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Terrabeat fans, here is yet another unpublished article for the second month in a row – I wanted to write about my journey and friendship over the years with the Sudanese Rebaba Project who was recently part of the Mayors Music series in November and had a LEO December 2012 cover story (both which I helped coordinate), and also Vietnamese guitarist Long Thanh Nguyen who recently played an outdoors 4th St Live Christmas show and played with Will Oldham earlier in the year. This has been a busier than usual month – stay tuned for that piece next month. This article was published online in July of 2010 about Liberian community and Liberian women in Louisville:
There was Liberian and African pop (with influences borrowing heavily from American rap, hip-hop and R&B and Caribbean Reggae — mixed in with authentic American/Caribbean rap/hip-hop/R&B — tongue-twister alert!) at the Liberian daytime picnic and early-morning dance that I attended a few weekends ago. Music that serves as the background melodies not only for those events but for this post as well. Music that props up Liberia's Freedom Song as well. The Freedom Song of all of us, as well.
Some of the Liberian music I've listened to sounds very similar to blues and rock with horns imitating harmonicas, trains, and sexual bed springs – Mali, you may not be the ideal epitome of the 'land where blues began,' as has been so often claimed; however, I'm sure that Malian music has greatly influenced the blues – I hear similarities (do you? – listen for the thumping, swampy threnody of a blues guitar, for example).
Mali and Liberia are both West African nations that imported slaves to the US; however their musical styles are rather different — Liberia's with a lighter, easy-listening vibe to it — like the wind passing through a Liberian wooded forest — while Mali's music seems more complex rhythmically — easy flowing as the Niger, but dark and rough as the Sahara.
Liberia (a mostly Christian nation while Mali is almost 100% Muslim) in its musical tradition sounds closer in spirit to the music of South Africa, where Gospel is also heavy; and the train sounds show up as drumming and a choral/drumming combination (at least in the Gbarzon District of Grand Geddeh County).
Speaking of Gbarzon, this district is one of the few places where I can find tribal drumming, and it seems to be one of the main musical hotspots of Liberia. It has its own particular style that is different (and in some cases better) from what comes out of the rest of the Country – and is the music of the Krahn peoples.
There is a quality to Liberian music that seems to me naturally American (in which I am including music of the Caribbean) — and not so very foreign = 'African' at all. And I am not referring here only to the fact that most Liberian music largely incorporates US and Caribbean influences — regardless of where in Liberia the music (urban or rural) comes from — but to the fact that even the native African sounds I can pinpoint sound comfortably 'American' to me – that is, they have similarities to what can be found in American music.
Be it said that Liberia is very proud of their American ties and roots, while, sadly, most Americans are unable to distinguish one African country from another — but these forged connections are evident in if you listen to their music. (Then again, maybe I have it wrong, and it is more that Liberian (and other West African) influences have permeated North American music so completely it just seems American — so this could shape up as a which came first — the chicken or the egg or the chicken shit moment).
It is not that the day wasn't musical or that local musicians were not locatable. Purportedly, there was a Liberian drummer around (whom I, to my disappointment, could not locate); there were some local DJs at the picnic, and some women who sang in a local gospel choir whom I spoke with. (The Liberian Gospel I listened to on YouTube seems to have a lot of American Motown and early R&B influences.)
On this occasion I had the distinction, honor and the privilege (as you can see, it made a big impression on me) of meeting, eating with, conversing, hanging around, and indeed dancing with some of the strong, wonderful, independent women of Louisville's Liberian community at the Americana Center. It was a double-event. First I was invited to a Liberian family picnic, which dovetailed into a privately held dance party in the South End later that afternoon.
I can't tell you how much fun I had with the latter. At the picnic, there was Liberian home cooking with dishes comprised of chicken, fish, and plantains with a homemade ginger drink. I also had the opportunity of talking with the head of their community.
For the rest of this story, go to: http://www.louisvillemusic.org/terrabeat/2010/07/09/freedom-song/