By Aaron B. Weah
In this contemporary time music have come to define culture and perhaps even the sociology of a people. More so, it communicates in an articulate manner the lived circumstance of a people. It says in many ways, what the vision of a society is or wishes of the people are through lyrics and sometimes the rhythmic pattern, which over a period of time becomes a style or genre. Stunningly, music genres have effectively impacted our psychology to the extent where the geography of a country is instantaneously recognized upon the first drop of tone or a beat. This remains the case when you hear Congolese music, a South African beat reverberates, a Ghanaian patent High life rhythm and the likes of so many African music.
To the contrary, Liberia is not recognized through this medium. Rather the country suffers from a dearth of cultural memorabilia, including an undefined music genre, which is a contradiction for Africa’s first sovereign nation. But the reasons why this is the situation, goes back a long way in history. An explanation shrouded in the intricacies of the state body polity.
Notwithstanding also, Liberian music have been taking shape since the 1950s onward to the 1980s. Unfortunately, the insurrection of the 1990s civil strife thwarted attempts to consolidate and define the style of Liberian music. Since then, the industry has remained porous to the infiltration of music from all walks of life thereby leaving the nation cultural value as well as other aspect of society unprotected musically.
In spite of all these historical pitfalls and parallel dynamics of Liberian music, the Senegalese based Liberian musician Peter Cole has over the years, made significant strides along this line. He has refused to succumb to the threat of the Liberian music extinction and at such efforts are aimed at mitigating hurdles in his path. Under the artistic direction of Youssou N’Dour, he has thrilled the Diaspora including five Europeans countries and his own homeland Liberia.
Peter’s music is something one would long to hear over and again. The expression of the lyrics is accompanied by an array of instruments in a manner so unique that you would certainly want to see him in a live concert. Than the strumming of the guitar adds a touch of novelty to the entire music. The way the voice is situated within the bars of the guitar pattern tends to solicit more listening audience.
Upon listening to his music one would be tempted to categorize it as either jazz, reggae or Afro-funk but one would later realized it uniqueness independent of other styles. More so, Peter has a way of capturing the central theme of his music at the bridge of his songs while the voice and instruments rise in crescendo. He says: “this is deliberate so as to draw attention to the message of the music. I used the bridge in my song to reinforced the meaning behind my lyrics.”
The album Stay Alive is a classic example of this arrangement; the bridge in the same vain reverberates in an explosion of the central message. In this central message, Peter cautions the entire world about the threat of poverty, AIDs and conflict but says dialogue is the way forward.
Historically, his lyrics were very vocal about the excesses of past regime and warring parties. His music called for reform, peace and an end to the conflict. These strong and ideological lyrics were propelled again by a driving fusion of reggae and jazz. Peter refused to stop at anything but to build for his voice a pedestal in the theatre of Liberian arts.
Peter’s quest for social justice as manifested in his songs is rooted in his personal experiences during the civil conflict in Liberia. At first hand he witnessed his friends, love ones and relatives conscripted into fighting forces as part of warring faction guerrilla band. To avoid similar fate he had to flee, abandoning his place of abode. However, as a protest against such act, he sang “Drop Your Guns.” His motivation for this song is anchored in his personal experience of witnessing child conscription. He sings this song with so much passion that anyone listening and following his logic understands that such song must have had an empirical basis than an ordinary imagination on civil war. This song brings out Peter’s bitterness about civil war.
Peter’s initial flight from his place of abode was not his last rather it marked the beginning of a perpetual displacement while at the same he pursue his music career. His involuntary movement during the course of war has always inspired in him a steadfast resolved in his career. This was evident in his activity after his flight into exile Ivory Coast May 1996 following the all out assault on Monrovia, locally known has April 6 fracas.
While a refugee in the Ivory Coast, Peter formed a band comprising Liberian refugees. He used this opportunity to mold fledging talents into appreciating the beauty and power of music. He always told most of his colleagues on the band that he who uses the power of music to propagate positive changes in society or the world over was the actual freedom fighter and not those who masquerade with the barrel of the gun. This was in reminiscent to the on-going war in Liberia and all of Africa hot spots at the time.
Again this view espoused stirred in him a fascination to compose a song title ‘Freedom Soldier.” This song were among two other songs Peter personally contributed to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees project called Building Bridges. Peter along with several African musicians refugees tour Europe in the wake of raising funds. This project was directed by Senegalese Super Star Youssou N’Dour.