From Manchester we take a long journey south to sweltering West Africa for this weeks catch. It’s presented to us by a DJ/Producer that we’ve been interested in for some time now, on a Label who’s tunes we’ve been playing out for even longer - Chief Boima and the amazing Akwaaba label. Set up specifically to access, support and promote African music (and make real money for the artists in the process!) Akwaaba is a genuine force for good in record label land, not to mention a very welcome window into what would otherwise be very hard to find music.
The track we’ve picked as our Catch Of The Week has apparently been the most popular track all summer in Liberia, being played everywhere from homes to market stalls, and has even been used to kick off election campaigns. It’s called Damyarea (meaning Area Song) and is by Junior Freeman & African Soldier.
Taken from Akwaaba’s Lone Stars Vol. 1: Hipco & Gbema, compiled by Chief Boima and Benjamin Lebrave (Akwaaba main man) following a trip to Liberia and neighbouring countries, this type of track is known as Gbema - a generic term given to electronically produced traditional music – and you can hear the high-paced influences of Soca, Highlife and traditional Africa Folk.
Read about Chief Boima’s experience in Liberia here, and find out more about where each tune on the release came from here. You can also listen to his mixtape of the release in the player below, under which we’ve included the brief statement that accompanies the compilation. Buy and preview all the tracks here. Enjoy!
Junior Freeman & African Soldier – “Damyarea”
“Hipco is hip hop sung in colloquial English, ie the form of English you hear on the streets of Liberia. Although colloquial English retains a lot of English syntax, it can be a bit daunting at first because it is spoken very fast, many consonants are not pronounced, and a lot of words are borrowed from other local languages. But it has become the language of choice for young rappers. And much like hip hop, hipco has grown into its own culture, with its own lifestyle, dance moves and music. Today hipco often refers to more than just a type of rap, it’s a way of life.
Gbema is the generic term given to electronically-produced traditional music. So it covers a wide range of rhythms, most of them very high paced, reminiscent of Sierra Leonian Bubu or South African Shangaan. It’s also quite common for the rhythms to jump into half or double time.
This music, hipco and gbema, is having a profound impact on Liberia. Much like early day hip hop, hipco is a significant vector of social change, while gbema’s intricate rhythms are relentlessly challenging listeners and dancers. We called the compilation Lone Stars not only because it is the nickname of Liberia, but also because these artists are often left without much of an industry to survive. They are truly alone, with their music, striving to survive in a country still recovering from decades of destructive conflict.”