Every Monday through Friday, we deliver a different song as part our Song of the Day podcast subscription. This podcast features exclusive KEXP in-studio performances, unreleased songs, and recordings from independent artists that our DJs think you should hear. Each and every Friday we offer songs by local artists. Today’s selection, featured on the Afternoon Show with Kevin Cole, is “Mind Power” by Gabriel Teodros from his latest album, Colored People’s Time Machine available from Fresh Chopped Beats.
Last week, Seattle music was about giving love and recognition to the “grandfather” of the indie folk movement, Damien Jurado. This week we’re shining the spotlight on another musical pioneer, Gabriel Teodros, who was at the forefront of Seattle underground hip hop in the mid to late 2000’s. He was part of a movement that characterized Seattle’s fledgling hip hop scene at the time - socially conscience, community minded, and intent on opening doors for those to come behind them.
Today’s featured song is off his latest album, Colored People’s Time Machine, an opus two years in the making that features over 20 musicians who collaborated on the album bringing contributions in English, Arabic, Spanish, Tagalog, and Amheric. “Mind Power” is laid back in tempo, but anthemic in spirit. Gabriel shared some thoughts on the album and some insights into his philosophy and how he sees the world.
You’ve been working on this album for quite a while right? I heard it has over 20 different collaborators, how did you manage to incorporate such a vast array of musicians into your vision for the album?
Yes, I started writing and recording for CPTM back in the summer of 2009, and it’s the first time I did a full-length project without one main producer. So the process was collaborating with a ton of producers (all from Seattle) that I either have a history with and/or always wanted to work with, and doing just a few songs with each of them. There was a version of CPTM that was completely finished by the Fall of 2009... I threw away some songs (and some ended up on other projects like The Lentil Soup EP with DJ Ian Head), and I kept writing and recording in the Winter of 2009... and then had another season of writing and recording Spring/Summer 2010... and there was one song that wasn’t finished until the summer of 2011. I think I just naturally collaborate with a lot of people, I’m always traveling, and I tend to approach all music like a conversation so none of it was a stretch for me... it was a joy and honor to do music with so many of my favorite musicians, really.
What is the meaning behind the album title: Colored People’s Time Machine?
“Colored People’s Time Machine” means a lot of things to me, one is a reference to this Ethiopian guy I met in DC who told a group of us it wasn’t until he moved to the US that time became a commodity, something that you can lose, something we count, and something we always chase. He said, “Here time moves, but back home I move through time,” and this made a lot of sense to me. Another inspiration is over 10 years ago an emcee/producer by the name of Orko Elohiem told another group of us he only believes there are two kinds of music in the world: Music that is timeless, and music for the time. Also, the term “CPT” has always had a negative stigma, it implies people of color are always late. I wanted to take that term and completely flip it. All music is based on time and people of color are responsible for every musical movement this country has ever produced. With music you can travel to the future and let voices from the origins of this universe come up through you. So in short, CPTM means music is our time machine. We’re not late, the way we move through time is just different. The concept of Colored People’s Time Machine embraces all of this.
You toured Ethiopia last year right? What can you tell me about that experience? What is going on in music there?
Yes! It was life-changing, perspective-altering, and fulfilling in a way I never could of predicted! If anyone reading this has never been to their homeland, and you get that opportunity, go, immediately... with open eyes, an open heart and leave every sense of entitlement behind you before you go. We did 12 shows the first 2 weeks including the first Hip Hop shows to ever happen in Harar (where my grandparents met each other) and in Gondar. What’s going on with music in ET is a lot... of course there’s amazing Jazz like Addis Acoustic who do weekly’s at Club Alize as well as teach at The Africa Jazz School (and the students there are amazing too!) Then, there are Azmaris and Dancers like FENDIKA who totally blew my mind and expanded my view of what Ethiopian Music and Culture can look like in the now and in the future. There are singers that I love like Munit Mesfin and Saba Kahsay who rock in English and Amharic... and of course there are legends like Mulatu Astatke who we also got to sit and build with several days in a row, who is still touring & doing his EthioJazz thing, while drawing connections between Classical Music and Ethiopian Churches. He told us all just to keep innovating!
Was there anything about that experience that you think will influence your next project?
I started recording an album inspired by the whole experience, literally just a few hours after getting off the flight in Washington, DC. That project was completely written and recorded within one month, and entirely produced by an Ethiopian-American visionary named AirME, who is currently in Ethiopia finishing up the mixes.
What can you tell me about today’s song, “Mind Power?”
“Mind Power” was a song written in Seattle during the month of “Juneuary”, a month of not seeing the sun during what should have been summer. It’s about not letting your surroundings define you, no matter how dark, grey or dismal the situation may seem. Think positively, imagine a better world, and then bring that world to life.
I heard you’re also working on a hip hop space opera! What’s that about?!
CopperWire! It’s a very exciting collaboration I’m doing with other Ethiopian-American artists Meklit Hadero and Burntface. Meklit is an incredible singer/songwriter, a visionary behind The Nile Project and The Arba Minch Collective, a Senior TED Fellow, and my cousin :) Burntface is an emcee, producer and an Ethiopian-Hip Hop-Fusion pioneer, as well as an amazing graphic designer and App developer. We all toured Ethiopia together in May of last year, and the majority of this work was produced after that. The music I think is different then anything we’ve ever touched on our own... and the universe we created is being expressed not only in music, but also film, literature, apps, etc. The story of our first album, Earthbound, takes place in the year 2089. My character is half-human and half-alien (he’s bilactical, if you will) and coming to Earth for the first time in his life. On different parts of this project we’ve already collaborated with a NASA scientist, one of my favorite living science fiction authors Nnedi Okorafor, and an actual opera singer... there’s so much more to it, but for now I’ll just say the album is being released April 17th and you can keep an eye on the website as more of the story unfolds :)
You might have caught Gabriel last week on Art Zone, but you don’t want to miss him tomorrow at the Vera Project with Ra Scion and Dice and hosted by Grynch. More informations and dates are available on his website. For now, Here’s a video for “Blossoms of Fire”: