It was a cold night that early morning on March 3, 2017. It supposed to be a delightful night to keep people curdled to their pillows but it was soon become one of the worst nights that Liberians will forever remember.
A black vehicle banged into a concrete wall at the headquarters of the United Nations Missions in Liberia (UNMIL) in Sinkor.
It summersaulted and in no time people rushed to on the scene. Blood covered the wet motorway. The driver of the vehicle was killed instantly, his head smashed against the road, oozed with blood.
The driver was Quincy B, the biggest, most talented and most promising Liberia musician. He died that day and a portion of Liberian arts and culture died with him.
News of his death spread across the country, taking social media by storm. The favorable aura of the scarce downpour of rain amid the height of the dry season seemed vanished.
A deep cloud of solemnity subdued the nation, hearts and minds struck of mighty blow deep down their deepest despair. Shakespeare was right: “When beggars die, there are no comets seen; The Heavens themselves blaze forth the death of princes.”
Born Quincy Burrowes on April 24, 1996, Quincy B was indeed the Liberian prince of music. He was a singer, a producer and a writer. From his first hit “My Dream” with Ghana-based Liberian rapper, Scientific, to his last “I Pledge”, a duet single with Musulyn Sweetz Myers, his songs touched Liberians home and abroad. His short life—and even shorter musical career—was evidence that time is people’s worst enemy, not people, not natural disasters, not wars.
Since his death, Liberia has not been the same. It wouldn’t even after his must-anticipated funeral on March 25 and burial thereafter. It is going to go down in history as the one of the most attended events, comparable to some of the biggest soccer matches and political rallies ever.
There was more to Quincy B than his melodious voice and harmonious notes, and reaction of the nation might be a fraction of his true essence.
In a divisive year, when Liberians go to the polls to elect a new president and members of the Legislature, he, in an unfortunate way, has rallied the country, reminding everyone that we are all Liberians despite their different labels.
He gave us a dose of hip-co with a prescription of fine Liberian colloquial dispensed to cure our amnesia. He gloried in the Liberian identity and proved that it must be promoted after all.
Every Liberian agrees that the biggest problem responsible for the country’s backwardness is the lack of patriotism. We can trace this deeply entrenched jingoism to the absence of nationalism. It is an open secret that Liberia is losing its identity, and the lack of Liberian appreciation for Liberian arts has taken a nosedive.
This is no mere public misconception, it is a living experience. Craftsmen, struggle for recognition and scramble a handful of foreign buyers.
The textile industry has not explored the potential of a bigger market, still stuck to traditional means of production, marketing and sales.
And musician, likewise, are still lurk in a dark room, where their songs are excess to requirement. They are in a perennial plead for air time and their record impacted by the ravages of piracy.
But Quincy B and co had a strategy to win this ongoing battle for nationalistic consciousness. It is a campaign that began in the first four to five years of the New Millennium, some ten years before the ‘wondaboy’ graced the scene with his classic R&B genre of hip-co.
It had started with “I book you”, “Strange Food” and “Technique”. Later would come “Pot boiling”, “Togba Like Me” and “They Lied to Us”.
All of these make full use of the ordinary, daily Liberian conversation and expressions. They, including the ones Quincy has left for us that reinforce the generational cries of the pioneers of Liberian music, Liberian arts and culture.
Over the years, people like Morris Dorleh, Miatta Fahnbulleh, Jones Dopoe, Peter Ballah and Bai T. Moore made the point as musicians, writers and cultural activists. Some of them died in the struggle of the promotion of the Liberian identity, indispensible to national progress and economic recovery. Quincy shared this same, old philosophy. “The young and the oldest, let’s put Liberia first,” he sang.
Quincy B was not just a sweet-singing songster. His career summed up voice quality, cultured lyrics and the power of the Liberian colloquial. He made the case that the Liberia colloquial is indeed a language worth glorying in.
It is no coincidence that since his death Liberian social media users have found it more effective to communicate with the broken syntax and casual expression of proper English. He blended his simple English so musically, and it is no doubt that he was a two-legged master class of the hip-co art. He gave it a Midas touch and it shone like new moon.
What other message did Quincy need to send with his hip-co? In “Olukupay”, “Mr. All the Time” and the heavily Gbehma-styled “Hitch” with K-Zee, he praised Liberian girl in an unfamiliar way familiar to all. He would not fall short of praises even in his eventual last release with Sweetz, “I Pledge”: “Ma, your body na play, just like car loader in my heart, cutting space. You’re sweet pass killy-willy.”
