- Someone who knew Nina Simone well—a Liberian friend of hers, I suppose a mutual friend now—told me a story. Liberia’s past is in pieces, he said, and here’s one of them. Maybe it’s the one you’re looking for.
On a September night in 1974, the wet season was closing down and an encore of rain washed the streets of Monrovia, Liberia; a torrent of sky and trash—discarded slippers, supine roaches, maybe a lost crab. The rain stopped as abruptly as it started, as if a conductor had pressed his fingers together and cut the thundering chords, and then a film of humidity stretched over the city, steaming the downtown party strip that ran from Carey Street to Broad and Gurley. That night, The Maze—a small discotheque on Mechlin Street—was cramped. Some fifty people, a cut of high society, had gathered despite the weather; women in draped dresses, men in suits with pocket squares and bow ties. Nina Simone arrived at midnight, giddy on champagne and in the arms of a Liberian date. By then the umbrellas in the corner had long dried and a mirror ball was sending out spots of light, bleaching the red velour curtains over and over. The speakers rang with imported soul and disco: James Brown, The Temptations, twelve-inch records from labels like Motown’s Gordy and Stax. Living for the City. Don’t You Worry ’Bout a Thing. Not long after Simone walked in, something got to her—the place or the drink, surely—and throwing her head back in laughter, she unfastened the button at her nape, peeled off her dress, and, as the men at the bar clapped and hollered, she danced until sun up, only putting her dress back on to leave.
I found another piece, a videotape.
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