Audio: Chief Boima's Liberian 'Lone Stars' Mix

Our friend and past Africa In Your Earbuds contributor Chief Boima spent two months in Liberia this summer soaking up the current sounds of Monrovia. Boima's teaming up with the good people at Akwaaba for the first international release of contemporary popular Liberian music in the form of Lone Stars Vol. 1: Hipco and Gbemaa 15-track compilation highlighting the best in hipco and gbema. Stream and download a 30-minute preview of what's to come below and look out for the full Lone Stars mix dropping Oct. 19 via Akwaaba! Tracklist and in-depth song description from Boima after the jump.

Lone Stars Mix by chiefboima

Tracklist (as experienced by Boima)

1. Takun J-Tu-ka-ka-ya-tu feat. Byronic and Nasseman

I heard this song on the radio during a Monrovia traffic jam the first week I arrived in Liberia. It has a special place in my mind and heart as the first song I recognized, and had to track down.Takun J is one of if not the most popular Hipco artist currently in Liberia. With lines like “said she want me email, but the email didn’t work”, Takun always manages to come up with subtle and inventive lines (off the top of his head) that depict daily life on the ground in Monrovia. I also love the chipmunk high voice that Liberian producers tend to play with. Nasseman, also featured on the track has his own style that borrows from Jamaican Patois, and is just as popular. This was produced by Infectious Michael.

2. F.A.-Bump It Remix featuring Takun J, K-Zee, and Cypha D’King.

A really great song from a group of Liberia’s most popular artists. This song comes from the powerhouse studio Bluelinks in downtown Monrovia. Bluelinks also has a radio station called Hot FM, which is run by DJ Blue a repatriated Liberian from Monrovia. The Bluelinks crew throws a lot of events, and they’re probably the most avid promoters and supporters of Liberian artists.

3. Genesis Crew-Champagne

I got this track from DJ Cole at the Heritage studio in Gbarnga, Bong County. I came to find out that there was a recording studio located in the center I was lodged in on a visit there. It was truly a surprise that in the war torn former capital of Charles Taylor’s I found the most technologically advanced studio in the country (running Logic Pro on an Apple Mac Tower)! The area I was staying also had really good palm wine, but I didn’t try their champagne. When Benjamin and I were going through tracks to include on the comp, I felt that this song was a unique addition, something unlike anything I’d heard in rest of the country, but I wasn’t quite sure it was polished enough. After a few listens the catchy chorus and the raggamuffin style verse really grew on us. But in the end, two words can sum up what really convinced us to include this one: Auto-tune breakdown!

4. Deboy’s Crew-Polo Mabo

Deboy could be considered an innovator of the Gbema-Hipco fusion. He was running one of the original home studios right after the war years. Benjamin and I visited him and the crew after a long series of shared taxi rides to the northern suburbs of Monrovia. I had heard this song on repeat at my favorite drinking spot in Paynesville, Club 704. It became one of my favorite songs during the months I stayed in Liberia. I loved the play between the halftime bass drum kicks at 180 BPM, especially the part in the middle when they suddenly sing in English “somebody positive, and somebody negative”. Being able to include this song on the compilation made the journey worth it.

5. Junior Freeman & African Soldier-Damyarea

Number one heard song in Liberia this summer all over the country. I went to a market in a rural area, and the tapes for this album were moving like hotcakes. It was so popular the current president even used the song to kick of her re-election campaign.

6. Big J-Kalaman

Another one from Heritage stuido in Gbarnga. Big J is from Lofa county in the remote, northern tip of the country, bordering Sierra Leone and Guinea. The song clearly takes elements from Sierra Leone, including the word Kala which means money in Temne, a Sierra Leonean language. If you can get the meaning of the chorus it’s pretty hilarious. The daughter telling her father she wants money (“I want eat Kala”) to go to the market, and if she doesn’t get it she will, “holla”. The father simply replies “go and tell yo ma.” Brilliant!

7. Master Black-Dakamaly

Kpelle Rap!

Master Black was in Ghana for much of the war, where he was able to pick up some computer training and music production skills. Now he runs a little computer lab in his neighborhood (on my visit I saw folks editing a movie, Lollywood!) While Master Black mostly does his own production, this song was produced by Infectious Michael, who was also in Ghana. While in Ghana, Michael went to music school where he learned engineering and composition. This is the sound of the new Liberia.

8. 2 Kings-Fine Girl

2 Kings representing the Liberian diaspora in Ghana. The song was recorded at Shadow’s studio in Budumburam Camp outside of Accra. I love the rhythm and interplay of the vocal delivery of this tune.

