Last year, we were engaged in a project using arts to solve our everyday problems. The artists involved were: Kormassa Bobo, Fatu Gayflor, Zaye Tete, and me—Gbahtuo Comgbaye. Our host was the Philadelphia Folklore Project, with support from the National Endowment for the Arts. We also worked with Dudley Cocke from Roadside Theater in the mountains of Kentucky.
The Project lasted for one year. Stories were collected by us all from our Liberian community -- from young to old, from women to men, from single mothers to married couples. We learned a great deal from these stories and interviews. Significant themes included: Issues of aculturalization and identity among our youth; kids raising kids as a result of their parents working long hours; problems with care of the elderly; and the struggles of many single Liberian mothers.
At a certain interval in the project, there was a performance in a southwest Philly community center/music hall that we shaped from the stories we had heard and those we told each other. Our story, song, and dance performance was framed by a traditional Liberian story in which two Elephants are manipulated by a wiley Jackal to fight one another against their common interest. The story resonated with the audience's experience of the fifteen-year Liberian civil war.
After telling the story, we asked audience members to say who their Jackal was now. As a result of their insights and their delight in the dance and music, we realized the need to continue the work and especially for these powerful Liberian musical icons -- Fatu, Tokay, and Zaye -- to work together and produce musical tools to address key problems here in the diaspora, as well as to help solidify the fragile Peace prevailing now in our homeland. Fragile, because since the war, the first democratically elected President will be ending her second term in 2016. Thank you all for listening.