The same can said about “Liberian girl”—not the one sung by Michael Jackson—a song dedicated to the beauty of our mothers and sisters. He recognized the torments of this world and urged young people to be strong and never give up as well as not to be carried away by worldly effects.
“The thing your ma and pa start you can’t finish it,” he advised in “Olukupay”.
In “Friend” with Soul Fresh, he further advised youths to choose their friends carefully, singing: “I need a friend, not the jibber one, the wor-wor one.”
He did not fall short of a logical contradiction in “My Dream” when he at the same time and space advised young people to be willing to take meaningful risk in their career, sacrificing their time and effort to achieve their goals. Furthermore, his Christian heritage did not hide as he teamed up with Soul Fresh in “Praise”.
“Unto You I give my praise…without Your grace I am going to lose my way,” he sang.
As a child of the 1990s, when civil war ravaged Africa’s oldest independent nation, his life would be impacted by the aftermaths of the bloodlust. He, like millions of Liberians who survived the carnage, understood the full extent of destruction Liberian had undergone.
Joining the lamentation was in no way of following the same tune. Just like all the L.I.B. boys, he, too, began to question authorities and lay blame for the backwardness of the motherland.
He recognized the contributions of the other facets of society but it was with the egoistic politicians he was ready to pick bones. Whether it was in a slum community littered with makeshift houses as in the official video of “Check and Balance”, he would just cry out “no justice for the poor.”
Quincy B was very much aware of religious tension between Christians and Muslims that seems to wane but slowly brewed. Amidst quest by a good portion of the Christian community to make Liberian a Christian state rather than a secular state it is.
In his kudos-filled “Liberian girl” he highlighted the name “Fatumata” in an array of traditional Liberian names in a true recognition of Mandingo (Islamic) tradition.
He took that recognition one more step when he used a Mandingo interjection in the refrain of the song “I Pledge”, which is the most singular part of the song. King Sao Bosso himself would have loved to listen to this song.
Quincy B was true patriot. Even those polemical politicians, who have in recent time equated outspokenness to being unpatriotic, had no qualm on the brother. Fully aware of and talentedly capable of promoting the Liberian way of life, he took to the microphone and sang these as he saw them.
There was no fear of driving away investors. To him, to rightfully celebrate Liberia was to make known the good, bad and ugly. He promoted more than criticized, and if he had dedicated a lifetime to decrying the ills of the Liberian society, he would have equally amassed more admirers.
Who would turn off the music when the record that plays it is that of Quincy B’s?
When you listen to his version of “Hello”, originally done by the British musician Adele, a track that won three Grammy Awards in 2016, how can you think otherwise?
His choice to do a reversion of Adele’s “Hello” showcased his nostalgia at a very young age.
He sunk deep into cheerful memory evoked by the song as if the 1990s were not horrid years. When he was born in 1996 Liberia was at war with itself, in fact the same month he was born.
The leaders of the country could not settle a little dispute that got very much out of ands and many people died. They say it was “the day our leaders went mad”.
Another crisis would begin two years later and would not end until 2003 when President Charles Taylor finally agreed to go to exile in Nigeria. Quincy B might have spent ample in Ghana growing up as a child but a real patriot as he was would find it difficult even in a land of milk and honey away from home.
So we see that Quincy B was not an ordinary person. His contribution to Liberia can be compared to any great patriot Liberia has ever had.
He surely earned his place alongside a pantheon of inspiring Liberians who championed the growth and development of their country during their lifetimes.
He dared venture in a terrain where many had threaded before him but all hardly spoken of or forgotten. Over the years, singers such as Tecumsey Roberts, T. Kpaan Nimely and Princess Fatu Gayflor came and left. Some died in the struggle.
The ‘wondaboy’ knew those things but rationalized that it was a good thing for one to die trying than to die having lain idle.
Considering the number of artistes who have neglected their calling, stopped plying their trade for politics—some have even thrown their hats in the ring for this impending elections—we say hats off to the man who took Liberian music to another level.
The bar he has set is so high that it demands the very best from any artiste following Quincy B’s death.
This is indeed a new beginning in the history of Liberian music, with Quincy B being a chief architect. If he had the chance to help me pen this tribute, he would simply say: “I am Quincy B, I’m meant to be.”
James Harding Giahyue, Contributing Writer