9. K-Zee-Kountry Chicken feat. Pepsi and Skinny

Another song produced by Deboy that I had to track down, after seeing the video on local TV, and it really is a popular tune. Benjamin and I got to see how popular one evening, when K-Zee performed at Groovies, a local bar. Every Friday night a live house band holds an open mic session and local singers and rappers perform their own songs and classic Afro-pop hits from places like South Africa, Congo, Ghana, and Nigeria. When K-Zee performed this Jump-up Soca inflected Gbema-Hipco hybrid, the crowd’s enthusiastic singing along and hand-waving participation made me feel like I was on the road at carnival. Since recording this song K-Zee has become part of Infectious Michael’s crew.

10. Noy-Z-4 Noy Z Bizness

Hipco artist John Bricks told me and Benjamin that Noy Z’s “I’ll Boke You”, and it’s message derailing the political corruption of the post-war transitional regime, really ignited the spread of Hipco across the country. On this song Noy-Z takes his turn at the Gbema-Hipco style, with fine results. Noy-Z’s brother Alonzo is a popular reggae singer based in Freetown.

11. L 2 Sweet-O Gye

I saw L 2 Sweet perform this song while I was DJing an Anti-gun rally run by Youth Crime Watch of Liberia in the Red Light market on the edge of Monrovia. His crew really impressed me with their coordinated dance routine, and the quality of their songwriting and productions. When we were looking for songs for the compilation, this is another one that I chased down, asking everyone I could about where it came from. Of course, it’s another Infectious Michael production.

12. David Mell-Hero

David Mell is Liberia’s R&B heartthrob. He mixes the crooning of American and Nigerian R&B singers to come up with a style he calls Soul-co. This was the only song included on the compilation that I actually heard about before getting to Liberia, thanks to the nice video of it on youtube. Another Infectious Michael production he told me he used a Ghanian rhythm to construct the Gbema backbeat.

13. Marie Nyenebo-Joya

Infectious Michael was actually the first producer I met in Liberia after linking up with Tan Tan another one of the rappers in his stable. He gave me this tune in a collection of songs for me to check out, and I was instantly drawn to this 218 BPM scorcher!

14. Shadow-Killing Me

Shadow is a producer, singer, and rapper based out of the Budumbura Camp in Accra (known locally as “Liberia Camp”.) Benjamin sent me to visit Shadow and his crew when I visited him for a week in Ghana. I was really amazed by what he was able to accomplish with the limited equipment that he has. All of the Liberian producers, Michael, Deboy, and Shadow are working on virus laden PC’s and pirated production software. It goes to show that you really don’t need the best and most expensive equipment to make it sound good! Shadow won best song with this tune at the 2010 All African Traditional Music Awards in Benin.

15. Shadow-Killing Me (Chief Boima Remix)

16. J.P. & De Royal Force-Make You Dance

This song blows my mind and my body. The bass kick interplay, between the American Crunk (or Juke) sensibility and the traditional rhythms at blazing speed, really makes me want to dance every time I hear it. This Shadow produced track might the pinnacle of the Bubu-Gbema-Hip Hop cross breed I’ve been looking for since I first heard it at a Sierra Leonean wedding years ago.

Photo courtesy of Sam Soko.

Interview: Sam Soko is the Kenyan Director Behind Sundance Hit, 'Softie'

We meet filmmaker Sam Soko who has made a stirring documentary about the Kenyan protest leader Boniface Mwangi

Filmmaker Sam Soko didn't intend on making a documentary about Kenyan photojournalist-turned-politician Boniface Mwangi.

The original idea he had was to make a manual of sorts, a short video guide, on how to protest, the do's and don't's. Soko, himself an activist artist who cut his teeth convincing friends to let him create political music videos for their apolitical songs, knew Mwangi's experience on the streets both photographing protests and staging them meant he had a lot to share with others.

But then came the blood. A thousand litres of it, to be precise. And the pigs. Dozens of them, with words like MPigs written on them. Like the graphic photos Mwangi had become known for taking—it was a sight you couldn't look away from. It was a protest Mwangi organized, in 2013, to decry corrupt members of the Kenyan parliament who had decided to increase their salaries, 2 months after taking office. And at his side, through the thick red liquid of it all, was Mwangi's wife, Njere, ready to be arrested with him.

"Once I was witness to his relationship, I started seeing him as a family man," Soko tells OkayAfrica. "Because he's planning a protest and all, but when you look at the footage, you start seeing the kids and you start seeing Njere. That's when it started hitting me, in the sense, that she was with him in such a crazy space."

