How did you become an artist?
While making a nationwide tour, former Liberian president, William R. Tolbert, stopped in my hometown. Part of his mission was to select talented kids to join the National Cultural Troupe. To prepare to welcome him, young people rehearsed some traditional dances. I only knew a little bit from my experience as a member of an elementary school dance troupe, but I decided to join in anyway. After the presentation of the program to the president, Mr. Tolbert himself chose me. At 10 years of age I left my family and friends and moved to a kind of artists’ village on the outskirts of Monrovia, Liberia’s capital, where I lived with all the other members of Liberia’s National Cultural Troupe. I was mainly a dancer, but later also became a back-up singer to one of the biggest stars in Liberia.
When civil war broke out [in 1989], we had to run. The members of the troupe and I lost track of each other for a while. I returned to the artists’ village, even though war was raging around me. I felt that that was my home and my fellow artists made up my family. Those of us who made it back started focusing our art on issues of war and peace. I started to compose songs, and became a lead singer as well. One of my songs, “We Need Peace, No More War,” was adapted by the Liberian women’s peace movement, and became an important part of their rallies. The leader of that movement, Leymah Gbowee, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011.
Throughout your career, you have used music as a vehicle for building peace and generating collective strength in the Liberian community. In your experience, what makes music an effective tool for raising awareness and inspiring social change?
The voice, sound, and lyrics are all magical tools in getting to people’s hearts. People relate to music faster than you’d expect. Music has a great capacity to deliver a crucial message, or even a number of messages, in a very short time. Part of the reason I’ve relied on music and dance to inspire Liberians to pay attention to critical issues is that traditionally, these arts have been important means of communication for our communities. Music and dance start dialogues, and motivate people to take action.