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Zaye Tete

Born in Nimba County in the northeastern part of the country, Zaye, of ethnic Gio heritage, was one of 13 children of parents who grew coffee and cocoa. She joined a local dance and singing group that performed on the occasion of the birth of a child, the visit of a dignitary, and on feast days following a death. In 1979, Liberia's President, William Tolbert, toured Nimba County and saw Zaye's troupe perform. He selected her to go to Monrovia, the capital, to become part of the National Cultural Troupe. Once at Kendeja, an artists' village and the home of the National Troupe, just outside the capital, she studied academic subjects along with songs and dances from all of Liberia's ethnic groups. With the National Troupe, she traveled throughout Liberia, singing at village feasts and other events. She also performed abroad. She recorded an album and became a national singing star.

In 1990, when the civil war reached the capital, everyone at Kendeja had to run. Zaye made it home on foot - after about two months. She then crossed the border to the Ivory Coast. While there, she started a Liberian children's cultural troupe. With the help of an international non-governmental organization, she set up a practice hall, and produced and sang and danced in performances in the camp.

Here in the U.S. she performs at Liberian celebrations and clubs, and continues to compose and record. She was awarded a Leeway Foundation Art and Change grant in 2009 to teach traditional songs and dances to Liberian American youth. In late 2012 she went on a three-week performance tour of Australia. A founding member of the Liberian Women’s Chorus for Change, she received a Leeway Transformation Award in 2015 for her years of art and social justice work.

Zaye Tete 2015 WPEB Radio Interview