Giving Voice to Hope: Music of Liberian Refugees

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Giving Voice to Hope: Music of Liberian Refugees
(CD cover)
The University of Alberta's partnership with Liberian refugees

A collaborative CD project (musicians of the Buduburam Liberian refugee camp, the Center for Youth Empowerment, a Liberian NGO, and the University of Alberta) drawing the world's attention to issues of conflict and forced migration in West Africa, while supporting a Liberian refugee community through music...

"Music is the best weapon to bring change and also bring peace to the world. I and the Blacks Unlimited wish these musicians in Buduburam refugee camp all the best in their endeavours." - Thomas Mapfumo, "the Lion of Zimbabwe".

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The University of Alberta and the Buduburam refugee camp

Canada's University of Alberta has a long and rich history of partnerships in Africa. Recently, a number of faculties along with University of Alberta International have been supporting initiatives in Ghana that involve the University of Ghana, rural Ghanaian villages, and the Buduburam Refugee Settlement near Accra.

Ghana, West Africa, showing location of Buduburam camp, 44 km west of Ghana's capital, Accra

Buduburam is a Liberian refugee camp located 44 km west of Ghana's capital, Accra. With the first refugees arriving in 1990, the UN High Commission for Refugees has helped provide shelter for thousands of people fleeing Liberian civil wars. Once home to over 40,000 inhabitants, Buduburam is currently undergoing transition as residents attempt to re-establish their lives in Liberia. Click here for a slideshow prepared by NYU's Journalism Institute.

The University of Alberta is walking with this community on their voyage of return to Liberian society.

Music in Refugee Camps

Music is vital to human life, like food and air. Of this there is no better proof than the prevalence of music-making under the most adverse conditions, including the extraordinary efflorescence of music in refugee camps. Disasters (whether natural or man-made) and the forced migrations that follow are chaotic, cacophonous. But in refugee camps life’s regular rhythms begin once again to beat. Despite tragedies of loss and dislocation, a subsistence economy, extreme social heterogeneity and marginal living conditions, a soundscape of noise gradually tunes into music of striking emotional depth, testimony to the remarkable resilience of the human spirit.

Music of refugee camps isn’t founded upon social harmony. Rather music is a technique for harmonizing, a strategy for survival: transmitting social values, restoring individual and collective balance. Music – expressing the inexpressible in human experience – is catharsis and consolation. Music creates connections, fosters reconciliations, builds communities transcending ethnic difference. Music empowers, raising consciousness beyond necessities of subsistence. Music helps people forget their pain, remember themselves and re-imagine their futures. Music critiques power, protests injustice, instills hope and fortitude. Such music can be a progressive force for social change.

These young musicians of Buduburam sing not only for themselves, for camp members, or for Liberians, but for the world. Amplifying their voices, this recording aims to draw global attention to their stories and to other humanitarian crises of conflict and forced migration in West Africa and beyond. The daily news duly reports such catastrophes in dry, detached prose, easily tuned out. By contrast, music engages empathy, counteracting the all-too-human tendency to dehumanize the suffering of “others”, those who seem unlike “us”. Music of refugee camps recounts humanity’s suffering, while confirming suffering’s humanity. Such music reminds us that “us” is always the entire human family, while giving voice to hope, against all odds, in song.

--Michael Frishkopf

Watch this short video documentary about Shadow and popular music in the camp (30 min)(15 min version)

Music in Buduburam…Music in West Africa

The music on this CD presents a broad palette of styles—gospel, reggae, highlife, R&B, and hiphop—popular among youth across West Africa (and worldwide), but also displaying features particular to Liberia, Ghana, and Buduburam.

While camp musicians are Liberians, they’ve all lived in Ghana (only 44 km from its capital, Accra) for years. Some were even born there. Others were raised in Liberia, leaving at different ages and periods throughout the civil war, often arriving in Ghana following sojourns elsewhere. Thus their music is woven of variegated biographical threads, each stringing a welter of life-experiences, musical and otherwise.

Yet Buduburam musical life is uniformly framed by the camp environment, suffused by Ghana’s mass music media, readily accessible via radio and television, cassettes and CDs (many of them cheap bootlegs, laptop-burned in camp “CD Shacks”)—even Internet and cellphone. Those media, in turn, are well-connected to global musical flows.

