REPORTING FROM MONROVIA, LIBERIA
They are two of this country’s most celebrated up-and-coming young entertainers. Takun J is a rapper who has specialized in the deeply Liberian genre known as Hip Co. Sweetz is the most popular female R&B singer in Liberia at the moment.
They both insist that they are not just on a mission to make compelling music, but that they are determined to show the world that there is more to Liberia than civil war, poverty and hardship. They want people in other countries to know that Liberia has an active, vibrant entertainment and music culture where young Liberians are enjoying a growing number of new artists.
“I would like the world to know what we’re really about,” Takun J said, in an interview with BET.com. “So much of what people hear and think about regarding Liberia is negative. But I want people to know that we are people of substance and originality. We have a lot to offer the world.”
He was born in Monrovia, the country’s capitol, and survived Liberia’s brutal 14-year-civil war with his single mother and three siblings. He had a passion for sports, particularly soccer. In the meantime, he started performing at local talent shows. When he graduated from high school, he made the firm decision he would become a music artist.
His first single, “We’ll Spay You,” was his introduction to the musical audience in Liberia and it was followed by his next single, “You Meaning Me.”
For a time, he was in a refugee camp in Ghana and the Ivory Coast. He returned to Liberia to further pursue his career as a musician. In 2007, he released The Time, his first full length album, which included the song “Police Man.” It is a song that offers a straightforward critique of police corruption in Liberia. It quickly became a hit.
Nonetheless, he had some skirmishes with the police after that, including two arrests and a beating.
Not one to be deterred, he was released from jail and performed that same night with a black eye.
Since then, he has become one of the most highly recognized and popular artists in Liberia’s Hip Co scene. It is a genre that blends conventional hip hop beats with Liberia’s distinctive vernacular and speaking styles.
He has become an outspoken champion of rape prevention and has come to be something of a national spokesman on behalf of the safety of Liberian women against attacks.
Sweetz, on the other hand, had a very different background. Born to Liberian parents who came to United States during the war, she was raised in Minneapolis, which is home to a significant Liberian population. She started learning dance and singing actively. She participated in a few recording projects while in the States.
In her late teens, she moved to Liberia and became involved in the music scene there and became an instant sensation.
She became a part of MTN Project Fame West Africa, an American Idol-style show based in Nigeria. She was there for three months, competed and came in fifth place and was the only non-Nigerian in the competition.
She released four singles that became hits in Liberia and beyond. Soon after, she won best female entertainer at a Liberian competition and then won best new artist in the Liberian Entertainment Awards earlier this year.
Like Takun J, she feels strongly that she has a role to play as something of an ambassador for Liberia.
“I feel I have a very strong role of promoting Liberia,” she said,” speaking with BET.com. “But my role is beyond just promoting Liberia. I also feel I need to promote the youth of Liberia.”
The 20-year-old singer added: “I try to expose and encourage the talent of other young girls in this country. I have started to give young girls the exposure and experience. Beyond that, I want people to know that Liberia is a safe place. It’s almost like a never-ending vacation when you get here. You never want to leave.”
Follow Jonathan Hicks on Twitter: @HicksJonathan
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(Photo: Jonathan P. Hicks/BET)
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