Liberia is a diverse, multicultural country that celebrates its many cultural influences. Traditional music is based on the various ethnic groups of Liberia. While they share many similarities, each group and region have their own variations.
Liberian music is highly based on African rhythms and polyrhythms. After the American Colonization Service began relocating freed blacks to Liberia, they also brought with them some of the musical traditions from the U.S. American missionaries introduced Christian songs to groups in Liberia; these songs merged American harmonies and styles with local languages and local rhythms.
The Bassa, Kru, Kpelle, and Vai have some of the most dominant dance traditions in Liberia. Their dances may vary among tribes, but they all share a vibrancy and energy that make them memorable. There are some dances for women, some just for men, and there are even some dances just performed by children. Masks are often used in dancing and are seen as a connection between the dancer and their ancestors and deities. The Gio people of northern Liberia have a dance where a masked dancer and a drummer seem to follow each other’s hand and feet movements.
Highlife, a type of music generating from Ghana, is also popular in Liberia, as it is across much of West Africa. Many of the instruments commonly heard in highlife and other types of Liberian music include the harmonica, accordion, banjo, Spanish guitar, pennywhistle, concertina, and mandolin.
Hip-hop music is also popular. Musicians created their own type of hip-hop called Hipco, which is performed in Liberian English. Hipco generally discusses themes of social and political issues in its lyrics.
I added several artists to my Spotify playlist. One artist I listened to is Sundaygar Dearboy. His music had a little bit of a reggae feel to it at times, and it was pretty upbeat. Melody lines weren’t complicated but still catchy.
T-Five’s music was more along the lines of R&B. They utilized harmonies that were almost reminiscent of Boyz II Men at times.
I liked a few of the songs off of Miatta Fahnbulleh’s album Tomorrow is Yesterday. At times, it seemed to have that quintessential “African sound” that I’ve never quite been able to elaborate on. There’s a strong percussion representation in their music, although at times, the percussion seems similar to Latin percussion styles.
Morris Dorley’s sound seems to be the first I’ve heard to really bring a rock sound to it. It reminds me of the rock music of the 1960s and 1970s. I liked what I heard.
I did find one song by Nimba Burr to represent the electronica genre in Liberia, but the one song I found had nine different mixes. I liked what I heard; I just wish I could’ve found more. To be honest, I didn’t do as extensive of a search because of the holidays.
As far as Hipco music goes, I did find an album called Lone Stars Vol: 1: Hipco & Gbema. I found it while doing a search for Takun J. I did find out that Gbema is a general term for any kind of electronic reproduction of traditional music. It tends to be upbeat and can use the music of various groups from Sierra Leone and Liberia as well as other areas of Africa. Both are influential to the rappers from the streets of Liberia and use the vernacular language of the streets: Liberian English. The rhythms are different, but the energy reminds me of kuduru music from Angola.
Up next: the food
Up next: the food