Thus the music you hear recorded on this CD connects the local, the regional, and the global in complex ways.

Western listeners may be surprised that much of this music should sound so familiar, despite its geo-social remoteness. But this is the sound of young West Africa today, infused with local meanings, though West Africans themselves readily acknowledge its transnational dimensions.

Confusion is understandable, because Western and West African popular musics are inextricably intertwined. From the 16th century, slaves brought African musics to the New World. Mobile populations—merchants and mariners, later missionaries and colonists—conveyed European musics and instruments to Africa. In the 18th and 19th centuries, repatriated slaves (many headed for Sierra Leone and Liberia), soldiers, and sailors brought Africa-rooted musics of the Americas back to Africa. Migrant laborers (especially the seafaring Kru of Liberia) popularized the guitar, and catalyzed formation of regional styles like palm wine, and gome.

Throughout the 20th century, new media and migration continued to promote musical mixing, leading to West African interpretations of Brazilian samba, Afro-Cuban music, Jamaican reggae and dancehall, and North American swing, rock, jazz, funk, gospel, soul, R&B and hiphop, alongside the evolution of distinctively West African genres: the palm wine guitar of Liberian Kru; Ghanaian highlife; Nigerian juju and Afrobeat; and hiphop fusions such as Ghanaian hiplife, and Liberian hipco. Meanwhile, successive waves of African music broke over the West, through voluntary immigration, and later via “world” music. As mass media technology advanced from phonodiscs and radio to Internet and satellite TV, the cycling of music between “West” and “Africa” has accelerated apace. Indeed, sharp distinctions between these “musical regions” are increasingly difficult to draw—particularly when musicians of West African origin reside in Paris, London, or New York!

If highlife sounds definitively West African, even “Western” genres have re-rooted to blossom in characteristically West African forms and meanings, most evident here in use of Liberian languages, but also in melodies, textures, and grooves. For instance, many West African churches (Buduburam once contained over 120) feature elaborate musical liturgies, fusing global traditions with local sensibilities—critical tools for attracting and engaging congregations. Church is often where musical talents are first discovered and nurtured, and local styles of gospel and Christian hymnody have become dominant genres of popular music. Dislocations of war may have disconnected camp musicians from venerable Liberian oral traditions. But ironies of mass media—channeling satellite TV and Internet into the camp—connect people in new ways. As a result, camp residents are remarkably hip to global music scenes.

And they are tech-savvy too: all the tracks on this disc were composed and digitally recorded by musicians themselves, mostly by multitracking vocals with software MIDI sequencers. (One irony—hi-tech production in a refugee camp—can be explicated by another: digital instrumentation is far more economical than acoustic.) While recording standards aren’t perfect, they’re surprisingly good, considering the circumstances. And these tracks are inherently valuable as digital camp artifacts, reproduced as we received them from musicians. Any rough acoustic edges tell stories of their own.

But soaring beyond cybersound, indefatigable humanity here emerges in singing voices: youthful, harmonized, powerfully expressive, distilling dreams: simple hopes for more ordinary lives, grander visions for a peaceful Africa. Their poetry marks this music as distinctively Buduburam – not just Liberian or Ghanaian. Through West Africa’s cheerful musical idioms, singers cry out against war, violence and corruption, calling for unity and peace, envisioning a better future for themselves, for Liberia, for Africa, and for the world.

—Michael Frishkopf

Historical Background

Liberia, “Land of the Free”, was colonized by freed black slaves from the United States under the direction of the American Colonization Society. The country declared independence in 1847. The American minority never integrated into the ethnically diverse land, and instead came to dominate the country, exploiting its native inhabitants. After generations of marginalization, Master Sergeant Samuel K. Doe, an ethnic Krahn, overthrew the Americo-Liberian elite in a 1980 coup, vowing to represent the indigenous people’s interests. Doe quickly evolved from a liberator into a corrupt dictator, and by 1989 Liberia had suffered complete economic collapse and erupted into a civil war as rival rebel groups fought to seize power.

