Photos

A Friday Night In Monrovia With Liberia's Biggest Pop Star

Off a damp alley in central Monrovia is an overheated bar with Liberia's best new music.

Takun J, Liberia's biggest pop star on a Friday night at 146 in Monrovia. (Photo: Ashoka Mukpo)


Walk down a damp alley off Carey Street in the commercial heart of Monrovia and you'll arrive at a metal door. Pay the bouncer, a burly man in camo pants, 100 'Liberty,' about one US dollar, and he'll swing open the door, releasing a burst of hot air and booming bass from the music inside.

“ONE FOUR SIX!” yells the MC. “ALL DAY EVERY DAY!” the crowd responds.

This is ‘146,’ the courtyard-turned-bar, founded by Takun J, Liberia’s biggest pop star, where every Friday spectators come to see artists perform the latest Hipco hits. With influences as varied as Liberian gospel, American hip-hop, and Nigerian pop, this local genre has become the de facto artistic language of young Monrovians. While not as polished as Azonto or Nigerian pop, what Hipco lacks in sonic refinement it makes up for in subversive energy and wit.

In a wide room with a low ceiling the young crowd stares at the stage. Off to the side, a bartender slings the local Club beer. Here, Liberia’s past—civil war, Ebola—feels far away.

The bar is hot – too hot. As Takun J’s star rose on the back of national hits like "My Way," "Pot Boiling," and his recent post-Ebola anti-government single, "They Lie to Us," he’s made a series of improvements to the space.

What was once a sparse courtyard with a pool table and weights has become a popular bar and art space. During this year’s rainy season he built a roof which succeeded in keeping out the ubiquitous rain but turned it into a sweatbox as a result. On Friday nights, when a packed crowd comes out for the open mic, the bar feels more like a sauna.

146,’ is the block’s urban zoning number. This is the heart of Monrovia, and on Friday nights it attracts a lively group who come to hear artists perform songs they’ve heard on radio stations or off SIM chips sold on street corners. There’s a communal spirit to the night. The absence of serious money in the scene has kept feuds mostly lighthearted and means that its primary currency is still the ego boost that comes from having the hottest song or verse.

In Monrovia, many clubs and restaurants cater to upscale audiences of expatriate aid workers and ‘repats’—Liberians who spent the war years in America or Europe. 146’s clientele on Fridays is mostly born and raised Liberians. They come looking crisp and stylish. The smell of weed drifts across the room, beers are knocked back, and the energy is friendly and engaging—even familial.

Butterfly, one of Liberia's top female Hipco artists. (Photo: Ashoka Mukpo)

On stage, Butterfly winds her way in and out of the crowd. Female rappers are a staple of Hipco, moving from serious subjects like sexual assault to boasts and insults. Butterfly performs every week, all confidence and curves—Liberia’s answer to Nicki Minaj. Her song, "Take it You Pay," is a sly nod to the precarious life led by young Liberian women. (Don’t touch my apple/ if you take it you pay).

As a reward, patrons ball up small bills and drop it in a box in front of the stage. If it’s an especially exciting song, they might throw the bills at the artist or come up and stuff them in his shirt. When Takun J saunters onto the stage for his turn in the spotlight, the crowd rapturously sings the words to every song.

Unlike some other African dance genres, Hipco is a long way from crossing over to European or American markets. The production value is low, owing to limited resources for the latest studio equipment. More importantly, most of the rapping is done in ‘colloqua,’ Liberia’s street English, which can be indecipherable to non-residents.

But in the muggy, ecstatic atmosphere of 146 on Friday nights, it’s hard to see why that matters. In a country where public spaces are dominated by imports, whether in the form of political returnees or the cultural products of the US and Liberia’s culturally powerful neighbors, Hipco is a vital, homegrown movement.

It’s hard to predict Liberia’s future, but it’s easy to imagine the next generation of Monrovian artists reminiscing about what it was like the first time they snuck in or hit the stage at 146. Whatever the future brings for Liberian music, there’s nowhere better to be on a Friday night.

Liberians relaxing at 146 after a long week.

Takun J, Liberia's biggest pop star.

Amaze (left) performing with Arthur Cassell.

All photos by Ashoka Mukpo.

popular

The Artist Is Present: Williams Chechet Utilizes Pop Art To Remind You To Know Your History

Meet the Nigerian multi-hyphenate creative whose work speaks for itself—check it out with OkayAfrica.

Williams Chechet is a multi-talented pop artist, graphic designer, illustrator and muralist who's one to watch. The Nigerian creative is influenced by his culture, history, afrofuturism, afrobeats and hip hop—and this screams at you when looking at his body of explosive work.

He seamlessly speaks through his vibrant visuals. Chechet's past work and due props include a series centered around leaders in Nigeria, a renowned celebration of heritage called We are the North on Northern Nigeria, a CNN Africa feature, a mural for Hard Rock Cafe Lagos, live art on MTV Base, album covers for M.I., Jesse Jagz, Ice Prince, clothing with Pop Caven and an American streetwear brand we can't disclose just yet. More recently, he's collaborated with Cameroonian pop artist Fred Ebami on an icon series.

Keep reading... Show less
popular

This New Sarkodie Track 'Ye Be Pa Wo' Is Fire

You need to listen to the Ghanaian hip-hop heavyweight's new single "Ye Be Pa Wo."

Sarkodie rolls through and proves, once again, why he's at the top of the African rap game with his latest drop, ""Ye Be Pa Wo."

The new track, which was produced by fellow Ghanaian producer MOG Beatz (who previously did Sark's "Gboza") is a relentless injection of pure energy and rhymes.

Keep reading... Show less
popular
Photo by Sabelo MKhabela.

11 South African Hip-Hop Songs About Weed

4/20 Special: Here are 11 South African songs to get high to.

You can't separate hip-hop and weed. Dr. Dre's debut album The Chronic was named after the herb and the likes of Snoop Dogg, Wiz Khalifa and Quasimoto pretty much made careers off rapping about weed.

The tradition is alive wherever hip-hop exists. In South Africa, weed has been rapped about just as much as the aforementioned artists have. And according to Lord Quas on "America's Most Blunted" from the album Madvillainy, listening to music under the influence of weed makes it sound better.

"Listening to music while stoned is a whole new world. Most cannabis consumers report it second only to sex. And grass will change your musical habits, for the better."

In light of 4/20, we list some South African hip-hop songs, both old and new, about weed. If you're a smoker, these songs could come in handy for you today.

Keep reading... Show less

get okayafrica in your inbox

news.

popular.