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4 Corners Project Artists Miroslaw Kukielka Yayo Morales Denis Moulin Laurel Butler Sarah McGraw Denise Abbas Lars Brandum Isaac Mona Leslie Chain Vit Siala 4 Corners Project Guest Artists

Isaac Mona
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

Formative Biography

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.