Among those rebel groups, the National Patriot Front of Liberia (NPFL), led by Charles Taylor, became infamous for its abuse of civilians and use of child soldiers. During the first period of conflict between 1989 and 1997, regional troops were deployed and attempts to implement peace agreements (brokered by ECOWAS [Economic Community of West African States]) and hold elections were continuously frustrated by outbreaks of violence. Following the Cotonou Peace Agreement in 1993, UNOMIL (United Nations Observer Mission in Liberia) was established, the first United Nations peacekeeping mission created to support an existing regional peacekeeping effort.

Though Taylor effectively took power from Doe in 1990, he was only legitimized later once a ceasefire was in place and the 1997 United Nations monitored election took place, temporarily restoring peace. But with anti-Taylor rebel groups operating in northern and southeastern counties and reconciliation between political parties hindered by ongoing hostilities and human rights abuses by the NPFL, full scale war soon resumed. By 2003 the Liberian conflicts had left between 150,000 and 200,000 Liberians (the majority of whom were civilians) dead, 800,000 internally displaced, and a further 850,000 as refugees spread across West Africa, sometimes moving from camp to camp across borders as conflict flared in Sierra Leone, Guinea and Ivory Coast.

In 2003 Charles Taylor relinquished power and today stands trial accused of war crimes for his role in Sierra Leone’s brutal conflict. Peace accords were signed, a transitional government was put in place, and in 2005 Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was elected President, becoming Africa’s first democratically elected female head of state. Today Liberia struggles to rebuild itself and to address the development challenges endemic in the region. With staggering unemployment rates and the majority of the population living below the poverty line, crime is an ongoing problem. United Nations peacekeepers remain engaged in training police and military personnel and in providing stability as the country rebuilds its governance infrastructure.

Hopeful for the nation’s future, Liberian refugees continue to return home, some after living in exile for as long as 18 years, with children who have never set foot in their native land.

--Eilis Pourbaix

Buduburam: A Sketch

In the vibrant Buduburam community, bright concrete houses with tin roofs are crammed together in an endless maze where dingy chickens, the occasional goat and forlorn looking dogs dart across haphazard paths. There is garbage strewn liberally over the dirt where water from the well or urine constantly trickle, weaving between the ditches. During the rainy season children run outside to bathe, grabbing every receptacle imaginable, digging holes they line with plastic bags to collect whatever water they can. Outside of the main strip, people squat over coals cooking corn or fish to sell, or washing laundry in buckets. The women are brightly clothed, children fastened to them snugly with multicoloured lapas. Around each corner you may hear heated discussion and hearty laughter, megaphone wielding street preachers, vendors pitching their wares or trotro drivers announcing destinations with competing insistence. And everywhere, at any time during the night or day, there is music: drumming, impromptu gospel, children singing clapping songs, or grainy highlife blaring from a radio as residents hum along.

Located on a small stretch of land 44 kilometres west of Ghana’s capital Accra, Buduburam was established in 1990 as a reception centre for Liberians fleeing the civil war. Constructed as an emergency humanitarian project to hold a maximum of 8,000 people, Buduburam evolved into a thriving, albeit struggling, community of 40,000 at its peak. The camp’s inhabitants represented over 16 ethnic groups, many of whom had fought against each other in the war.

Ghanaian churches were quick to respond with food and clothing, and the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) organized ration distribution, medical services and shelter. As structures became more permanent, community leaders created an overarching governance body to address issues ranging from domestic disputes to HIV/AIDS. While the Ghanaian government maintained a small police force in the camp, the community fielded a neighbourhood watch program of 200 volunteers.

Although Buduburam had access to sporadic electricity, there was no running water or effective waste management system, and malaria and diarrhea became persistent health problems. Numerous community and non-governmental organizations constructed wells and latrines and residents organized regular trash cleanups. While qualified teachers and resources were scarce, scores of schools operated in Buduburam, often with a volunteer staff. Over 200 locally organized churches re-established social networks, partnered with aid organizations and provided important outlets for post-conflict healing.

For 18 years Buduburam saw waves of incoming and departing refugees as conflict simmered in Liberia, and in 2007 the UNHCR declared an end to United Nations assisted repatriation programs. As Buduburam’s residents return home with hopes of lasting peace and prosperity in their country, they carry with them the spirit of resilience, resourcefulness and cooperation that flourished in this community. In the words of one resident, “A refugee camp is a training ground for teaching people to live together in unity.” The protracted refugee experience for many ends with bitter sweetness, as they return with memories of the unique community they forged in exile to the uncertain landscape of post-war Liberia.

