Cafe music of Liberia (LIB,1948-49, pub.2007)****°
Ethnomusicologist Arthur Alberts published in 1950 a 78 rpm record set, recorded between 1948-1949, called “Tribal,folk and café music of West Africa”. The purpose of these records was to document and show the relations between African and American music showing the cross-cultural ties between both styles. One of these records called “Songs of the African Coast: Café music of Liberia” focused on popular music from Liberia and included some of the best known artists around that area, Howard Hayes and Malinda and The Greenwood Sisters. This is the reissue of that last record taken from the masters including 6 unreleased tracks from the same sessions. Genres include Calypso, early jazz and blues, all which are not typically African.
The first track immediately sets the tone, in an old time cabaret related amusing and humoristic fashion (more 20’s & 30s related) with “chicken is nice..”. You cannot notice this is from Africa (specifically) at all. Another chicken song comes later. This is actually a love song “Kokoleo-Ko (chicken crowing for day)”, a great entertaining song (including chicken imitating sounds), between blues, cabaret and African singing, where the chicken is a metaphor for the women who stands ready for the cockeral in the morning.
The humour in the songs is really easily captured and drags you into the songs with a convincing power and originality. Where a few African sentences are used, the liner notes help you out.
Most songs are in English. “Jebe, Na Uhn Sah” isn’t : it is in the Vai people’s dialect, but the language here is used very much with or for the musical sounds of it, so the enjoyment in hearing this isn’t any less convincing.
While a few songs are utterly American style, crossovers with African ways are never far away, in an inspired and musically way of entertaining.
The background chorus of the Greenwood singers has something in between gospel and blues, in a happy fashion, never forgetting the song with message and big portions of humour leading them.
I really like the lyrics in all of them.
* “People! Go mind your business” is about people gossiping about someone’s girlfriend, telling them in a song, in a funny way to mind their own business, “it’s nobody’s business but mine”.
* “Hold Me Tight” is about a girl asking to be held tight. The man asks “why?” It is because she saw another attractive person.
* “All fo’ you” is a more extreme song about a woman doing everything for her husband, even being killed. This is surprising, funny and disarming & very confronting for such a woman, or it is in fact another way of saying such a woman is a fool for giving all her love to a husband who does not respect her.
* The song “Bush Cow Milk” (listed in 2 different versions) is about a man making courtship with a woman. She’s not interested in him giving to her all this silk and satin, but she said “find some bush cow milk for me”, or another way of saying to piss off because a bush cow is a wild animal, and such a task would be impossible. The man doesn’t give up and says that he will get that to her but also concludes “if a man can find a women he can trust, than I will milk a bushcow for you”. Romantic, entertaining but also a very funny story, which I could imagine very well being sung by Tiny Tim.
A little bit of a jazz trumpet improvisation you can hear on “Gbanawa”(second version). The liner notes say the musician picked up an old trumpet from an American sailor, started to learn it two weeks from before the recording by listening to an American jazz disc.
Unfortunately there’s little information added on the two listed artists, but no doubt they were very talented. If you like old time music, and could handle a beautiful crossover African influence in it, this record is no less than a must-have. Highly recommended !