Soko formed a creative and activist hub, called PAWA 254, with Mwangi, as they became part of the groundswell demanding democratic reforms in a country still left scarred from the division sewed between Kikuyu and Luo people by British colonizers. "We had a new Constitution at the time, and there was this hope that we finally could picket without being tear-gassed or being beaten, Like, our civil liberties could be held up." Instead, the government strengthened its police force into a notorious organization condemned by human rights activists. "That's very salient in the film," says Soko. "If you see how the police dress, for instance, at the beginning, it's very different; they become more militant towards the end."

Soko's debut feature-length documentary, Softie, which became the first Kenyan film to ever premiere at the Sundance Film Festival, earlier this year, is at once a love story between Mwangi and his wife and their three children, but also between Mwangi and his beloved Kenya, under president Uhuru Kenyatta. Central to the film is the tussle between how these different loves bump up against each other: what comes first — love of country or love of family?

We spoke to the Nairobi-based director about making the film, which opens in virtual cinemas, starting this Friday, September 18th.

Boniface Mwangi with his wife Photo courtesy of Sam Soko

OA: Early on in the film, we learn how steadfast Boniface Mwangi is — he talks about being willing to die for the ideals he believes in, which made me think of Nelson Mandela and his Rivonia Treason Trial speech. Boniface is someone in the present day who still shares this belief?

When we were working on the edit, and kind of crafting and thinking about what the story was going to be, something that we found that was really, really interesting is, with a lot of the stories, like the story of Nelson Mandela, you'd never see the other side. That's something we see later, up ahead, as a retrospective. We'd hear about Martin Luther King and then we'd read about Coretta Scott in, I think, 1990, like, 'Oh, this his was her struggle.' That sort of thing. But for me, Boniface and Njere represented a present day reality struggle that showcases what Mandela was going through, what Martin Luther was going through. That was kind of like unravelling the curtain; when you see Martin Luther marching, Coretta's at home, trying to help their kids do their homework. And this is the reality.

OA: And the film poses that question of love for your country versus love for your family, and which one should come first?

Exactly. They see it in different ways. Boniface sees it that if you improve the country, you improve the lives of those who you love. Njere's like, you have to have your family's back first. And that means everything else comes second. And she's right; she's not wrong. And he's not wrong.

OA: The film really is privy to some really private moments in Mwangi's life — how did you gain his trust?

When we started filming the short video, he was really involved with the protests, and we started doing the protests with him. So we were—quote, unquote—in the trenches with him in the protests, and somehow that's how he kind of welcomed us to his home. When you've been with someone in the streets, and you're tear-gassed together more than once, you already have a common bond. But then I started developing a relationship with him that was beyond the streets. Just checking up on him and asking, what's going on, what's taking place? That sort of thing. I think it took a while. And I think even from Njere, we kind of developed a kind of camaraderie that was separate from my relationship with Boniface, because I would actually be like, 'Hey, he said that, how does that make you feel?' And not necessarily on camera. But over time, he kind of accepted us to be there with a camera. At some point, I kind of felt like they were talking to me, and not necessarily the camera; like, the camera is kind of this thing that's there, but not there. That kind of trust, again, was built on a respect that I have for them and their values and what they're doing. I think that's something they saw. It made them trust me with their story and trust me with their family.

You're the director of the film, but you're also producer, writer and cinematographer. Did Boniface's own style as a photojournalist influence you in any way?

The film has three cinematographers, and a lot of my cinematography is within the intimate moments, because that's when they would only engage with someone they trust. But him being a photographer actually, to a point, made the work a bit hard because he's constantly looking at how you're doing it. He's in your face about the angle. He's like, 'Hey, why are you standing there, you should be there.' But in some places he did help 'cause he's been filming in the streets and filming protests for a very long time. So when you're there filming, he'll easily tell you, 'Dude, don't stand there. They're about to start tear-gassing. Go to the other side.' And it's weird, when you're on the other side and you're filming, and all of a sudden you see tear gas, you wonder, 'How the hell did he know?' You do that 234 times and you start knowing yourself, 'Oh, this is how,' and he was really helpful in that sense.

I can imagine that filming during the protests must have been one of the big challenges of making this film but what else did you struggle with? There were death threats for Mwangi, did that happen to you as well?