--Eilis Pourbaix

The Project

Popular music has emerged within Buduburam Refugee Settlement, responding to musical inclinations of residents and the felt need to express individual and collective experiences of displacement, loss, reconciliation, and hope.

The University of Alberta, in a cooperative multi-faculty initiative involving faculty, staff, and students, is engaged in the production and distribution of a music CD, entitled Giving Voice to Hope: Music of Liberian Refugees, featuring 16 Liberian musical groups who have resided as refugees in Buduburam. The music CD is a creative initiative to further explore the social impact and realities of civil war and refugees. Musical recordings represent life in Buduburam through several genres: traditional, gospel, hip hop, rap, R&B, and reggae.

Tracks were produced by musicians hailing from many regions of Liberia (see map).

The project has been carried out in partnership with the Centre for Youth Empowerment (CYE), a Liberian NGO founded by war-stricken Liberian youth who sought refuge in Buduburam. CYE is committed to the pursuit of peace, development, education, good health, and sanitation, and has been an instrumental leader in the ongoing rehabilitation of Liberian refugees.

Read more about the project as reported by Geoff McMaster in the UofA's ExpressNews


Project Goals

In addition to introducing talented musicians to a North American audience, the project has several goals:

  • Post Conflict Healing - encourage musicality among youth as a form of community building
  • Global Education - engage U of A students in a participatory way in raising awareness about civil society and refugee-related issues, support education about Africa at the U of A, and support a successful African-based NGO (CYE) focused on developing youth leaders of tomorrow
  • Fund-raising - establish a U of A endowment which will support U of A student-focused learning initiatives in Africa, and generate revenue for the Liberian musicians and CYE
  • Research - document musical life of refugee camps in collaboration with camp residents, in order to understand how music can be used as a tool to overcome realities of conflict and dislocation

Center for Youth Empowerment

The Center for Youth Empowerment (CYE) was founded by war-stricken Liberians who fled their country seeking refuge in Ghana’s Buduburam camp. The Liberian civil war destroyed many lives and created deep tensions between the country’s ethnic groups. CYE responded by working within its refugee community in the pursuit of peace, development and education. While operating in Buduburam, CYE ran an elementary/junior high school, a computer literacy program, a women’s empowerment program that included vocational training, and a peace education program that operated not only in the settlement but in the wider Ghanaian community.

In September 2008 CYE relocated to Liberia, establishing a school in Monrovia with an enrollment of 250 students. Projects on the horizon include a women’s sewing school and a peace education outreach program. CYE’s mission in Liberia is to facilitate the post-conflict healing of communities and the reintegration of returning refugees, and to empower youth by providing them the necessary skills and knowledge to become agents of change and beacons of hope in their communities.

For updates on CYE’s activities contact Slabe Sennay, Executive Director, at


ArtandDesignDesignCelebratingHope-postcard Page 1.jpg


Design Celebrating Hope: An Exhibition of Student Design Work for the Buduburam CD Project

Exhibition Dates: May 19 - July 4, 2009 and September 1 - 24, 2009
Opening Reception: Thursday, May 21, 2009, 7:00pm - 10:00pm
Fine Arts Building Gallery, 1-1 Fine Arts Building, University of Alberta Campus

Curators: Bonnie Sadler Takach and Aidan Rowe
Designer: Cindy Couldwell

This exhibition visually documents how Visual Communication Design students in the Department of Art and Design worked collaboratively with members of University of Alberta International and the Department of Music to create dozens of visual concepts for the Buduburam CD Project, Giving Voice to Hope: Music of Liberian Refugees.

This exhibition is supported in part by the Alberta Foundation for the Arts. The student design research project was supported in part by the Teaching and Learning Enhancement Fund from the Office of the Provost.


An official CD launch and reception took place as part of the Design Celebrating Hope exhibition, on Thursday, September 24, 2009, from 7:00pm - 10:00pm, in the Fine Arts Building Gallery, 1-1 Fine Arts Building, University of Alberta Campus

Distribution of languages in Liberia (click to enlarge).


