Activist/Artist Putu, Plunges into Pan-Africanism & Reparations While Connecting Black America & Liberia

Known for never straying from controversial topics, we recently conducted an interesting interview with Liberian artist/activist Putugah Takpaw P.H.E.N.O.M., better known as, “Putu.” Brother Putu has long been an advocate for Pan-Africanism. At a time when many are questioning if Pan Africanism is a one-sided practice, only valued by Blacks living in America, Putu graciously sat down with us to discuss his views on Pan-Africanism, his outlook on Liberia (West Africa) & the historical connection between Liberia and Black America. Check out the excerpt from the interview below.

1up Atlanta Examiner: Greetings. Is there a meaning behind the name Putu?

Putu: Oh yes. Putu is actually short for Putugar (Putugah) which I inherited from my paternal grandfather after having a strong resemblance to him at my birth. Putugar is just one of my birth names by the way, but it’s a nickname he (my grandfather) got from the Bassa people of Liberia.  It’s a name given to a man who is strong-willed who tends to do his own thing no matter what anybody says to him. You can imagine how he got the nickname {Laughs}. If someone tries to tell him to do something, and he is not in agreement, it’s all for nothing because he is going to just make up his mind and do what he wants. Hard-headed. The direct translation for Putu-gar is  “For Nothing-Man”.  “If I don’t agree, it will not happen.”  It’s like my way or the highway. Some might say stubborn, but it’s funny because I embody the meanings, as I can be very focused and determined. I use that determination, to strengthen my commitment to my people no matter what anybody has to say. I’m hard-headed for the uplifting of my people

1up Atlanta Examiner: You are often seen holding the Liberian Flag and the RBG Flag. For those who may not know, what is the connection between the two Flags?

Putu: While there is no direct connection between the two flags themselves, the history and symbolism of each flag are important in contrast. When you see the Liberian flag, which predates the RBG Flag by almost 75 years, the American influence is very obvious; So even though the Liberian flag with its trademark “Lone Star’ is supposed to represent Liberia being the first modern African republic, it seems to be a representation or extension of American sentiments at first glance.  One would have to be more knowledgeable of Liberia’s actual history to really understand. At the time the Liberian flag was adopted, there was no international flag or emblem that sought to represent all Black people globally, so the single star, “The Lone Star” on the Liberian flag ends up representing Liberia being the only(lone) independent Black nation on the continent at the time. But then we have the RBG flag which seeks to represent Black people collectively inclusive of the experiences of the diaspora and the continent via the pains of slavery, colonialism, and other forms of oppression. When Africans from the continent and around the world come together in unison to achieve collective goals, that’s a Pan-Africanist philosophy. One of the most significant Pan-Africans ever, Marcus Garvey(Jamaican) and his organization the UNIA-ACL, saw the urgent need for Black people to form real global solidarity towards the end of WW1, and in doing so, they must have a flag to represent that unity. A major conference was held in August 1920 in Harlem, New York, USA. where they came up with the flag. Red for the bloodshed in the movement, Black for the skin, and Green paying homage to the green in found in nature. (The 100th anniversary of the creation of RBG flag coming up in August 2020) He was trying to build a strong foundation in Liberia but the “powers that be” of that time intervened and it did not happen.

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So why do I wear those flags together a lot? I do so to highlight and revive the connection between Liberia and Pan-Africanism which seems to have disappeared over the years. Even many common Liberians are not familiar with the history of the RBG flag. When most ppl see the Liberian flag by itself, they only see American imagery and American influence. But that’s not all there is to Liberia, because we have the indigenous of the land who were already there prior to the arrival of the formerly enslave and free Black settlers from America. Holding the Liberian flag side by side with the RBG flag, for those who are familiar with what it represents, it makes them think of Marcus Garvey, Black Pride, Black Power, and Pan-Africanism as well. The settlers and natives, which represent Africans from home and abroad coming together as a nation. So now when we mix all that together, then we can have a better conversation about Liberia. That’s the potential of Pan-Africanist ideology manifested in a nation.

1up Atlanta Examiner: What are a few important things that Blacks living in America should know about Liberia?

Putu: Let’s see:

