Various Artists: I Have My Liberty! Gospel Sounds From Accra, Ghana
I Have My Liberty! raises compelling questions about cultural shifts while also showing us a people building and strengthening their community, one song at a time.
I Have My Liberty! is a singular and bracing document, as immediately striking and energetic as it is puzzling. It's muddled by composition -- these songs were performed at Christian services in 2008 and are sung through shoddy PAs -- but it also represents a cultural shift. Makeshift Christian churches represent cultural and musical centers in the sprawl of Accra, and they act as connectors between past and future. Though the rise of Christianity may obscure traditional religions in the area, as Calpin Hoffman-Williamson points out in his liner notes, the music of I Have My Liberty! burns with a very real, very organic, and sometimes anxious, zeal. It's not only a place for women to find a voice in the phallocentric musical culture of Ghana, it also uses traditional music (Highlife, for instance) to shape gospel songbooks into a new unique sound.
Songs like "Onyame Ba" and "Onyame Ye", with clattering percussion, lean, brittle guitar riffs, and the power of group singing, have an inertia to them -- they literally speed up as they go -- that conveys a deep sense of both joy and catharsis, while shorter vocal-only numbers like "Trust and Obey" are equally imbued with deep emotion, but provide a moment of reflection, both for the congregation and you, the listener. I Have My Liberty! is a powerful listen, whether you are religious or not. It's a fascinating, and sometimes perplexing, cultural document, that raises compelling questions about cultural and religious shifts while also giving us the vital sound of people building and strengthening their community, one song at a time.