...from CYE

"At the Center for Youth Empowerment we aim to be leaders in a reconstructed Liberia committed to lasting peace, where the most basic needs and rights of our people, including sustenance, education, security, employment, and religious and political tolerance, are met and respected. Music serves as a source of solace to downtrodden refugees at the camp and helps them to overcome their daily difficulties as well as the trauma of conflict. It is also a unifying force for people who have been suppressed and divided by years of civil war. Thank you for supporting our endeavors and those of Buduburam’s aspiring musicians; we hope you enjoy the CD!"

--Slabe Sennay, Executive Director
Center for Youth Empowerment (CYE)

...from the U of A's president

"Great universities stimulate learning, discovery and citizenship resulting in advancements and innovations that transform everyday life around the world. Through projects such as this CD, the University of Alberta is contributing to global communities in ways that will enable them to change and grow, and thus create and sustain prosperity and well-being for future generations."

--Indira Samarasekera, President and Vice-Chancellor
University of Alberta (U of A)

...from Thomas Mapfumo, "Lion of Zimbabwe"

"Music is the best weapon to bring change and also bring peace to the world. I and the Blacks Unlimited wish these musicians in Buduburam refugee camp all the best in their endeavaours."

--Thomas Tafirenyika Mapfumo, (born 1945), one of Africa's greatest musicians and composers, known as "The Lion of Zimbabwe" for his tremendous popularity and and the political influence he wields through his music.

Track samples (0:30)

The following links provide only 30 second samples; the duration of each track, together with language, is given in parentheses. Please note that all of this music was produced in the Buduburam camp, without any assistance from the University of Alberta!

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1. No More War Morris Haynes (5:50, English, Bassa) Genre: Traditional/Reggae

I can express myself best in life through music…Liberians, we are very lively people—we love being together, entertaining our elders, we need to let the world go away. It helps us to keep the memory of war away and music can teach us good behavior.

Morris Haynes came from a musical family and began to develop his talents at a young age. As a skilled guitarist strongly influenced by Nigerian Afrobeat legend Fela Kuti, Morris incorporates highlife, jazz, and disco lines into his music. He has recorded an album in Liberia, performed educational songs about HIV/AIDS and polio, and written jingles for African radio stations. He hopes to one day have his own studio and radio station in Liberia.


2. Power S-Man (Samuel Taylor) (6:00, English, Vai) Genre: Traditional/Highlife

This is a song about politicians in Africa, manipulating people’s minds for their own selfish gain. This creates war in the end. The song is a warning that we shouldn’t be fooled. I sing part of the song in Vai so that my countrymen, in rural areas, can understand.

S-Man, a former dancer in the traveling Liberian National Troupe, became a refugee at the age of 12 when he fled conflict in Liberia and Ivory Coast. S-Man used his musical talents to work with the international humanitarian organization, War Child, teaching Liberian refugee children traditional dance to give them a sense of direction and connect them to their culture. S-Man has trained in video editing and soap making, and hopes that when he returns to Liberia, he can help rebuild his country, empowering people by teaching them how to make soap.


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3. A Zaa Me:Rpo Wedeh Samuel Johnson (4:10, Bassa) Genre: Traditional/Gospel

Even in the pits of hell, music can help, especially the youth whose future is going down the drain. Whatever situation we find ourselves in, we must believe there is always tomorrow.

Currently the director of his church’s choir, Samuel Johnson’s earliest musical memories include listening to his dad’s recordings of Reverend Al Green, Mahalia Jackson, and Aretha Franklin. With a musician brother, he soon began to experiment with instruments and compose. Even as a child he felt that music was inside of him and that he had a responsibility to bring it out, believing his music could help console people’s hearts and minds. Samuel hopes to return to nursing school and contribute to the development of his country.


4. Stop the Violence Big Seen (Wesley Toh, Alvin L. Page) (4:10, English) Genre: Hip-Hop

This song is about all forms of violence. We ask God why does the world turn upside down, especially during the war, when we see brothers killing brothers. Speaking out against tribalism and respecting people’s differences is important.

