Yesterday, I attended the 5th annual Liberian Entertainment Awards (LEA) ceremony. Although I’ve long been interested in Liberia, I can’t profess to know much about the current cultural trends and I knew basically none of the nominees in the wide range of categories, mostly relating to music, but also covering fashion, film, and marketing. The exception was the best song winner, the catchy ‘Chicken Saloma’, which features the Nigerian sounding David Mell.
I was able to walk to the venue (Montgomery County Community College) from my home in Takoma Park. I arrived shortly after the ticket time of 6pm to a virtually empty building. To kill time, I decided to grab a bite to eat. Silver Spring is full of African restaurants, with the exception of the west-African themed Roger Miller, all that I know are Ethiopian. I popped into Mulu, an Ethiopian spot just across the DC border. The menu was not too expansive, but seemed to cover most of the Ethiopian staples and breakfast was also served. I sprung for the Classic Pasta, having never had Ethiopian style pasta before. It was good, although aside from the jalapeno garnish and the heavy dose of oil it did not differ much from my mother’s homemade spaghetti with meat sauce.
About three hours after the stipulated start time (which incidentally was the same amount of delay I experienced for the Wizkid concert at Howard University) the show got started. The awards were interspersed with a variety of performances, and aside from some energetic dance performances, I have to admit that aside from some energetic dancing, my favorite performers were in the gospel genre – Marron Cassell and CC Bernard.
The crowd was almost entirely Liberian (And was oozing with impeccably dressed attractive women. Aside from when the male host changed into a Tom Brady jersey and jeans during one of his numerous costume changes, I was by far the most informally attired in the building) and the performers and presenters on stage did their best to appeal to a sense of nationalism and unity. Particularly moving was a segment recognizing the charitable work of an organization founded to honor Victor Ward, a science professor murdered on the University of Liberia campus in the early stages of the war. There was also a moment of silence for the recently deceased Liberian cultural icon, Peter Ballah accompanied by a video clip of one of his performances.
Despite several technical hiccups and a definite bias toward representing the Liberian diaspora, the event offered an insightful cultural experience, albeit one that probably was not worth the $40 ticket price. Hopefully the 6th edition of the event will have more nominees in the audience and further the development of the Liberian cultural scene, which musically at least, seems to have been overwhelmed by Nigerian Afropop.