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Peter Cole Keeping the Liberian Music Torch Burning

by Aaron Weah ~ (October 29th 2005)  

"...The contemporary Liberia musician is an artist on his own. He exists on the fringes of his society, marginalized and impoverished. Many see his art as a vocation for lazybones and misfits. He is perceived as a liability to society...."


Mention Liberia and the first thing some people call to mind is war. Yet Liberia is also the cradle of highlife, a phenomenal music genre, which has come to define Africa. This may surprise many. After all, highlife is often associated with Ghana and its musicians. The surprise is understandable. Not many persons would know that highlife started with the Kru people of Liberia, who toke it along with them when they emigrated to Ghana. But how did Liberia surrender such a powerful cultural legacy to another nation? The story of how Liberia lost highlife is a long story. It will not be told here. But some of the factors that may have caused that loss still haunt Liberian music today: rejection, neglect, and exploitation.

The contemporary Liberia musician is an artist on his own. He exists on the fringes of his society, marginalized and impoverished. Many see his art as a vocation for lazybones and misfits. He is perceived as a liability to society. In the absence of strong enforcement of national copyright laws, the surplus of his labor is appropriated by intellectual pirates of various strands and stripes. Owing to all this, determined Liberian musicians are constrained to settle for the least their economy can offer, a stark contrast to what goes on in Ghana, Cote D’Ivoire, Nigeria and other African countries with booming music industries. Against all these odds many Liberian musicians are not giving up. They continue to struggle for the survival of their arts, refusing for their voices to be silenced. There are many Liberians on the scene today in Liberia, Africa, US and elsewhere. The question is which of these young musicians is going to take up the torch (or perhaps the mic) from deceased music greats like Tecumseh Roberts, Morris Dorley and T-kpan Nimely—all icons of Liberian music? Senegal based Peter Cole, who plays alongside Youssous N’Dour seems poised to do just this.

Peter Cole is a native of Liberia. He started school at St Martins Catholic School in Monrovia where he graduated in 1994. At a very early age, Peter was already playing the guitar and singing on the junior band at the St Martins. In the early 1990s he taught practical music at the Don Bosco youth Center in Monrovia under the auspices of the Catholic Mission. This effort on the part of Peter gave birth to a lot of new talents, which are currently active on the Liberia music scene. His life as a promising musician was just starting. He became the leader of the famous Bosco Beat Band in 1994 and through his influence the band made some of the best strides in the promotion of Liberian music including a partnership with the ICRC that provided an opportunity for the band to play with Youssous N’Dour, Papa Wemba Labaja, Lourdes Van Dumen and other prominent musicians in a documentary concert. It was at this concert that Youssous recognized Peter’s exceptional musical talent and promised to work with him. This promise has been fulfilled greatly today, as Peter is one of the musicians in Youssous studio who writes, plays and sings. Prior to this concert he recorded his first album titled, “Be Awake”.

In 2001 Peter represented Liberia on a European tour led by Youssous and sponsored by UNHCR. This program was to raise funds for refugees around the world. A project to which our Liberian brother contributed three songs.

Currently, his most recent album titled Stay Alive is selling internationally and locally. Besides, our brother is expected to tour the United States of America alongside the acclaimed African and Senegalese superstar Youssou N’Dour this month.

About the Author:

Aaron Weah is a Freelance Liberian Writer.

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