Music had a big role to play both during and in the aftermath of the West Africa Ebola epidemic. I found that out when I visited Monrovia in August. A lot of artists wrote songs about the personal experiences people had facing the disease. Henry Amazin’ Toe, a.k.a Amaze, is a well-established hipco artist who composed and recorded such songs.
I met Amaze several times during my stay in the Liberian capital. The first time was during a group interview I held in Mamba Point with other artists (Teddy Ride and Margaret Cephus). Then again at our VOA Town Hall at the YMCA. Amaze performed with his female MC counterpart Peaches and answered questions about music and Ebola after his set. I also saw him perform live at the number one hipco music joint in Monrovia, ‘146‘. The club is owned and run by hipco pioneer and revered music legend, Takun J.
Amaze, who’s is 29 years old, made two important points about music and Ebola during our conversations . First, he said that music impacted Ebola immensely.
“Music is what people listened to. Its what made people wash their hands with chlorine. It was what made people start being hygienic…especially hipco.” And those last two words, “especially hipco,” was Amaze’s second important point.
“Hipco is sub of what they call Hip Hop in America. We borrowed it. Co is Coloquois (or Kolokwa) – our local way of speaking in Liberia. So people listen mostly to hipco mostly because we communicate through hipco easily.”
In my earlier post about hipco star Teddy Ride, I’d discovered that for some musicians, like Teddy, Ebola helped them become famous. It boosted the music industry in Liberia. But my encounters with Amaze in Monrovia made it very clear that music made a difference for a lot of terrified, grief and panic-stricken Liberians. Just before I met him outside of the Town Hall on Broad Street, I had a chat with another musician about the impact of music and musicians during the Ebola epidemic in 2014-16. Ebeneezer is the keyboard player and leader of the band who backed up Amaze, Peaches, Teddy Ride and the other featured artists.
Amaze composed two songs about Ebola: “Spread the Word” and “Kickback Kick to Ebola.” The first song was released during the height of the outbreak. Its purpose was to sensitize and educate people about the disease. He said, “Every artist back then would contribute. So we had to do everything we could do to sensitize and “conscietize” through music. After the Ebola period, when Ebola subsided fear was still in Liberians so I thought it wise to write a song “Kickback Kick to Ebola.”
“…so we had to make people come back to doing what they used to do because the fear was very in Monrovia and Liberia. As artists who people listen to we had to find a way to make people happy again. Here’s a little more from his performance at the Town Hall with Peaches.”
These days Amaze is focusing on the upcoming 2017 national election. He is currently on tour and promoting his new song and music video to engage voters to get involved in the election process now. In his most recent video “Know Who to Vote For,” Amaze teams up with his familiar partner Peaches, plus J-Glo and Hovor. Their message in colorful Coloquois: “Don’t vote on the basis of ethnicity, money, education level, or nepotism. Vote for the common good of Liberia.”
Liberia was declared free of active Ebola transmission on January 14 2016.