Collaboration has long been a cornerstone of music. Sometimes, an artistic union comes along that deserves extra attention. “Gbagba Is Corruption” is a song by Liberia’s number one Hip-Co musician, Takun J, which was dropped in May in Monrovia, Liberia. Aside from the considerable talent and conscience Takun J brings to the table, there is quite a bit that is unique about this song.
For one, it’s based on a children’s book. Written by Robtel Neajai Pailey, illustrated by Chase Walker, and published by One Moore Book (OMB), Gbagba tells a story that can connect with young and old. And it’s not just any story. Gbagba which means ‘trickery’ in the Bassa language takes a serious look at corruption- what it means to be true and just or to fall to negative influences. The book has received critical and international acclaim, having also been adopted as an anti-corruption children’s primer by the Liberian Ministry of Education, to say it is educational and inspirational is certainly an understatement.
“Gbagba Is Corruption” joins a long list of politically conscious, anti-corruption songs made popular by Takun J who is known for blending Liberian culture with Hip Hop in Liberia’s own genre, Hip Co. The style is known for being politically and socially charged. Takun J’s vision throughout his career made him a clear choice to bring the message of the children’s book alive to an even wider audience.
Like any good collaboration, this couldn’t have happened without some help. In this case, “Gbagba Is Corruption” was made possible through a grant from the Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA) to pilot the inspirational children’s books in schools throughout Liberia. Together with OMB, which is known for publishing culturally sensitive children’s books for countries with low literacy rates, the books will be disseminated to 10 rural schools this year with talks around a teacher’s guide already underway with the Liberian Ministry of Education.
OSIWA is remarkable in and of itself, as well. As an organization dedicated to government transparency in West Africa, OSIWA has a proven track record of education and discussion around corruption, accountability, and integrity. As they work toward a more “open society”, it is no coincidence that OSIWA has chosen to fund the Gbagba project- both from the children’s book perspective and now with this new song. Transforming the work to music couldn’t be a better vehicle to unpack the realities and levels of corruption in Liberia and multi-national philanthropic organizations know it too.
So when Liberians hear this children’s-book inspired collaboration on the radio, when people all around the world download and listen to this story, when conversations are started around some very real issues- thanks is owed to every person who contributed to this project. Ultimately, and yet again, we find that music can accomplish so much in one small vessel. As writer/researcher, Robtel Neajai Pailey said: “I wrote Gbagba because I wanted to start a ‘revolution from below’ by giving children the verbal tools to question the confusing ethical codes of the adults around them.” One book, one story, one song can still change the world.
The book and song are available on www.onemoorebook.com.
By Molly Dow
Sources: Robtel Neajai Pailey , liberianobserver.com, and takunj.com.