Date: Mon, 31 May 1999 15:06:27 -0500 (CDT)
From: Green Left Parramatta <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: Liberian Rappers lament the 'struggle between brother and brother'
The following review appeared in the June 2 Green Left Weekly at http://www.peg.apc.org/~greenleft
Pray for Liberia
The Boyz of Butuburam
United Sound (Germany)
Order (approximately DM37) from <http://www.united-sound.com/usmaster/usmastereng.htm>> or e-mail Dirk Majchrzak at <email@example.com>
The liner notes to this exciting album do not provide much information about the Boyz from Butuburam -- AKO, Deedee and the Boyz, Jean the Destroyer, MC Dick and MC Trinch, and A.L. Capon and Crazy Buzzle Bee. They are all young Liberian rappers from the Butuburam refugee camp in Ghana.
Hip hop is popular among the youth of Africa, especially west Africa and South Africa, where it is still a grassroots, street-level music of rebellion, protest and struggle.
African hip hop has developed its own distinctive sound and has yet to lose its creative dynamism the way its counterpart in the US has as it has been transformed from street art to just another type of commercial pop music.
While African rap has its big stars -- Senegal's Positive Black Soul and South Africa's Prophets of Da City being the best known -- thousands of kids in the slums of Dakar, Accra and the Cape Flats are making their own music about issues that directly impact on them. The top-selling groups have not severed their connection with the communities; instead they hold workshops to improve young people's rapping and technical skills, and to educate youth about their rights.
It is little wonder that Liberian youth find plenty to rap about. Liberia has always been a US colony in all but name. The country was founded in 1822 when the US Congress funded the buying of land from local chiefs to allow the settlement of former slaves. Formal independence came in 1847. The country was soon dominated by an Americo-Liberian elite of former slaves. The indigenous peoples were discriminated against; the vast majority were denied the right to vote, since the franchise was available only to those who owned property.
The Americo-Liberian elite, only 3% of the population, continued to look after the imperialist interests of the US. They used their monopoly of the state apparatus to enrich themselves through graft and corruption. Resentment at their privileges and political domination came to a head in April 1980, when a bloody coup, led by US-trained Master Sergeant Samuel Doe, overthrew the government.
Doe headed a People's Redemption Council made up of junior army officers, most of them descendants of the indigenous peoples. Liberians celebrated in the streets, hoping that things would change for the better. Doe pledged to bring about equal economic and social opportunities for all.
Unfortunately for the people of Liberia, Doe was as repressive, corrupt and beholden to US interests as previous governments. The army became dreaded for its arbitrary and brutal behaviour. Bribery and embezzlement remained routine.
Doe's most damaging legacy was the introduction of tribalism into Liberian politics. Doe's Krahn people and, to a lesser extent, the Mandingo people, benefited at the expense of the Gio and Mano. After a coup attempt in 1985 led by a Gio from Nimba county, Doe unleashed troops to carry out wholesale massacres there. At least 1000 people were killed.
The peoples marginalised because of their tribal affiliations rallied around the rebels of Charles Taylor's National Patriotic Forces of Liberia, which launched an insurgency in 1989 and drove Doe from power that year.
A civil war raged for eight years, pitting ethnic-based militia against each other. Nigeria, deputised by Washington as its regional cop, intervened at the head of a peacekeeping force to prevent Taylor's forces winning total control. Despite Nigerian and US hostility, Taylor forced a settlement and won a general election in 1997.
Taylor remains a tribal warlord whose motive is to plunder Liberia's natural resources -- primarily diamonds, rubber and -- and dispense patronage to his followers. He is deeply distrusted by Washington and London, and their Nigerian proxy. Taylor -- supported by Burkina Faso and Libya, it is claimed -- seeks to undermine Nigeria's attempts at regional political and military hegemony by backing a tribal-based insurgency in neighbouring Sierra Leone, which is also battling a Nigerian-led peacekeeping force.
AKO (Alex Dworak), who produced Pray for Liberia, was born in Liberia and raised in Germany. Seeking to re-connect with his family and his people, he visited Butuburam. There he met many young Liberians who have been driven from their homeland by the civil war and repression.
Many spent their time singing and writing raps about their experiences and their hopes for Liberia. Impressed, AKO arranged for these young people to be recorded so that the world will understand what struggle between brother and brother means.
Perhaps reflecting the influence of French rappers like MC Solaar, via Francophone African rappers, the Boyz of Butuburam offer a jazzier, more laid-back hip hop than US rap. They use a greater variety of instruments, percussion, melody and fascinating collages of sound samples, ranging from traditional African singing and chanting to the sounds of insects, birds and storms.
The groove and the sentiments of the opening track by AKO, We are all Africans, sets the tone. Following tracks -- especially Deedee and the Boyz' A Better Place to Live, Jean the Destroyers' Pray for Liberia and Master Tony Feat, MC Dick and MC Trinch's Listen Listen Listen -- deliver rapid-fire history and analysis. Taylor's divide-and-rule tactics and corruption are condemned. Peace and unity between Liberia's ethnic groups is these artists' answer.
As can be expected on any hip hop album, there are a couple of bragging tracks. But rather than boasting about their sexual or fighting prowess, these rappers -- in the words of A.L. Capon -- are most proud that they are politically strong, lyrically strong.
The lack of lyrics in the liner notes mean that it takes several listens to make out everything the Boyz are saying, but it is worth the effort. Pray for Liberia does not disappoint.