Salone News

Emmerson Amidu Bockarie: A Short Biography

1 November 2007 at 07:48 | 23882 views

By Amadu Massally, Mohamed Kosia and Sarah Gulama.

Little did Emmerson Amidu Bockarie Sr. and Nada Taiwo Close know when Emmerson Amidu Bockarie Jr. was born in December of 1980 that their son would be a catalyst in a progressive movement of their beloved country, Sierra Leone.

He did, but he really has just begun. An ever-present opportunity for him to take his style of sending powerful socio-economic and socio-political messages through danceable tunes across Africa is more and more becoming a reality.

Born in the Wilberforce area, in one of the hills that look down on a picturesque capital, Freetown, Emmerson Bockarie grew up as any normal kid would in the hustle and bustle of the greater Sierra Leone community and after attending elementary school, he was admitted to the Saint Edward’s Secondary School. He claims he used to play around with a soccer ball as most Sierra Leonean children, but he really looks like one of those well groomed [pretty boys] who never got dirty playing.

Emmerson lost his father when he was only two years old. He was raised single-handed by his mother, whom he also lost only a few years ago, right in the midst of his coming out party. While she is not here to really enjoy her son’s success in person, there is no doubt about the watchful eyes of a mother over her son.

Something most of the Sierra Leonean youth can attest to is that growing up in Sierra Leone, especially over the past two decades, provided no hope for the future. Yet in the midst of mass poverty there have been and, until aftermath of the 2007 elections, still are civil servants and politicians who have embezzled the nation’s rich natural resources and monies received from the donor international community for personal gain. The country became a scene where people were either extremely wealthy (a minority) or very, very poor (the majority).

As the young Bockarie commuted on local transportation “poda-podas” (local mini-van or small buses) and taxis that were not chartered, he would hear the whining of disillusioned Sierra Leoneans, old and young. Their lamentations inspired the young Njala University student to write his first song U Go Si Am (which is directly translated from krio as “You Will See It” but symbolically meaning You will get your retribution or disaster will come to you. In this song, he is saying that those who are stealing from his country, Sierra Leone, will face the repercussions later! It was an instant favorite as that message-in-the-music style was largely absent at the time.

Borbor Bele was the best selling album in Sierra Leone’s music recording history. An unsuccessful attempt was made to ban the title track, ’Borbor Bele’ from the airwaves in Sierra Leone because it depicts "a corrupt politician, civil servant or non-governmental organization employee who steals public resources.” “Borbor” (boy) and “bele” (belly or stomach) are pretty harmless words by themselves. But put together as Boy Belly (literal translation) they can have a variety of meanings such as a boy who is glutton, one whose stomach is empty or even full of fecal material.
Emmerson Amidu Bockarie, while on tour in the United States in 2005 revealed to his fans in Sierra Leone and the US that his music was indeed a mechanism for change.

Many younger Sierra Leoneans and quite a few older people, both back home and in the diaspora, have been so moved and inspired by this young man’s courage and bravery that it has motivated them to want to give back to the country as contributors towards real change. His level of thinking that enables Emmerson to write and sing intelligent songs is what obviously sets him apart from all other Sierra Leonean musicians as the people’s favorite.

Through inspirational lyrics coupled with feet-tapping music, he has indeed been in the vanguard of those bringing back some sense of nationalism to Sierra Leoneans. His lyrics are filled with socio-economic and socio-political commentary with amazing dance tunes that leave his audiences full of awe and wanting more. His emotions are deeply communicated in his lyrics, as he takes his viewers and listeners on his personal journey. In person, he exudes confidence; yet, his humility and unassuming demeanor have made him very appealing to people within a broad range of demographics (from the young (including very young) to the very old, by way of the middle-aged; male and female; at home and abroad. There are very young Sierra Leoneans in-country as well as in the diaspora, who cannot even speak the native Krio that he sings in most times, but that can sing some of Emmerson’s songs and often times verbatim.

Emmerson’s new Tu Fut Arata has now replaced Borbor Bele as the best selling album ever in Sierra Leone by a Sierra Leonean. In fact, by working closely with Bhai Dhawa Sesay we were also able for the first time to officially release in the US an album by a Sierra Leonean artist living in Sierra Leone. In spite of the high incidence of piracy of his music and video products among his country folk and Africans at large, he has sold a few thousand copies of his new album in the US and in Canada. Anyone who has not seen the album should get a professionally done copy from www.sierraleonelive.com.

The title track song of the new Tu Fut Arata is an 8-minute assessment of the state of Sierra Leone after 10-odd years of SLPP governance, which brought hardly any progress at all, apart from the final achievement of peace announced in 2002, to the disappointment of millions of Sierra Leoneans. The album is also full of many other elections awareness lyrics that include commentaries such as: “wi noh geh dowt say Salone bless, bot di leaders nah dem lawless, dem jus dae member dem sef, dem forgeh bot di kontri in progress” (meaning we have no doubt that Sierra Leone is blessed [with an abundance of natural and human resources] but it’s the leaders who are [greedy and] lawless, they only think about themselves, and forget about the country’s progress). “Tu Fut Arata” means two-legged rats and is an indication of thieving leaders and civil servants who embezzle public funds, similarly to its predecessor, Borbor Bele.

This song, by itself, was an education to the voters of SL, cautioning them to be wary of who and what they vote for in the 2007 national presidential and parliamentary elections. Possibly to some extent heeding his warning and looking deep within themselves, Sierra Leoneans voted for change, echoing the lyrics “Nah mi dae can sell mi vote for res?” (Do they expect me to sell my vote for rice)? in the narrative that the song starts off with.

How would Emmerson like to be remembered when he turns old? What does Emmerson want his role to be? As he moves to enlarge his field for social commentary outwards from Sierra Leone, definitely as a patriotic citizen of Sierra Leone and ultimately of Africa, as a role model for teenagers and young adults, and as a social activist who is making a contribution to seriously combat corruption, promote collaboration among the different interest groups in society so that they will be able to hold both political leaders and the general citizenry accountable and responsible for their actions and/or inactions. He has already become one of the most entertaining musicians/entertainers of his era.

With the British Council-hosted Bring the Noise project that he is currently representing Sierra Leone in, he has the opportunity to make his mark not only in his native Sierra Leone but potentially in the entire continent of Africa. Emmerson has helped to make Sierra Leoneans devoted to their country proud in 2007. He now moves forward to apply the same magic in other reaches of the African continent.

When Emmerson returns to his native Sierra Leone some time this year, or early next year, we are certain the people of Sierra Leone will show their appreciation, for their one-man voter-education machine. He does not identify with any one political party, and if the new government fails to deliver... “wi go rite dem name nah bannah” (meaning their wrong-doings will be exposed).

Photo,left to right: Amadu Massally,Felicia, Emmerson Bockarie(alias Sugar), and Mohamed Kosia in Oakland, California.

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