Childhood friends Wesley and Alvin knew each other in Liberia, where they grew up listening to James Brown and Michael Jackson, and remember breakdancing at birthday parties. Despite many challenges, they remain passionate about music and dream of performing around the world, as well as managing up-and-coming Liberian hip-hop artists.


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5. Take Away Soul Whisperers (Gardiah G. Henry, Hilary L. Browne, John Goah, George Charles) Take Away (4:36, English) Genre: Gospel

Music is a binding force here connecting us all - if a song is playing and someone outside my window is dancing, or I am singing while washing, it cheers our hearts. In Africa, every child is born with music. Every child on his momma’s back hears music, feels beats when she dances.

The members of Soul Whisperers were choir directors from different churches who came together out of a love for music and the belief that music can cut across all physical and cultural barriers. This belief inspired them to give hope to their fellow refugees through their songs. “Take Away”, rooted in the experience of living in the camp for over 15 years, is about an individual who has suffered and is asking God for relief.


6.We Are All Liberian Calabash Unite Us All (5:19, English) Genre: Traditional

Having traveled across Africa to share their message of peace and reconciliation, this group takes its name from the village tradition of welcoming people with cold water served in a calabash, symbolizing that all people drink from the same place.

Comprised of over twenty members from different tribes, Calabash performs songs and dances from many counties, reflecting their diverse makeup and the desire for unity among Liberians. They consider themselves a good example of what can be accomplished when people overcome differences to work as a family. Guided by the belief that tradition can strengthen rather than divide people, and that all tribes have something to learn from one another, Calabash hopes to start a cultural centre in Liberia where they can teach disadvantaged children traditional music, dancing, and folklore.


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7. Je T'adore Representorz (Joseph Teah Jr., Dave Nyema, Milton Farley) (5:13, English/French) Genre: Hip-Hop

Music can bring change—musicians can express the feelings of the people when they are down and depressed, it can revive the soul. For us Liberians, the more we are depressed, the more we want to dance!

Together since 2000, the Representorz have performed with UN programs, at charity functions, and on radio shows in Liberia, Ivory Coast, and Ghana. They create music that makes people want to dance but are also versatile in their vision to explore the musical world and to help liberate Africa from poverty by educating people through music. “Je T’adore” is about being in love with a girl, even though she might leave you for financial reasons.


8. Peace Must Prevail Shadow (Samuel Morgan) (4:13) Genre: Hip-Hop/R&B

Before I was in exile, there was conflict, and I didn’t want to be a child soldier. I fled to the Ivory Coast, and I knew I had a [musical] gift, so I began. After everything I saw in the war, I needed to talk sense into people so the world will be safer.

At only 23 years old, Shadow is Buduburam’s one-man recording studio. He has helped produce many of the tracks on this album, mixing and mastering musical elements with a small recording machine and a mic stand that he crafted out of wood. With two albums recorded in Liberia, he was chosen to write a song for the election in 2005, traveling to different counties to teach people about the electoral process and the importance of voting. Shadow, whose name derives from arriving on camp at a young age with only his own shadow for company, hopes to grow and apply his talents to producing other African musicians.


Watch short video documentary about Shadow and popular music in the camp (30 min)(15 min version)

Watch Shadow's award winning song, Reasons (part 1) (part 2), co-produced with S-Man.

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9. Ah Mama (Africa Let's Sing) Timothy Faya Bomah (3:59, English, Kissi) Genre: Gospel

I came from the least of people on camp, I was leading a hard life, so I sometimes felt like I was dreaming after [being on television]. I feel important and respected in society now… No matter what we are going through, music can unite people, making them feel excited!

In 2007, at the age of 23, Timothy Faya Bomah became a celebrity in Buduburam when he was selected as a finalist in the third season of Ghana’s music reality show, Mentor. Faya is a positive role model and source of tremendous pride for the Buduburam community, which raised money for him during the competition. Performing music influenced by Jamaican dancehall songs and local Ghanaian hip-life, he is always eager to explore how culture and history are musically expressed. Orphaned in the war, Faya would like to open an orphanage in Liberia.


