Make history has Liberia’s first female Record Owner
By Sam Payedoo (Contributor)
Berenice Mulubah is a woman with many faces: a blogger, songwriter, author, and music entrepreneur.
Born in Liberia in the 70s, and relocated to the US later, she has never ceased to amaze people in the struggling Liberia music industry. From quitting blogging in an unfamiliar fashion to authoring one of the country’s most explicit books, and later returning to blogging, Berenice has always caused a revolution in the music industry.
This time around, she has undertaken a task many women do not dare to venture in Liberia: becoming the country's first female record label owner, C Liberia Clearly Records, which is also her stage name.
“The task is difficult, that which I know. But I am prepared to handle it,” says Berenice. “The industry is male-dominated; thus I have to compete for space and to create my brand.” Reminded of the nature of music labels in Liberia and being the first female label owner in this era, Berenice said she’s up to the task.
“Besides, my personal mantra is ‘hard work’, and with this always at the back of my mind, I move on with what I plan to do. The record label is here to stay in Liberia and we are poised to let the world know of our vast talents.” she boasted.
The label, she says, was founded on the principle of bringing back the music of the old days, Traditional (folk) or Gbema. Traditional or Gbema music uses vocal harmony, repetition, and call-and-response song structure, as well as such typical West African elements as ululation and the polyrhythm typical of rhythm in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Now in operation for a year, the label is home to one artiste, Milton Klechee, who was signed to resuscitate the public desire for traditional Grebo music. Milton, coincidentally, is vastly rooted in traditional music and promoted by the label to an enviable place in the Liberian music circuit. Milton already has four singles, but the most popular ones are "Yenswa BaMu "and "Kwedeh."
Upon their release, they experienced brief banger status but did not take too long to be dethroned from its spot by Afrobeats and Hipco, the two popular genres of music nowadays in Liberia.
“I’m a big fan”
Over the past decades, traditional Liberian music has ceded its number-one position to the Afrobeats genre, topping local charts, with lots of homegrown artists and even overtaking Hipco, Liberia’s form of rap music, inspired by hip-hop out of the U.S but sung in local pidgin. While Afrobeats has cracked the market in its favor, this was not the case a few years back—as there was the market for its competitor—Gbema, with lots of top-notch artists rocking the airway with hits.
But nowadays, the situation has changed, pushing the latter to obscurity with little interest among upcoming artistes.
“I’m a big fan of traditional music. They are connecting and relevant today. Their melody is beautiful and it represents us, what we belong to like people,” Berenice explained. “Right now, people think that Liberia does not have its unique style of music rather following the trending style in Africa. That is wrong and that is the notion I anticipate correcting through the label records.”
Seeing a generational style of music being lost, Berenice realized that something needs to be done quickly before it is all too late. So she quit blogging and started a record label—C Liberia Clearly to bring back the old days instead of building up the industry, with new music and new artists and ever-more new promo.
The last known widely recognized Gbema single, accepted by every Liberian, young or old, and in every part of the country was recorded in 2011. The Song, “Da My Area” infectious rhythm, and its genius socially relevant lyrics that speak to all walks of life caught the life of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf who used the song as the hook to her 2011 re-election campaign.
And using her industry connections, she co-wrote and produced a song with one of the country’s most venerated artistes, DenG. The connections, although cultivated over time, translate to obsession for the music industry, but it heartened when she came in touch with classic old-school traditional music, as well as working with DenG, to produce the "Lappa" song. That piqued her love for traditional music more.
“I fell in love instantly with it. Now I am dedicating my whole life to showcasing our Liberian heritage through traditional music,” she says. “We have a beautiful culture and music style, but we tend to undervalue it, so I wanted to illustrate what Liberia has to offer. I am on a journey, and my home and roots inspire me. I am who my mother taught me to be.”
But it was after five years of the single release, that she mustered the courage to put the dream into action—shocking the industry with the announcement of her retirement from blogging. The self-retirement, according to her, was meant to put a successful blogging career on hold to fulfill other dreams— resuscitating her most loved music genre — Traditional or Gbema — birthing the C Liberia Clearly Record.
The name, Berenice says, sounds traditional with some modern twist, which makes it perfect for the label’s brand. It also connotes seeing Liberia musically from a different perspective.
The current journey, Berenice says, is defined by values, and her love for traditional music and not the history tag as the country’s first female record label owner. Such an attitude seems to be winning the label’s fans, as many young Liberians become excited to know about the traditional musical way of life.
But such public love has not stopped her from applying effort to improve the label's next record to make it more resounding and relevant to the country’s diverse, youthful population, whose taste for modern sounds is becoming stronger daily. The next step, she says, is adding a bit of some modern touches. The vast majority of the sound will be reminiscent of tradition, as she plans to open a state-of-the-art recording studio back home in Liberia.
“I want young people to get to know their roots and appreciate the contribution of their ancestral music to the success and celebrate the legends of that generation that are alive,” Berenice says. “It is sad many of them are alive but their legacy only lives among the country’s older populations. This should not be so. Music is always changing but that does mean we should forget the people whose contributions led to the industry’s development.”
Traditional music is where Berenice’s true passions lie, but she also plans to add some modern genre to the label project like Hipco artistes. And with increased smartphone penetration and broadband connectivity in the last decade, platforms like YouTube, SoundCloud, and Spotify would have made it easy for Berenice’s label to reach a massive amount of Liberians both home and abroad by resuscitating an almost lost traditional music genre.
According to the Liberia Institute of Statistics and Geo-Information Services, young people account for more than 70 percent of the total Liberian population. This means a good song and proper utilization of these platforms would easily bring traditional music into the limelight again.
And when the label opens its studio, she hopes it will be a reflective space and a socio-political platform, to bring back to life the era of music for social and moral change. It is also her hope that this moment can be led by female artistes.