Henhouse Prowlers has agreed to share occasional reports from the band’s African adventure, touring with the American Voices program on behalf of the US Department of State. Here’s their second dispatch, from fiddler Dan Andree.
We hit the ground sprinting on our very first day in the capital, Monrovia. We put on a performance in West Point, one of the biggest slum communities in the city, and were able to collaborate with a few local musicians that sang in the Liberian “Hipco” style (a sort of mix between Hip-Hop, R&B, and Contemporary American Pop). We accompanied and sang harmonies with a solo artist named MOV (Man of Value) as well as a brother duet named XO (Extra Ordinary). It was an adventure of a show, to say the least, and we were all thankful to get such a potent dose of the city right off the bat.
As my description of “Hipco” might suggest, there is a lot of American influence in Liberia. The country was founded in the 19th century by freed African American slaves and to this day, many Liberians are very in touch with American societal trends. Every shop accepts U.S. currency, everyone speaks English, and the Liberian flag is the same as the American flag except with one large star instead of 50. At the beginning of our time there, we had to stop ourselves from saying “bonjour” when greeting people (something we had gotten used to in Congo).
After playing the American Ambassador’s residence on our second day in Monrovia (with a breathtaking view of the beach) we left the next day for our first trip outside of a capital all tour. We were told that the road from Monrovia to Gbarnga (pronounced “Bahnga”) was a bumpy one, and boy were the rumors true. In some places there were potholes 2 feet deep and over 5 feet wide, but in others there were fairly long stretches of freshly paved road. We were told that they began an ambitious project last year to replace the entire road spanning nearly the whole country and signs of the hard work could be seen along the way.
Our first stop that afternoon was at Cuttington University, a private school with a gorgeous campus surrounded by vast acres of rubber farms. We received (and fed off) such great energy there and were blown away by the response. When the students heard something they liked, it didn’t matter if it was the middle of a solo or a verse, they erupted in cheers and applause. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much time to linger as we had to get right back on the road for an evening concert.
After playing a show in a large hall in Gbarnga that night, we stayed the night in town and headed back toward Monrovia the next day. That next afternoon we put on a workshop/performance at The Booker T. Washington Institute, a high school in the small town of Kakata. The students were very involved and we took a lot of great and inquisitive questions. There was a chance to talk a bit with some students after the show, and one of them asked Ben if there were any schools in the U.S. that taught bluegrass, and expressed interest in studying the music!
The night’s performance found us back in Monrovia at a gorgeous beach bar/restaurant appropriately named Golden Beach. We had a relaxing meal and a drink right on the sand (I highly recommend the goat soup) and played a stage in an outdoor courtyard with an ocean view.
The afternoon of our first full day back in the capital was our last day of programming in Liberia, and we played two more outdoor shows (the weather is absolutely perfect for them). The first was in the courtyard of the U.S. Embassy. For the second, we had the easiest commute to a show in our lives, as we played the rooftop of The Royal Grand Hotel—the very hotel we all had rooms in. They were both great shows and we were happy to have such an affectionate send-off.
After our last day in Liberia (the highlight of which was climbing to the top of the old Ducor Hotel), we were off to Nouakchott, Mauritania via a half-day’s layover in Casablanca. We are already having an incredible time here and can’t wait to tell you about it in our next post!
Here’s a video of the band performing on stage in Monrovia with some local musicians.