I am one of those suckers who love massive box sets stuffed full of twelve versions of the same song, of endless alternate takes, and mumbled studio chatter. I am particularly fond of false starts, missed cues, flubbed notes and botched recordings. Listening to these by-products of the recording process makes it possible to isolate the cells, muscles, and organs that sustain the creative spirit of a piece of music.
There are, however, frustratingly few examples of this kind of audio ephemera available to feed the curiosity of the detail oriented African music lover. In most cases audio tape was simply too expensive to be wasted on false takes; the reel was re-wound and the botched take recorded over by the following take. (In some studios on the Continent, master recordings were also often scrubbed and the tape recycled).
At some point in the late 1960s-probably around 1967/68- S.E. Rogie, the late Sierra Leonean palmwine highlife star, spent an afternoon in the VOA studios in Monrovia, Liberia. As Leo remembers it, S.E. Rogie reached out to him, and asked if he could come into the studio to record a song he had composed for Liberian President Willam Tubman’s birthday (given the subject of the song, it seems more likely that this recording session was organized for Rogie rather than for the VOA). Rogie’s composition, ‘President Tubman’s Birthday Melody’, is the kind of song that I imagine he could crank out by the dozen; a sunny melody light enough to float off like a butterfly.
President Tubman-warmest congratulations to you
I wish you a happy Birthday
May you live longer
Healthy and wiser
I wish you many more Birthday
To reign over Liberia.
This is one of the few reels we have that includes all of the session’s takes: Leo, in keeping with the frugality of the times, usually erased ‘unusable’ takes. Here then, for your inquisitive ears, are the eight takes of S.E. Rogie’s ‘President Tubman’s Birthday Melody’.
I think that Rogie intended to release this song as a 45-rpm single. (Does anyone know if ‘President Tubman’s Birthday Melody’ was ever released? I know that Rogie did release at least one other tribute to President Tubman.) At these same sessions, Rogie and his group also recorded a second song, that I imagine he intended to use as the B-side to ‘President Tubman’s Birthday Melody’. I will post the different takes of this second song shortly.