  1. Liberia is where a “Declaration of Sovereignty” will be issued on April 20th Shout out to “420 International Coalition.” Keep an eye on Liberia moving forward. Things are going to get interesting in a good way. We going to be pushing the Pan-African discussion really strong. Also, look out for Jauz Everliving King, too. He’s in Liberia playing a pivotal role in this movement for a United Africa.
  2. The “separation” between Black America and Liberia was intentional by the powers that “was.” I say “was,” because it’s a new day and age now. Back then, “they” knew the potential, and disrupted it. Now, it’s a different story, and there’s even more potential with all the technological advancements, since then! Black America can take advantage of the time period we are in to learn about the history, culture, and see how they can help modern Liberia, as well as themselves. It’s a two-way street. Of course, the Liberian people will have to play their part as well.
  3. Liberia is open for business. With people that look like them. There are so many opportunities to build up the private sector in Liberia, especially right now. The typical Liberian already has the hustle mentality, there just needs to be more opportunities with people who really care about them. We must highlight good business. Liberia has had a history of exploitation, even when their own fellow Liberians have done it, so business ventures of today have to be beneficial to the people to have progress. No more 419 scams and corruption.
  4. For music lovers, get hip to the emerging Liberian Music Industry. You have talented rappers, reggae, R&B, and traditional artists. In-fact the whole entertainment industry. The art and culture of Liberia is interesting and powerful.
  5. Liberia has potential. It has the longest standing relationship with Black America on the African Continent. So it can be easy to connect with. You might even find some distant relatives! LOL. I’ve seen it happen. Your next family reunion gonna be LIT!!
  6. Black Americans should know about Liberia’s Negro Clause in Liberia’s constitution.
  7. Get to know about Liberian Jollof Rice! All the food for that matter! The beaches. The women. The stories. The history. The future. The everything!

1up Atlanta Examiner: What are your opinions regarding the current reparations movement in the United States, spearheaded by Foundational Black Americans and American Descendants of Slaves?

Putu: Though I believe we are so great and creative that we can survive without it, I think reparations can definitely be a great thing. It all depends on the approach. Those movements and many others are doing great by keeping the idea alive. There are many groups out there, but I think there needs to be more collaboration to be even more effective if it’s going to yield any real results. If we keep the Pan-African approach in mind and work collectively, we can implement strategies that start domino effects for the Africans in different areas.  In fact, Liberia could be a good country to align with as Black Americans, to get a more formal strategy. From what I know, you have to seek reparations as a nation. Black America is not an actual nation, so when it gets down to the legalities, it gets technical in terms of pursuing a real legal battle. Liberia has a case for reparations too, and to combine it with Black America’s case, especially since there is already a collective history, that could be big. There’s a way to connect the dots, we just have to look into it. On another note, we have to make something clear. When most people talk about reparations, generally speaking, they are thinking about money. Not everybody thinks that way, but overall, we need to emphasize that outside of financial reparations, we need to see about repairing our minds, hearts, emotions, and spirits, otherwise, the money would do us no good. We would get the money and plunder and mismanage it because our minds, hearts, and spirits would still be messed up. Reparations are good, we just have to get priorities in order and map out an effective way forward.

1up Atlanta Examiner: You often use the term Liberia Heals. What is Liberia Heals, and why is it important?

Putu: The Liberia Heals Initiative is actually a venture I started along with a few other Liberians, we launched in 2012.  We took a collective look at the Liberian people and recognized that as a people we were hurt, emotionally torn and deeply traumatized people. Therefore we need(ed) healing, hence the name Liberia Heals. Liberia Heals represents the collective will and process of the Liberian people intentionally coming together for the sake of healing. Liberia Heals has turned into a grassroots movement, inclusive of Liberians, both locally and internationally. A lot of Liberians identify with Liberia Heals, but we just have to get active and pushing forward plans. Sometimes the work seems overwhelming and people tend to lose faith, but we can do it. We have plans to erect a Healing Monument/Memorial and publish a Book detailing the names of those who perished during the civil disturbances of the last 40 years. We also like to incorporate music and the creative arts in the healing process to complement professional counseling and retraumatization prevention workshops. I look forward to doing extraordinary things through this venture as we get more people involved actively. The CashApp is $LibHeals for those who want to support our ongoing projects, and you can even get special souvenirs based on how much you contribute.  Liberia Heals is important because it has already brought so many people together and the potential it has in achieving its goal will serve as an example of Liberians working together on one accord, having settled gripes, having dealt with the anger, pain and hurt amongst one another. We need to do something like this to prove to ourselves we are one and have truly learned the lessons from the past, so history never repeats.

1up Atlanta Examiner: One of the criticisms of modern-day Pan Africanism is that it has been lopsided over the years and that African nations have failed to provide dual citizenship to Black living in America, What is your outlook on the state of Pan Africanism throughout the diaspora?

Putu: Let me just shout out all my African people at home and across the globe! I think that there is definitely a revival of the Pan-Africanist spirit in our generation. The internet and social media have surely helped this process. It is evident as we see a renewed spirit of Africans from the Western Hemisphere, desiring to identify with and go to Africa. I believe that actually seeing Africa through live videos via the internet instead of through controlled media during the pre-internet age has allowed people who once had a jaded perception of Africa to reconsider. It also worked visa versa, as more continental Africans see commonalities in westernized Africans culturally, socially, etc. Also, African immigrants into the US, UK and other parts of the world have provided the opportunity for Africans to bring their cultures to people who would have otherwise never had access to it. We are having better communication between each other enjoying the synergy of music, food, and culture.

