Future mean to you?
Gabriel Teodros: Growing up, Black History Month was always... I always thought of it as, in school they give you this packaged version of like "black people were enslaved and then Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks and now we're all free." And it's the shortest month, and they teach you the same thing over and over again. So, I grew up not liking Black History Month and wanting to celebrate black history all year round because it's just a part of the fabric of everything that is American, especially in culture and music. There is no American music that doesn't start in black music. So, of course, I think it's important to celebrate black history and black future, which to me are completely connected.
I'm a fan of the practice of Black August. I don't know if you know about Black August. Black August started with George Jackson and the Soledad Brothers, and it's a celebration and history of black freedom fighters. And it happens in the month of August because the anniversary of the Nat Turner rebellion happened in August. Toussaint Louverture rebellion in Haiti happened in August. There are several freedom fighters that were born in August. It started in prison, and it started with these black folks studying the history of black liberation movements. And they would fast, they would wear red, black, and green armbands. It went outside of prison, as well, in the '90s. It got popularized via hip hop. Especially in New York. There were the Malcolm X Grassroots movements, and they did Black August concerts to highlight the work and lives of political prisoners, black freedom fighters that are still in prison. And they did these concerts to generate funds and awareness. And it started in New York and they started doing them in Cuba and South Africa. And that's how a lot of folks in my generation got aware of Black August.
Has there been an artist for you who has been really influential to your experience and your narrative as an individual, but also as an artist?
I mean, there's so many. I don't even know how to answer that question because there's so many. Alright, I'm going to talk about Haile Gerima. Haile Gerima is an Ethiopian filmmaker who has influenced me in so many different ways. A lot of people know him for his first film, titled Sankofa, which is an Akan concept. A lot of people know the bird that's going forward, but it can turn its neck around and look behind it. And it's a symbol for the African diaspora to reclaim your history, reclaim your past because you won't be able to know where you're going without knowing where you come from. So, he had a film called Sankofa and that's why a lot of people know him.
I've gotten to sit and build with him a lot. My album Children of the Dragon is completely inspired by Ethiopian mythology that he introduced to a lot of us through his film called Teza, which is the first historical fiction film about the Ethiopian Revolution. In one of my last conversations with him, he talked a lot about the importance of continuity and how the American empire exists by constantly interrupting black people's continuity, from the middle passage to segregation to gentrification. There have never been 50 years where black people are just left alone without their continuity being interrupted, and a lot of times we contribute to it. If you want to get real personal, like, we don't even have continuity in our friendships a lot of times. We just throw each other away left and right for any reason.
He also talks a lot about this concept of people "being the first." Everyone wants to be the first to "something", and when we talk about history, there are people who will call themselves "pioneers." He says, no, that's a failure, because any time you're the first of something, it then becomes your responsibility to look back and find the people that did it before you to preserve that continuity because it is constantly getting interrupted. It's just something I think about constantly, and something I always have to check myself on because a lot of people call me, "Oh, you're one of the first Ethiopian rappers." And I was the first Ethiopian rapper I know, but I believe that hip-hop itself -- the culture and the music -- that is the reason I'm even here, comes from something that happened before it, that came from something that came before it, that came from something that came before it. You know what I mean. So, I know that was a long rant but yeah Haile Gerima is a big influence on me and that's one of the reasons why.
For more and a litany of amazing interviews featuring the incredible African-American musical artists that have shaped our lives, click here for all our Black History Month coverage.
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Gabriel Teodros is the smooth, uber-thoughtful Seattle rapper. He has come a long way from being one of the early cats on the Seattle hip-hop scene – and he recently completed a North American tour to share his music. Gabriel's next album, Evidence Of Things Not Seen, features SoulChef on productio…