It's so funny, when you're filming and when you're in the protests, it's adrenaline talking. So you're not really thinking about whether you're going to be okay. This one time, I got arrested because the cop said I was a spy for the protesters. [We had everything] from cameras breaking to sound equipment messing up, but when it became a more political story, with death threats, it became scary even for editing the film. Because you don't know who's watching you. This one time, I was with him in the car, filming, and we were being followed. So we kind of had to be very careful who we are telling about the story. It was a very deep secret that we were making this film and there are people who are watching it now asking, 'How could you keep this from us from all these years?' Because we had to do that. Especially when the family was in the US. We had to do that for the sake of safety for him, Boniface, for his family but also the film team. I remember doing the pitches with different names. But then we were also lucky that we had our co-producing partner in Canada, Eye Steel Film, so they were able to house the edit there. I went to Canada to edit and that kind of also gives you a kind of freedom to think and work and create. That was the reality, and now I think we have PTSD from the film. I can't film another protest. I'm sorry. I'm out. Like, it tapped me out.

There are similarities to the Black Lives Matter protests here in the US, against police brutality and violence but the slogan takes on a different resonance in places like Kenya, where the police force is particularly heavy-handed. How do you see these protests as being similar but also different?

There are two things that you learn with the film. One, our voices can never be silenced. They will try, but I think humanity is like a pressure cooker. The more you boil us, the more you put that heat, the more explosive we become. And through people like Boniface's life, you see that there are human beings who exist, who do extraordinary things.

The other thing is the idea of activism doesn't necessarily just speak to the person who's on the street. It doesn't necessarily speak to the person who's holding the placard. An activist is someone like Njere and her life, and her family. And Khadija [Mohamed, Mwangi's campaign manager]. She's such a strong and powerful activist in her own right. She was Boniface's campaign manager for free. The work they did was so powerful. And you have these other people in the background who are doing such incredible things. The sum total of what they've done is [to] instigate… We have an election next year, but I am so sure that we are going to have so many candidates who are going to be like, 'We want you to donate to our campaign. We have these values and beliefs; this is what we want to do.' That is how we need to go about change or add on to the conversations of change.

The same thing that's happening with the Black Lives Matters movement. Yes, there are people going to the street and we should keep going to the street. But we need to push people to engage in policy and make sure these policy changes are made.

We need to stand for what we believe in, as filmmakers in spaces where we feel oppression exists. Like the rules that have come out with the Academy Awards, these are rules that should be celebrated because they add on to that conversation of diversity and representation. All these things—that sum total—is what makes the difference. It's going beyond the streets and going beyond our Tweets, going beyond our Facebook messages, making films and sharing films. We just need to keep pumping up the volume, keeping the heat up, keep pushing. It's gonna take a while, but we'll get there.

Photojournalist-turned-politician Boniface Mwangi during a protest in Nairobi, Kenya Photo courtesy of Sam Soko

That's where you as a filmmaker come in—this film was the first Kenyan film to get into Sundance, where it won a special editing prize.

There's another film I'm producing and, and, yes, I had my film at Sundance, that's great. But there's this other filmmaker who's making another film, and it's so cool, and this is the thing—we need to keep bouncing off this energy and this light and this vibe, and just keep pushing and making sure that the wheels keep turning. That's what we're all about.

How do you renew your strength, as a filmmaker but also as a Kenyan and as an African?

Being a Kenyan is hard. I think being an African is hard. Like, it's hard. There's a line I heard Boniface say once: 'I love my country, but I am afraid of my government.' But the way in which, personally, I find energy is when I meet new filmmakers, or you know, people who are like starting out and they want to make films that sound totally crazy. And they believe that they can do it. And I'm like, 'yes, yes, keep going!' We are planning to do a premiere. We have not confirmed the date yet but we're thinking it's around going to be early October in Kenya, because Kenyans haven't watched it. The government gave us an adult rating. They're putting us on the same level as porn.

This is the same government that banned Wanuri Kahiu's Rafiki because of its homosexual theme…

Exactly, that's what we're getting but the lemonade that we've made out of all this is, 'Guess what? This is cinema!' We're going to take it to a cinema. People are going to come to watch it in a cinema or watch it at home or watch it in the best way possible. And the people who've watched it have appreciated it as a film and a story, and their story. They've seen a reflection of themselves. That gives me so much joy because the Kenyans who've watched it, when they give you feedback, they say, this is truth; this is our truth. And they don't see just an activist. They see a couple struggling with love. They see our history in the last 10 years. And they're like, 'What the hell, we lived this?' and they see the things that are unresolved — and many things are unresolved. Seeing that reaction gives me so much strength and hope. But it's hard. It's very hard. Because, you know, you have to wake up and see the policeman getting a bribe. And you're like, 'Homie??'

"SOFTIE" Movie Poster

Watch the trailer for Softie here.

Softie | Official Trailer | A film by Sam Soko

get okayafrica in your inbox


Whoisakin Channels His Love For Anime In the New Video For ‘Magic’

The single, featuring Olayinka Ehi, comes off his latest EP Full Moon Weekends.