The Year 2013 in Liberia’s cultural and creative sector can be likened to a baby having sprouted a few teeth. And though the teeth might not yet be strong enough to chew, you would definitely feel the pain of the baby’s bite if you put your finger in its mouth. Ouch, sharp new teeth! Indeed, it has been a year with displays of tremendous potential and audacious activities that have many anticipating what creative flair the year 2014 will have.
We recall that the previous year 2012 ended with the passing of one of Liberia’s top cultural icons, Peter Y. Ballah, founder of the Flomo Theater Productions and former director of Liberia’s National Cultural Troupe for many, many years. He was buried in the town of Dimeh, the hometown of his mentor, author Bai T. Moore. On the heels of that and into the year 2013, the Liberia National Museum on Broad Street came to life with the first original art exhibition there in many years, featuring a collection of works from Omar El Shabu (aka Baba Shabu) entitled, “New Water From The Ancient Well”, fully embedded with Liberian cultural symbols that seemed to foreshadow the apparent renaissance on Liberia’s cultural and creative scene this year.
Emerging Voice of Culture
What seemed to be a not-so-active first half of the year turned out to be the struggle of Culture trying to find its voice in its native land, Liberia. What a voice, and what a find! May 2013 was a very eventful month, beginning with the near-tragic house fire that caused Liberia’s ‘melody-maker’ David Mell to sustain burns on his face, arms and other body parts. The accident struck a chord with many in the industry about the need to fundraise for Mell’s medical treatment and establish a safety net for other artists who might be in dire need. He has since recovered and is in South Africa preparing for a major concert to be held in Liberia 2014. And while the Liberia Copyright Office with the help of Zimbabwe-based African Regional Intellectual Property Organization (ARIPO) built awareness among artists and content creators from around Liberia through a 3-day workshop, the Arts & Culture Council of Liberia was presenting its declaration to the Government of Liberia along with over 150 signatures, petitioning government to pay more attention to Liberia’s culture and creative sector, through many of its statutory outlets, especially the education sector, as well as policing against piracy. Great synergy!
The fire was lit and in July 2013, Liberian Gospel recording artist Kanvee Gaines Adams brought pride to Liberia when she won the Special International Award for the Promotion of African Gospel Music at the African Gospel Music Awards in London, UK. That same month, the National Culture Union – an umbrella of over 30 local cultural organizations –inducted its new corps of officers, headed by Kekura M. Kamara (popularly known as ‘Balawala’). By September, American-Liberian filmmaking couple Andrew and Aretha Campbell had captured 3 awards for their feature film, “Somewhere in Baltimore”. The film took Best Movie of the Year (Liberia Entertainment Awards); Best African Movie (African Oscars); while Andrew Campbell was awarded Best Screen-writer at the African Oscars.
By November, Ernie Bruce, head of the Copyright Office, had announced that all sellers of pirated music and movies had until December 15 to close down their illegal business or face confiscation of their products by the Copyright Office.
The last two months of the year however saw a slew of events that aptly crowned 2013 and sent the year out with a bang. Top Liberian fashion designer Chris Collins represented his country at ECOWAS Fashion Week. Late November was the Liberia Fashion Week which, in spite of low publicity did bring out some serious, untapped Liberian talent in the fashion arena. Kicking off December was the search for Liberia’s Next Top Model by Letia Assaf Bates, focusing not just on the designs but the models sporting them – a concept aimed at developing young Liberian ladies into not just fashion models, but role models. Then there was the 2nd Annual Hip-Co Festival which showcased over 30 artists over its 2-day event, while the Monrovia Fashion Week, brought together local and international designers.
In the Minds, not the Mines
The fashion fusion has never been this big in Liberia! In spite of the cat-fight between organizers of the Liberia Fashion Week and those at the Monrovia Fashion Week over who started theirs first, both events were hugely successful. Let’s hope 2014 can see Liberian fashion conduct itself in a more cohesive, complementary fashion. There was similar riff this between certain members of the music and film community and the organizers of the Arts and Culture Council of Liberia over the declaration presented to the Government of Liberia. Some thought it was the personal gravy-seeking agenda of certain individuals. If only our colleagues across the creative sector learned to probe issues well before getting feisty over them, we could all make tremendous progress and not waste so much time and emotional energy trying to do it. The common goal is to elevate Liberia and no one can do it better than the other. We must do it together.
A prayer for next year, perhaps: may Unity (cohesiveness) be the most significant achievement of Liberia’s cultural and creative sector, stamping out envy, animosity, selfishness and greed. Liberia’s got natural resources far greater than what is in the ground beneath. Liberia’s greatest natural resources are not found in the mines, but in the minds of its highly resourceful, creative and expressive people. But the tremendous creative reserves Liberia possesses will only be replenished when we develop the space and the willingness to share and express our talents generously.
Lastly, the arts journalism niche is starting to widen in the Liberian media space. With various media outlets making space on air and in print for the arts, culture and entertainment, few young journalists are starting to skip the hard-core political reporting for something more – shall we say – savvy. The Daily Observer has been in the vanguard, consistently covering the cultural and creative sector since 1981 and is proud to observe one year since we decided to increase our arts coverage to 4 pages – with color – making LIB Life a bona fide section of the newspaper. We appreciate all the creative professionals who took the time with us to get those interviews done; all of our readers who have been paying attention, and our reporters Makanfi Kamara and Yewa Sandy who keep this beast running full steam, every Friday, and to the editors and technical staff who make it shine. We salute all other Liberian arts journalists out there who are passionate about elevating the cultural and creative sector of Liberia. Special thoughts go out to the family and friends of the late Ralph Lincoln, a dedicated arts journalist who has been in the field for many years as an arts reporter for the erstwhile Tidings newspaper in 2005 and later for Uptown Reviews, a weekly arts journal published by Liberian poet and author Nvasekie N. Konneh. Lincoln was also the lifestyle reporter for Frontpage Africa at the time of his demise on Christmas Eve, 2013. May his soul rest in eternal peace.
So there we have it. Another year, another to bloom. As we face the countdown, we’ll leave you with these parting words: God is love and life is one; fun is fun, but when you’re dead, you’re done. Brace yourself. Here comes 2014!