Documentary Sings to Your Soul
Documentary Sings to Your Soul
Earlier this month, the Introduction to Creativity, the Arts, and Social Transformation class hosted a screening at the Wasserman Cinematheque in place of a lecture. The Nov. 6 class screened “Because of the War,” a documentary about four female singers who immigrated to the United States to escape the civil war occuring in their homeland, Liberia. The war caused a mass migration of refugees toward the neighboring countries of Ivory Coast and Sierra Leone. The four women, Tokay, Zaye, Marie and Fatu, all found themselves in Pittsburgh’s Liberian community. Anthropologist Toni Shapiro-Phim, who attended the screening, documented their individual stories as director of the feature.
We begin with Tokay. As a creative and musical child, she was selected to join Liberia’s famous performing arts program, The Liberian National Cultural Troupe, and she grew up at the troupe’s camp with other talented children like herself. When the war broke out, she composed a song preaching love, which quickly transformed into a nationally recognized song calling for peace in Liberia. Her booming voice and poignant songwriting resonated with the victims of the arduous, bloody conflict.
The film then moves on to Zaye, another talented singer who struggled through the war in refugee camps. Her journey involved protecting and guiding her country’s young people as well as her own children. She taught them to maintain their dignity by embracing their culture in the form of song and dance. She left a mark on the youth, sparking hope for a better tomorrow.
Marie’s story is one of forgiveness between both sides of the civil war. In that time of chaos, she turned to music to appease both sides with love and kindness. “Because of the War” showed clips of the music videos she participated in that supported her wish for peace and love across Liberia. Her message preached the harmony yet to come, rather than dwelling on the despair of the past and present.
Finally, we come to Fatu Gayflor, the most famous of the bunch. After fleeing to neighboring Ivory Coast and signing a record deal, she was referred to by West Africans as the “Golden Voice of Liberia” and released her namesake album as well as “Awoya.” Unfortunately, during her escape from the civil war, she was separated from her child in the chaos. Her music became a voice for those grieving for loved ones. She became an inspiration to Liberian women, using her art to ease the pain of loss. Fatu believed that her grief “didn’t go away, but it was okay for us to get up in the morning.” According to her, one shouldn’t be afraid to embrace loss.
“Because of the War” is an insight into the lives of people that we, as Americans, aren’t accustomed to seeing. These four fascinating women, now a quartet of singers in the Pittsburgh area, live their lives entertaining the Liberian community. They’ve released albums and continue to perform today. In terms of the feature film itself, it was quite entertaining and informative. However, it would have been better if the documentary had left more of their American lives out. It is necessary to reflect on their lives after the war and how they have acclimated to American society, but their experiences in Liberia were far more interesting — and important.