22 May 2006

Monday's mp3: In a Liberian Café

Listening to music this week, I rediscovered a gem of African musical history.

In the 1940s, Arthur S. and Lois Alberts drove around remote West Africa with a Jeep-powered tape recorder. "I wanted," he wrote in an August 1951 National Geographic article chronicling the trip, "to show that so-called Darkest Africa has more to offer than the tom-toms and jungle chants usually associated with it by the Western World."

A number of recordings by Alberts have been released, including one CD of music from coastal cafés of Liberia and Ghana. The album provides a chance to hear unusual African music, which reminds one more of the Caribbean, than mainland African. Read an expanded review at Spin the Globe.

The track that most caught my ear is by blind Liberian pianist Howard B. Hayes. It was recorded live at the Yarngo Bar, reportedly a venue with one of the few pianos in Monrovia. The duet with Malinda Parker (described in the notes as "a leading citizen of Monrovia") tells of a suitor who is rebuffed by the object of his affection, who tells him to go milk a bush cow. A bush cow being a "dangerous, ornery jungle beast," she's essentially telling him to get lost.

The second song here has a similarly universal theme and needs little explanation. In both songs you'll hear links with calypso and blues, and they're certainly unlike what most people think of as "African music."

[mp3] Howard B. Hayes with Malinda Parker: "Bush Cow Milk"
[mp3] Jacob A. Browne & the Greenwood Singers: "People! Go Mind Your Business"

You can get the album directly from Arthur's nephew Guthrie Alberts, for a very reasonable $13 shipped.
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