Film on Liberian supergroup by Lower Merion woman premieres in Philly

The Liberian Women’s Chorus for Change
The Liberian Women’s Chorus for Change SUBMITTED PHOTO
Toni Shapiro-Phim
Toni Shapiro-Phim SUBMITTED PHOTO

IF YOU GO

What: Screening of “Because of the War.”

When: 4 p.m. Oct. 15.

Where: Lightbox Film Center at International House, 3701 Chestnut St., Philadelphia.

Tickets: Tickets start at $20.

Info.: http://folkloreproject.org/movie-premiere30th-birthday-party.

Some of Liberia’s most famous singers, entertainers and activists are now living in Philadelphia and singing as part of the Liberian Women’s Chorus for Change.

Lower Merion resident Toni Shapiro-Phim, a cultural anthropologist and Director of Programs of the Philadelphia Folklore Project, has completed a documentary on how these women went from refugees to a singing and dancing force addressing injustice and social change.

The film “Because of the War” premieres Oct. 15 at the International House. The dinner event celebrates the 30th anniversary of the non-profit Philadelphia Folklore Project, and will feature a red carpet event and a reception.

Supported by The National Endowment for the Arts, “Because of the War” will introduce you to Fatu Gayflor, Marie Nyenabo, Zaye Tete and Tokay Tomah, who all fled the civil war in their homeland of Liberia, persevered through trauma, loss and violence, and found their way here.

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“I was fascinated by her story and paid attention to the choices that she made,” Shapiro-Phim said of “Liberian queen of folk songs” Zaye Tete, whom she met in 2004. At that point, Philadelphia Folklore Project had already been working with Fatu Gayflor, whose popularity in Liberia is equivalent to that of Beyonce’s in America.

Through Tete, Shapiro-Phim met Tokay Tomah, who steadfastly composed and sang songs of peace in the middle of war-torn Liberia. In the mid-’90s she worked with United Nations disarmament and reconciliation efforts.

The women that comprise Liberian Women’s Chorus for Change join a community of an estimated 15,000-20,000 Liberians living in the Philadelphia area — all displaced by back-to-back civil wars waged between 1989 and 2003. The peace-building and anti-violence message of the group’s songs is intended to inspire awareness and dialogue about domestic violence, and other concerns of Philadelphia area Liberian immigrants, in order to take positive steps forward.

Philadelphia Folklore Project director Selina Morales believes there are tens of thousands of other Liberian immigrants across the U.S., and that because the film stars familiar singers from home, “Because of the War” can be a catalyst that encourages them to seek out arts and social justice resources to improve their communities.

Shapiro-Phim outlined three goals that she has for the film she produced and directed. One is “to pay attention to ways we can counter” the culture of violence close to home and worldwide. Another is to overcome prejudices and “assumptions that they have about people they meet anywhere.” It’s also about countering anti-immigrant and anti-refugee policies.

Other screenings of “Because of the War” are in the works. Check www.folkloreproject.org/events.

IF YOU GO

What: Screening of “Because of the War.”

When: 4 p.m. Oct. 15.

Where: Lightbox Film Center at International House, 3701 Chestnut St., Philadelphia.

Tickets: Tickets start at $20.

Info.: http://folkloreproject.org/movie-premiere30th-birthday-party.