Politicized Music in Sierra Leone

One positive aspect of the coming November elections in Sierra Leone is the politicization of music coming from Sierra Leone’s youth. Music has recently emerged as a tool through which many African artists are now expressing their political views, and Sierra Leone is no exception.

The youth play an important role in Sierra Leonean society. When they are unemployed and disenfranchised they form a lumpenproletariat which has the potential to unravel the precarious peace that Sierra Leone now rests upon should their grievances become large enough. 

One way the youth have of expressing their grievances and also calling for peace and stability is through music where they critique “…those in power (the elders) for not doing what they should” such as “…not providing enough opportunity for advancement, or not spreading the wealth around equitably”.1 Music has recently become a politicized tool through which musicians, especially youth, can voice their opinions of the government and disseminate it to a wide audience.

Music played a large role in the 2007 Presidential election. In fact, music is sometimes credited for Koroma’s victory and the peaceful change of power between the SLPP and APC. One song called Notice by the Sierra Leonean musician named Innocent was taken by Koroma and the APC as their campaign song. The lyrics went: “Dem wan ya so we go gi dem notice…if we no gi den notice, we no go get peace”, which loosely translates to English as ‘They want you so we are giving them [an eviction] notice…if we don’t give them the notice, we won’t have pace”.

What Innocent meant by creating this song was that it was time for Kabbah and the SLPP party to leave the Presidency to the APC and that the voters would soon give Kabbah his ‘eviction notice’ from the President’s office. 

In response to this song, another Sierra Leonean band who were supportive of the SLPP created a song titled Na Wi Na Di Landlord, which translates to ‘Now we are the landlords’ – referencing that the SLPP were there to stay in the Presidency.

Another song used during the 2007 election was Pak for Go by Jungle Leaders. The song was about the unavoidable transfer of power that was about to occur since Kabbah was not eligible for reelection. Some of the lyrics for Pak for Go were as follows:

Di pa na dae pak fo go…som man dey say yu try, som pepo say yu fail, som man say you no fo do much. APC we don see. SLPP we don see. PMDC we don know…SLPP, PDMC, APC who don can set wi free…(The father [President Kabbah] is packing to leave…some men say he tried, some people say he failed, some men say he didn’t do much. APC – we don’t see them. SLPP – we don’t see them. PMDC – we don’t know them…SLPP, PMDC, APC can’t set us free…).
This song illustrates the first transfer of Presidential power to occur in post-Conflict Sierra Leone and states that the political parties themselves are not going to set Sierra Leoneans free, but rather the Sierra Leoneans will do it themselves through self-determination and their vote. 

Furthermore, this song also mentions the importance of youth in its line that states “wi go tell God tenki fo da youth…dey na da future so wi get no fo protect dem”, which loosely translates to “we thank God for the youth…they are the future of this country so we have to protect them”. The artists of this song realized that the youth play an important role in either the peace or chaos of the nation, which is why the government should place heavier emphasis on providing the youth with resources that will lead to their success.

Music is a way through which musicians in Sierra Leone can not only voice their political opinions to a large audience, but also act as a voice through which average Sierra Leoneans can voice their grievances. King Fisher, a radio DJ at Talking Drum Radio in Freetown stated that music “…is the only means of communication that everyone can understand” regardless of religion, language, educational level or tribe. Furthermore, music serves not as a weapon of violence, but as “…a weapon for unification”. This can be seen in the new song by the band Bajah and the Dry Yai Crew in their song Wan Fambul (One Family).

In the intro to their promo video, the crew state: “Wi all na wan fambul. Eh no say, na wan Salone wi get…Sierra Leoneans common le wi go vote peacefully”, or translated as ‘we are all one family and we are one Sierra Leone…Sierra Leoneans let’s all go and vote peacefully”.3 Songs like those I've listed get a peaceful message across to all generations of Sierra Leoneans that politics does not necessarily have to mean violence.
From November to today, the song Dumyarea by Junior Freeman of Liberia plays inescapably in all parts of country. Not a day went by that I walked down the streets of Bo without hearing it play on someone's mobile. This song was used by Ellen Johnson Sirleaf in her reelection campaign in Liberia and its popularity spread to Sierra Leone and will likely persist being played up until the November elections. 

The most recent example of politicized music in Sierra Leone for the upcoming election in a hit from a brand new artist that has gone viral throughout the country. His name: Bobby. The song: Orsai.

The title of this song 'Orsai' is part of the slogan for the current ruling APC party which is "Orwai, Orsai tae go". This song talks about how everyone asks the artist, Bobby, what party he belongs to, and he says that all the political parties in Sierra Leone - SLPP, APC, PMDC, etc - all have the letter 'P' in them, so as far as he is concerned, he is part of the 'P' party. 

Bobby's CD is played on an endless loop in the cities around the country. If you walk down the center of any of the major towns, the music stands will be blaring his tracks and people walking on the street will be playing them from their cellphones. His songs are popular because they discuss issues applicable to all Sierra Leoneans. The upcoming election is why this song is particularly popular right now.

These various examples show the power that music and youth have no only through their ballot, but also through their words. Music can be a weapon that musicians can use to hold their politicians accountable, which is scary for the government, but bodes well for Sierra Leoneans themselves.

1 Susan, Shepler, “Youth Music and Politics in Post-War Sierra Leone,” Journal of Modern African Studies 48, no. 4 (2010): 631.


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