Abraham Mellish

Performed in Sofar Washington D.C. and Chicago

I am Abraham Gideon Mellish, son of a Kpelle woman named Tetetama Sumo and a Bassa man they called Abraham B. Mellish. In 1990, at a time of great civil unrest in a small country on the west coast of Africa named Liberia (or "land of the free"), Tetatama Sumo granted me safe passage to earth at the risk of her own life. The genesis of my music was the rhythm I felt being carried on my mother's back through the war; my plucks, strums, lyrics, and chordal progressions are extensions of those earliest movements. My relationship with the planet and its inhabitants grew out of service. I felt empowered to create peaceful patterns for myself and our community during the war. Inspired by freedom songs of ex-slaves and the movement of a Chinese man named Bruce Lee, I created a makeshift shadow-puppet theater from a cardboard box and paper. I would cut out cardboard figures to create characters to release the community imagination. After the second war (1999-2003) I moved to America at age fifteen. Though our physical conditions improved drastically (as we no longer needed to worry about out limbs beings chopped off), a new battle began in our minds and hearts. I personally found it difficult transitioning from a man to a black man. Until then I was accustomed to a rather communal way of life in Paynesville, Liberia; Yamoussoukro, Ivory Coast; and Accra, Ghana. Everyone worked for the community and the improvement of self. We knew our neighbors, and depression, when it came, was a mere blink before the suresmile of a neighbor swept it away. In America we move through life solely to secure a position through the acquisition of wealth for security. This created a void in me as I watched my mother's beautiful smile melt away with the years. I started playing music at age eighteen when my mother bought me my first guitar. My father, who had been paralyzed by some of the racial stereotypes that plague this great nation, compared giving a black boy a guitar to putting a snake in a baby’s crib. Nevertheless, I trekked on, crawling into the enclosed space of the closet in our tight two bedroom apartment in Arlington, Texas to quietly practice where no one could hear. I channelled my imagination from the same place of service that led me to create the puppet theater during my childhood years in Liberia. Like the warmth of the sun on plants, the sound of music -- although forbidden -- would light up our home, filling my mother's face with joy and her mouth with stories of her youth. My little brother, Elijah, would later follow suit by developing his singing voice. Liberation -- however momentary -- came through songs that grooved our minds and hearts out of survivor mode into rejoicing. It is good. Thank God, for goodness' sake.

Videos by Abraham Mellish