Vocals, Kwi, Narration
Isaac Mona is a rare talent in the world of live recording.
He is a performing instrumentalist and vocalist. He is also a naturalist,
the product of life long learning within and alongside the African wilderness.
Lastly he is a "talent scout", one far removed from our common perception
of the term which we shall touch on soon. Featured in a National Geographic
special as a scientist's guide and interpreter, Mr. Mona was an invaluable
help in finding a suspected lost specie of monkey. His work in Africa
brings a unique experiential quality to his contribution to the 4 Corners
Recording Project. He has made it his life's mission to protect and
preserve what he once took for granted: the existence and survival of
his world - the African jungle.
As an instrumentalist Isaac Mona plays the kwi - a type of metal flute
rarely before heard outside of the ceremonies of his tribe and never
before recorded. The kwi is a heraldic instrument, signifying glory
and gravitas to announcements of law and usage. It is the custom that
such announcements are made only in the presence of men as a sort of
paterfamilias. His piece is a rendition of these rituals, capturing
in microcosm the mood and import of this social compact.
Isaac Mona draws on his mastery of the inflection, syntax, meaning
and texture of Nilotic, !Khoisan, and European languages to create lyrics
and song for several of our compositions. Not many of us speak a second
language. That is why when we meet someone like Isaac we tend to be
impressed. Not just because he speaks four separate and entirely separate
African tribal languages, plus French and English, but because this
Liberian speaks and communicates in the language of animals. These have
all been learned naturally in the diverse usages of tribes and chiefs,
colonists and administrators - in the intimacy of an "everyman", energetically
engaged with society. Ah, but what an "everyman". Isaac Mona keeps to
no safe and foreordained place. Rather, he moves with assurance among
all - a companion among tribesmen, an inquisitive explorer, a leading
guide to scientists - there are few who do not esteem his wisdom or
value his fellowship. Perhaps "-man" itself is too limiting, for his
keen sense and study of nature allows him to transcend species and communicate
with the primates of the African forest. Many of these are endangered,
and some were feared lost until his explorations found them.
Which brings us to his services as "talent scout". His understanding
of the cultures in African hamlets makes him an invaluable liaison with
these social microcosms, winning the confidence and cooperation of the
chiefs, elders and tribesmen in the recordings we have used. As a naturalist,
Isaac Mona has been invaluable in leading scientific expeditions to
places where they can view and record primates on the arboreal stage.
His ear attuned to the calls, his nose keen to the scent, his eye searching
for the markings, he finds the rarest and thus most precious species.
Here they perform, not for us, but for each other. They have been recorded
warning of dangers, proclaiming provisions, enticing mates, and scaring
off (or trying to) competitors. The lilting beauty of the languages
he speaks, the exciting tribal sounds and the unusual primate vocalizations
are all going to be the part of the 4 Corners Project music as we seek
to understand our multiethnic heritage. This is a new kind of exploration
for Mr. Mona, but he one tat he gladly undertakes. On one of Isaac's
tracks on the album he recites a famous portion from a Langston Hughes'
poem in his native language:
I've known rivers:
I've known rivers ancient as the world and older than the flow
of the human blood in human veins
Isaac Mona was born in Liberia, living in the rain forest with the
canopy as his roof and the ground as his floor. He lived by stalking
and hunting, patiently learning the myriad ways that each animal forms
a niche in nature. The game was cooked over the open fire that would
later silhouette his body as he danced with his fellows to the drums
and songs of the elders. There were other songs to hear as well - healers'
songs by the bedside of the sick and the dying and the songs of battle
and valor that inspire every village to its defense.