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Musical Voyage


Liberian immigrants seek change through song

(Photo Left) From left, Liberian singers and dancers Marie Nenabo, Tokey Tomah, Sangai Gobah, Fatu Gayflo and Zaye Tete. Photo by Sarah J. Glover.

There is beauty and pain in the voices of Fatu Gayflor, Marie Nyenabo, Zaye Tete, and Tokay Tomah. Together, they make up the Liberian Women’s Chorus for Change.

When they perform, listeners enjoy harmonies honed to perfection by at least 20 years of singing experience. There is deep emotion in their songs; some about the strength of women in their dynamic West African culture and others on the issue of domestic violence that scars cultures across the world.

“We hope that our Liberians and all the people who are abused can be able to see that there is professional help,” says Gayflor.

The Chorus is supported by the Philadelphia Folklore Project, which recognizes the group’s ability to “foster social change and justice through creative folk music and traditional arts.”

At a recent performance at the Independence Branch of the Free Library of Philadelphia, 18 S. 7th Street, the group not only delighted and engaged children in attendance, but also reminded women of the need for solidarity. Gayflor explained the meaning of an old Liberian folksong from the Yuma tribe, “calling women to work together and battle the abuse, be strong.”

An estimated 15,000 Liberians now call the Philadelphia region home. Most fled their homeland as a result of the civil war that stretched from 1989 to 2003.

In Liberia, each of the four women enjoyed successful, individual recording careers, although three of them — Gayflor, Tete, and Tomah — were friends before moving to the U.S.

“We’ve been friends for over 20 years,” said Gayflor. “We live, we dance, we sing together. We went to school in the same camp. We’ve been together forever.”

Prior to entering the U.S. in 1999, Gayflor stayed in the Ivory Coast as a refugee. In Philadelphia, she conznected with Tete, and Tomah. They met Nyenabo, and formed a foursome. In singing to women, the group discovered a desire by their listeners to share with them their concerns, and that domestic violence was one of them.

“This is [a] universal problem. There are abuses all over the world,” says Gayflor. “But we are doing this mainly to speak to our Liberian women because a couple of years back, we took to the street of Philadelphia. ... We listened to lots of women, in homes, and decided on getting together for [a] speaking tour. Maybe this is the next step to save so many marriages … we decided to go from home to home, and women started talking about abuses in the home, some not physical, some financial, some immigration.”

The Liberian Women’s Chorus for Change and the Philadelphia Folklore Project are the recipients of a grant from the Pew Center for Arts and Heritage for their work in the African community. Gayflor received a Pew Arts Fellowship for her artistic look at the war and global immigration.

 

Musical Voyage
Sheila Simmons - Contributor

Sheila Simmons brings many years of writing and communications experience to her work for Liberty City Press. She began her professional writing career at the Philadelphia Daily News, where she covered Business, City Hall and Education.

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