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Hipco Straight From Liberia

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When people speak of the musical richness of West African nations, genres originating from Ghana and Nigeria tend to dominate such discussions. The Ghanaians are the source of the latest dancing craze to hit international scenes, the Azonto, but they have also brought to the world hiplife and its predecessor, highlife.

The Nigerians on the other hand have dominated the musical scene with genres such as Afrobeat and afro-juju.

Because of the overshadowing effect these two nations have on other regional music forms, it is hard to appreciate other music genres from the region, especially from a country like Liberia.

Liberia boasts of several musical genres, but the one that is currently gathering great attraction is known as hipco.

Hipco (alternatively Co), a musical genre in which the lyrics are in colloquial Liberian English (hence hip hop colloquial, hipco), is a genre which first sprang forth in the 80s, but the First Liberian Civil War nearly killed the genre before it even gained a footing. The mayhem of the war made it impossible to think of recording music, and it was only in 1997 during the lull between the first and second Liberian Wars that the music started making its way back to the homes of Liberians.

Developing in the midst of a people ravaged by war, the music became the people’s voice by highlighting the ills in society, reaffirming people’s wills to persevere through it all, and offering some hope in an otherwise bleak environment.

The war is over in Liberia, but the societal issues raised in those songs largely persist, which is the reason why the songs are growing in popularity.

The brutal militias do not trouble Liberians anymore, but this extortionist role has been taken up by the largely corrupt police, an issue brought up in the song “Police Man” by Takun J, a leading hipco artist. That song led to the arrest of anyone who the police thought was Takun J.

In many ways, this genre still seems to be in its infancy because of the ‘infrastructural’ problems that plague it. For one, there isn’t a copyright system that would enable musicians to copyright their music or earn royalties when their songs are used in ads and the like. The little focus that the government focuses on music is limited largely to gospel, thus, leaving hipco artists to their own devices.

But even with such odds stacked against them, I can only see the genre growing further. American hip hop, after all, came from destitute inner cities and has grown to be a multibillion industry.

So long as the music strikes a chord with its audience, it can only grow. Hipco strongly resonates with the travails of daily Liberian life, and it will surely become more commonplace in the world. Junior Freeman and African Soldier already made it to the West African scene with Da My Area, so it won’t be long now before hipco tracks receive airplay farther afield.


By Matengo Chwanya

Sources: Economist/ Okayafrica/ Ilabliberia/ Theguardian/