As far as African nations are concerned, generally speaking, I understand why progress has been slow. These African nations are part of institutions like the UN, World Bank, IMF, etc that have agendas and policies that are not favorable to the Pan-African “dream”. They operate off deceit, scam, and corruption. 419 business. Many African leaders and governments who tried to promote Pan-Africanism, One Africa, and/or direct Africans and people of African descent into unity had their ambitions disrupted or totally destroyed by these very same global bodies that fear the power that Africans have as a united people. But it is a different age and day today. We’re leaving the 419 “business as usual” mindset behind, and embrace 420. We are moving forward! The African youth home and abroad think different and the internet has brought them together. There’s not a limit. The world has changed and continues to by the minute. Tables are turning and things are coming together if you look carefully.

1up Atlanta Examiner: Why is Pan-Africanism important to you, and what do you say to those who feel that Pan-Africanism is dead?

Putu: Pan-Africanism is important to me because I see it as our only way to survive. For so long we have had destruction inflicted upon us as a people. It is about time we finally achieve liberation and sovereignty as a people. Many of our ancestors shed blood and died, not just for us to celebrate them during black history month, an “independence day” or holiday, but so that we could continue on the fight and see it through! They would be sad if they saw how complacent we are today, when they shed blood, warned us, and we are still making mistakes from their times. Pan-Africanism is not dead, it’s on a rise. I think those who think its dead, are only speaking from their perception which may be real to them, especially when they only focus on the failures, mistakes, and/or damage that was done to those who pushed unity in the past. They could even be traumatized and scared. But they need to know it’s a different time now. We are stronger and even wiser during this time because we can learn from the mistakes. We have more technology and communication. I would like to use this opportunity to invite anybody who is interested, but hesitant for whatever reason, to keep watch out for Liberia. I’m involved in some things that are transforming Liberia and will spread to other places. Trust me. Plus there are so many others playing their roles as well. Achieving the goals of the past may have been delayed or prolonged, but Pan-Africanism is very much alive, and those that believe in it have to rise to the forefront so that others can recognize it and join in.

1up Atlanta Examiner: Are African musicians embracing Pan Africanism enough to have impact and influence on the continent of Africa, and throughout the diaspora.

Putu: From what I see, some African musicians do embrace Pan-Africanism subtly. Much of the popular African music centers around love ballads and carefree party energy. African music continues to cross over to the point where more and more Black Americans and Carribeans, and Blacks globally embrace it – that is great influence and power by itself. That’s Pan-Africanism in practice within itself. Now when we add even more messages and substance into mainstream African music, the impact is going to be much greater. It’s going to be the soundtrack to the African Renaissance that is happening. So I think we are in the beginning stages of a phenomenon that is going to grow. I know I’m definitely going to help push the issue. LOL

1up Atlanta Examiner: Explain to the readers what Hip-Co is, and why you feel it has the potential to be accepted globally.

Putu: Hip-Co is a genre of music that has emerged out of post-war Liberia. Inspired by American Hip Hop, Hip-co is basically rapping in Liberian English, or “kolokwa/koloqua” (colloquial) hence the name Hip- “co”. Hip-Co artists talk about the everyday things that go on in their respective communities and also can be very politically charged. I believe Hip-Co can and will be accepted globally as more people around the world seek to understand Liberia from the mouths of Liberians themselves. The Liberian accent and kolokwa English is not difficult to understand once you hear it a few times. It’s easy once you get the basics. One could say rappers used Ebonics for Hip Hop which was not understood by the American mainstream initially. But over time, those who were not familiar with Ebonics got “Hip” to the lingo. LOL.  Even Reggae, which Hip-Hop helped to the mainstream in America went worldwide, and the Jamaican patois can be complex. BIG UPS to all my Carribeans out there by the way. Hip-Co being such a close relative to Hip Hop may be a “gateway” genre for Hip Hop lovers who are also interested in African music.  Plus, people are eager to know about African History in general, now, but, whose telling the story? Much of Liberia’s history around the world has been told by foreigners, some of whom don’t understand Liberians, or intentionally wanted to give a distorted narrative for whatever reason. Hip Hop provided the opportunity for young African Americans from impoverished areas to speak about their plight, social ills, and circumstance from their own mouths, instead of others judging them and painting their own pictures. It took a while for Hip-Hop to be accepted even nationally, but now it is one of the biggest genres around the world. So it’s going to be great to hear the story of Liberia through Hip Hop, Hip Co, and other genres.

1up Atlanta Examiner: Where can people follow you and learn more about Liberia heals and other projects that you have going on?

Putu: Find Me on Instagram: @PutuMusic Facebook: Putu (Music Page)

For Bookings or Speaking Engagements, text my Management: 404-979-1931

Liberia Heals will be relaunching a new website Www.LiberiaHeals.org in May 2020.

Important Note: At the end of the interview, Putu reminded me that he had no problem with Foundational Black Americans/American Descendants of Slaves going after reparations for themselves, but he only thought it would be more feasible if they did it as a sovereign nation.

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1 Comment

  1. First of all, I want to extend my thanks and applications 1up Atlanta Examiner for giving our brother Putu the opportunity and platform to bring this important discussion to the public.
    Big up to the man Putu for his efforts to promote unity among the African people.

    Like

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