10. About Time Universal Vision (Eddie G. Payne, Robert Mlegodgh, Emmanuel Sumo) (4:18, English, Bassa) Genre: Hip-Hop

Man by nature is a politician and music is a way to do political science. I was never afraid to put ugly things, political things in to my poems. But then there is music about struggle-- and music for parties! These have different lyrics…

Universal Vision’s front man Eddie Payne has been writing since he was a young boy. Starting as a poet, he eventually began to set his poems to music. Lyrical style and music about real life events have always appealed to Eddie, whose musical mentor is Tupac Shakur. He credits music with helping him overcome shyness and improving his reading and writing skills.


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11. Come Together Africa God's Family (Michael Goodridge, Jerry Myers, Yeady Myers, Ezekiel Hallie) (2:32, English and Bassa) Genre: Gospel

The situation here is a challenge: people are starving and praying for a change, people had their families killed and this is a challenge to our musical soul. We can go days without eating, but music gives us strength, our souls are quenched with song.

The members of God’s Family met in Buduburam, where they were active in their church choirs. Influenced by American gospel traditions as well as African artists, their compositions fuse both styles. “Come Together Africa” calls Liberians, who were divided by the war, to come together as one, as Africans, and to be thankful for life.


12. Gbai Kai Yaa Constance Exploit Bowier (4:25, Kpelle) Genre: Traditional

Music is comforting when you are disturbed, you feel you have a friend. It makes your heart relax when you face trouble. It is so important that I can go into tears, feeling closer to God when I hear it.

As a single mother, Constance has struggled in Buduburam over the past 12 years but has also enjoyed the versatility of music and being exposed to new Ghanaian sounds. Indian music has always touched her. She remembers watching Bollywood movies as a young girl and imitating the songs for her friends, though she could not understand the words. “Gbai Kai Yaa”, sung in her native Kpelle, tells people not to get depressed when others are successful, but rather to celebrate with them, for your own time will one day come.


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13. It’s True Interpretors (Peter Myers, Issac Gbaryee) (3:25, English) Genre: Hip-Hop

When I am lonesome, music gives me courage, it teaches me to depend on and believe in myself. -Peter Myers

I want to tell all the other refugees we should be united, so that what led you to be a refugee won’t repeat itself. -Isaac Gbaryee

Teenagers Peter and Isaac were both small children when they left Liberia and became close friends soon after arriving in Buduburam. After singing in a choir together, they discovered they both loved American R&B and hip-hop, and thus the Interpretors were born. They sing about girlfriends, school, dreams, and the day-to-day challenges of refugee life.


14. Shine for Jesus/Brille Pour Jesus Helbert Collins (4:10, English/French) Genre: Gospel

When I was at the point of death, a voice kept coming to me saying “let your light shine”. This song is about having courage even when family and friends reject [you], and about how my soul was saved from going astray.

With his love for music beginning when he was president of his class choir, Helbert continues to compose and direct a choir today. Despite being orphaned and disabled in the war, and spending years in various refugee camps in West Africa, Helbert has always kept his faith in better days ahead. He credits music with saving him from despair and opening his heart. Herbert hopes to continue singing and would like to work in a home for disabled children, helping to prove to the children and the community that disabled people can be useful and innovative members of society.


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15. Give a Little Love to the Children Alaric Crump (4:23, English) Genre: Reggae/Gospel

I want to enlighten people about what is happening in Liberia through my music; the children are the future so we have to make a better way for them. Music is guidance – we can sing about what we have passed through and how it is a lesson about overcoming hardship with faith.

A dancer in the 1980s, Alaric later began his musical pursuits working with choirs in Liberia before arriving in Ghana, where he now composes for churches in Accra. Portraying his African heritage in his music is important to Alaric, and he is glad to celebrate his Liberian identity by composing in his native Kpelle as well as in English. His unique brand of contemporary gospel features elements of reggae, pop, and hip-life.


16. CYE Theme Song Blessed Brothers

(Iven S. Sackrow, Vamba J. Nyain, Abraham D. Gargar, Francis B. Dennilson, Emmanuel Wesseh) (1:48, English) Genre: Pop

Purchasing a CD

Your purchase will support camp musicians and the Center for Youth Empowerment (now based in Liberia), and help build the Africa Endowment Fund at the University of Alberta, to support future educational and development projects in Africa.

