Pushing a Refugee-Camp-Born Vision

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Monrovia – The sonorous voices of nine Liberian males burst out in unison during singing of “Africa”, the Title song of a 12-song Track (on a disc) being launched at the St. Matthew Lutheran Parish, Wood Camp, Paynesville, outside of Monrovia.

The nine guys are members of Ebony Heritage Male Chorus.

The group also did the song in Kru, a Liberian dialect of the south-eastern part.

The group sang five other songs on the Album.

“We sang ‘You Are Welcome’, ‘Karnuo’, ‘O May Gee’ and Aba Glaypo Vlen’,” Jackson explained to me at the launch. “As you heard, we did ‘You Are Welcome’ in Twi (“Akwaaba”), a Ghanaian language, two Liberian dialects—Bassa and Kissi—and in French.”

According to Jackson,  ‘Karnuo’ is of the Gio dialect of Liberia, meaning ‘Your Come’, while ‘O May Gee’ is from the Bassa dialect of Liberia, meaning ‘Let the Holy Spirit Come’, and ‘Aba Glaypo Vlen’ is from the Bassa dialect of Liberia, meaning ‘Our Heavenly Father’.

Shadrach Giaguee, another member, who is also a Financial Secretary of the group, is sang on a tone similar to Jackson’s.

“I sing on Baritone,” Shadrack said in an interview.

The group decked in African attire with the colors of the Liberian Flag—red, white, and blue—for the singing of “Africa”, “You Are Welcome”, “Karnuo” and “O May Gee” being the first set of songs. For the second set, the group changed into another African garment—made from lace material—with a Map of Africa (in colors red, white and blue) sewn to the front of the shirt.

The type of music Ebony Heritage Male Chorus does is called Acapella, Mr. John Freeman Zur-Bah, Manager of the group, told me at the launching ceremony. “Acapella means singing without any musical instrument made from the physical environment. The only instruments are the singer’s tongues, lips, hands and the legs.”

Manager Zur-Bah, a current employee of the National Elections Commissions (NEC) of Liberia, had lived at the Ghana’s refugee camp, where he taught Geography at the Center’s only High School (Buduburam Refugee School, or BRS) and met the group’s founder, Sam T.O. Wologbo, also a refugee there.

Later, in 1993, Mr. Zur-Bah became a student at the refugee camp’s annex of the Institute of Export and Shipping Management (IESM), a Ghanaian school, where he taught after graduation in1994.

Mr. Zurbah said he doesn’t sing, “but I can spend any amount I have on promotion of another person’s music talent,” the former refugee told me at the launching program.

On the question about the Vision of Ebony Heritage Male Chorus, Mr. Zurbah replied: “The Vision of the group is to preach the Gospel through song, or better the Music Ministry. This is the inspiration God gave to the founder of Ebony Heritage Male Chorus, Sam T. O. Wologbo.”

Many of the founding members were students in various learning institutions in the refugee camp and outside of the camp, Mr. Zurbah said.

The Ebony Heritage Male Chorus was founded at the Buduburam Refugee Camp, Ghana in 2004, with Samuel D. Jugbor, Lawrence Yealue, Kotavious M. Stephens, Pastor Leon Kofi, Paul R. Myers and Albert Young as some of the founding members.

One of the group’s first sponsors on the refugee camp is a female Dutch Missionary, Johanna Van Rossum, who later became the group’s Manager, but later deported by the Ghanaian government in 2008, on allegation of supporting a group of Liberian ladies causing “public disturbance” (protesting against inhumane treatment by some officials of the Ghanaian government) on the refugee camp.

In a short period of maturity on the refugee camp, the group started receiving invitations from several Ghanaian Christian organizations to perform at their programs, one of the events attended by the then President of Ghana, John A. Kufour. One of the groups that sought Ebony’s presence is Music In Africa (2005).

The refugee-camp-born had also received invitation from Nigerians to perform in Nigerian Churches in Lagos State and Abuja, and honorably hosted on one of Nigeria’s internationally viewed Television Network, ATM, in Abuja.

News about the existence of gospel-wave-making-Liberian Acapella group soon filtered to Home Country, which caught the attention of the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) that responded to the “news” by inviting Ebony Heritage Male Chorus to perform at UNMIL’s program—“Sexual Exploitation and Abuse (SEA)”—held at the Antoinette Stadium in 2006.

The UNMIL’s program had a spiritual hook on members of the group, still holding onto their refugee status, to stay, which many of them did a short period later after the singing visit.

“Mr. Zur-Bah offered his entire house to us in Liberia for our practice sessions and, sometime, to pass the night in,” another member of the group told this reporter.

However, after the UNMIL’s program, many members of the group started looking elsewhere, outside of Liberia.

“Most of the founding members later left Ghana and Liberia to seek greener pastures in other parts of the World, especially the United States of America,” Mr. Zurbah said.

Other Gospel music groups performed at the launch. They included: The Prophetic City Ministries’ Choir, Soul Clinic community, Paynesville; Divine Worshippers Acapella Singing Ministries (DWASM), Soul Clinic community, Paynesville; Alliance For The Kingdom’s Glory (Acapella group), Soul Clinic community, Paynesville; and Adventist Messengers, of the Seventh-Day Adventist Church.

The emotionally hurting part of the launching ceremony of the musical album by Ebony Heritage Male Chorus was a No Launch—because the Chief Launcher, Liberian business Tycoon George Kailondo, was absent. And there was no representative from him.

“I felt he would not be here today, probably due to another engagement, but I believe he would help beyond today,” Manager John Freeman Zur-Bah announced.

Ebony Heritage Male Chorus was born at a time the love of most Liberian refugees (including the writer of this story) was dwindling for The Trumpet, the most popular Liberian Gospel group in the Acapella category on the refugee camp and beyond, beginning from 1992.

Music, especially the Acapella kind, was one of the creative acts used to heal the refugees’ sored emotions created by the news of mass deaths and bombardment of homes in the refugees’ home country.

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