On Friday March 15, 2018, the 11th annual Liberian Entertainment Awards (LEA) came back to Washington DC, USA, for a weekend of parties, games, and an award show. The weekend started with a welcome party at Bliss Night Club, which led into the main event with an afterparty Saturday, and a charity basketball game and day party Sunday. This has been the itinerary of the LEAs each year around the same time, so with this being my second time attending the awards in 3 years, I went knowing what to expect, but also remembering to keep an open mind.
The Liberian Entertainment Awards, founded by Tarkus Zonen, with an array of staffs and organizers since, is one of the Liberian diaspora’s most influential award shows with focus on the entertainment industry. From the influence of the LEA platform, some Liberian artists and entertainers have gained a much larger fan base throughout the industry. It is the one weekend where Liberian fashion designers, musicians, photographers, bloggers, media personalities, etc. from around the diaspora are all gathered in the same space for fun and the celebration of arts. This year though, something felt missing.
Although I did not attend the official welcome party, I could see it was a great time based off social media coverage from attendees. What I did attend though, was the awards ceremony on Saturday and most of the subsequent events. The ceremony this year showed much bigger improvement than when I first attended in 2016. Organization has always been a fault of the LEAs, so I had fingers crossed in the days leading up to the event, that all the anticipation wasn’t in vain. Seemed my prayers worked, as the award show was much more organized than previous years. There was a system, and though a few mishaps here and there, it worked quite smoothly.
The show started about an hour behind schedule, but with the crowd of attendees, I believe it as a fair start time. The lights went dim and all eyes turned to the lit-up screen showing the LEA Cypher 2019, USA edition, produced by GenY TV. The cypher, dj-ed by DJ Versatile, played for about 6 minutes, and hosts Diamond Sonpon and Jimmy Dee started the show. Although the LEA Cypher 2019, Liberia edition was debuted to YouTube by the LEAs, it was not played at the show.
After a few performances, someone who stood out was Singer, Lortonio, whose performance ended with a standing ovation from the entire theatre. She and her backup dancers commanded the stage and audience, and she showed in her moment that she is truly a star and deserves all the push and support. After Lortonio’s performance woke up the theatre, the audience was more engaged, with some standing to dance along with other performers, laughing at the appropriate moments, and being fully present throughout the entire show.
Another moment highlighting the award was the LEA platform’s statement on sexual abuse in Liberia. Bringing on stage a mixture of bloggers, socialites, among others to join host Diamond Sonpon, carrying various signs plastered in statements like “Say no to Rape”, or “Protect me Liberia”. While this was an important statement by the LEAs, it can be recalled that just earlier in the year, there were a series of sexual abuse allegations against popular Liberian Musician, DenG, where four women also in the entertainment industry accused the singer of sexual assault and inappropriate touching. Neither the LEAs, nor any major influencing platform like it in the entertainment industry has issued a statement in regard to the allegations; so, giving a stand on the overall issue of rape and sexual abuse in Liberia while dodging an episode of it within the industry could be perceived as the platform playing both sides.
In fact, that was an overall theme throughout the LEAs – speaking about something, without actually speaking about it. For example, we once mentioned that the LEAs omitted bloggers from the entertainment categories eligible for nominations. Meanwhile, bloggers played a key role in the overall media success of the show. From participating in the show, where bloggers like Joemade Scott, Benita Urey, and Lydia Freeman were presenters, to the live coverage of the show from blogs like the Koloqua Dialogues, Chichipoly Room, Liberia’s Stars Views, among others. If that isn’t entertainment, I’m not sure what is; but in any case, it was a good initiative to include bloggers as part of the show. Although, an official statement on our inclusivity was, and is needed.
While fashion has grown to be one of the main attractions of the show, it seems to have taken over the focus of the show, which made it lacking other substantial takeaways. Presenters that came to the stage were introduced based on their fashion instead of their works, some of whom then took the opportunity to talk about their personal works instead of the award category they were there to present. At some point, Rose Dasouah of Roshe Dezigns made a statement of the LEA Fashion police, explaining her fashion choice for the night and asking the platform and its audience to be kind to her imaginative dress design.
This plea to the LEA Fashion Police came in wake of polls conducted by the Chichipoly Room showing the Fashion Police as the most anticipated post awards social media coverage. While it is great to share the fashion choices of the event like we did HERE, we hope it does not turn into a space where people can rip apart innocent attendees, distracting them from the entertainment aspect of the event.
Although the overall event showed a great deal of improvement in its organization this year, it cannot be ignored that most of the core of the show was a bit repetitive in comparison to previous years. It seems, based on the nominations, hosts, performers, etc., that the LEA is not as current as they could be to the Liberian entertainment industry. In the last year, there were a great deal of upcoming artists that emerged trying to break into the industry and could use a stage like the LEAs to make that break. Although, the LEAs 2019 list of Nominees, award winners, and performers were almost exact replicas of previous years.
As the LEA brand moves into its 12th year in 2020, it is important that its existence is felt systemically in the Liberian entertainment industry, from the ground up. Understandably, it is a diaspora-based and focused brand, however, if it will carry the name Liberian Entertainment Awards, it has to be more aware of what’s happening on the ground in Liberian entertainment, and ensure the awards is cognizant and representative of that. The Liberian entertainment industry is on the rise, and the brands and individuals in charge need to recognize its need for full financial and human investment to ensure full expansion.