Giving Voice to Hope: Music of Liberian Refugees is available for $15 + GST at the following locations:

Or order by mail using one of the following order forms:

Press and web

Shadow interviewed by Okayafrica, April 1, 2016

Reviewed by Florian Carl. (2015). Yearbook for Traditional Music, 47, 209–210. [1]

Migration Views blog at the University of Alberta

UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music Newsletter - spring 2012

Room 217 Foundation

Engaged Creativity: Dare to Deliver Annual Report with updates for State of the Faculty 2010 By the Faculty of Arts; April 1, 2009 - March 31, 2010

Liberian Refugees CD Launched in Halifax

The Daily Orange (Syracuse, NY)[2]

International Week 2011 (University of Alberta)

Popular Culture and World Politics (York University)podcast

Afropop worldwide review

Afropop discography

Folio, at the University of Alberta

Same article at Dept of Music, UofA

photo-essay at

Vue Weekly

SocioLingo Africa: A Cornucopia of Social Content about Africa

Anthony Clark Arend, Professor of Government and Foreign Service at Georgetown University

EMCN blog


UofA's Dept of Biology newsletter

Forced Migration archives

Ghanaian Reactor Online

Vanderbilt University African music resource listing

Additional browsing

Short video documentary about Shadow and popular music in the camp (30 min)(15 min version)

Giving Voice to Hope in the University of Alberta library

Liberian government

World Factbook pages on Liberia

US Department of State on Liberia

Liberians: An Introduction to their History and Culture

Human development report

Background on Conflict in Liberia (Friends Committee)

Liberian truth commission

Education in Liberia

Liberia headlines

African Studies Center at U Penn - Liberia

Stanford - Africa South of the Sahara

PBS film and website on Liberia, "Liberia: America's stepchild" (with timeline, lessons...)

Languages of Liberia

Maps of Liberia

Historical maps of Liberia

Shadow's award winning song, Reasons (part 1) (part 2)

Credits and thanks

  • Production supervision: Barry Tonge, Michael Frishkopf, Nancy Hannemann, Eilis Pourbaix, Jennifer Woronuk
  • Photography and interviews: Eilis Pourbaix
  • Research and liner notes: Eilis Pourbaix, Michael Frishkopf, Barry Tonge
  • Graphic design: Kelsey Stasiuk
  • Composition and layout: Kelsey Stasiuk, Jennifer Woronuk
  • Audio supervision: Michael Frishkopf, Eilis Pourbaix, Justina Watt
  • Audio mixing and mastering: Russell Baker (Edmonton), Samuel (Shadow) Morgan (Ghana)
  • Contracts: Deborah Book and Laine Woollard (TEC Edmonton), Michael Frishkopf, Barry Tonge
  • Ghana coordination: Eilis Pourbaix, Slabe Sennay, Michael Frishkopf
  • Marketing and promotions: Barry Tonge, Jennifer Woronuk, Mélanie Grell

Recorded at studios in Accra, Kasoa and Buduburam Refugee Settlement (Ghana)

Thanks for generous support from...

Contact us

For more information about the project, please email the project administrators or Professor Michael Frishkopf

For purchase or inquiries, contact:
University of Alberta International
Phone: +1 (780) 492-6040
Fax: +1 (780) 492-6213
or Professor Michael Frishkopf

See also the Buduburam CD project website at University of Alberta International

Related projects

More Giving Voice to Hope

The Buduburam CD is only the first in a series of projects all centered on popular music among current or former refugees. Here are a few other projects in the works under the rubric of "Giving Voice to Hope"...

  • Video documentary about musicians and music-making in Buduburam, including interviews and performances (see
  • Refugee Music TV: a television or web channel centered on refugee issues, through music
  • Support of 1-8 Band, a live band comprising current and former refugees, by providing resources (musical instruments and other gear) and arranging tours abroad
  • Raising funds to create an endowment supporting music creation grants for Liberian musicians
  • Bringing refugee musicians to Canada for performance, exchange, discussion, and training
  • Songs for Sustainable Peace and Development: funding songs carrying positive social messages, for local development and global awareness
  • Establishing music recording and training facilities in Buduburam towards rebuilding Liberia's music scene and supporting Songs for Sustainable Peace and Development