From the Editor’s Keyboard

Ernest: Living Prophet of Sustainable Wealth?

22 September 2011 at 03:17 | 928 views

By Oswald Hanciles, Guest Writer, Freetown, Sierra Leone.

“The streets of Freetown were full of pomp, pageantry and jubilations yesterday following the approval of parliament of the anti piracy law, Copyright Act. …Hundreds of musicians, film actors, and actresses, producers, directors, cassette and compact sellers…. took to the streets of Freetown to celebrate the enactment of the copyright law…. Praises for Ernest Bai Koroma form a vital part of yesterday’s celebrations…….(Education minister Dr. Minkailu Bah) who tabled the bill before it became law said ‘it also at improving the undertakings of not only the musicians, but journalists, advertisers and traditional designers, among other creative Sierra Leoneans….” - “As Parliament Enacts Copyright (Piracy) Act…. Massive Rally & Praises for Ernest Koroma” , by Aruna Turay & Augustine Samba, AWARENESS TIMES, Thursday, July 14, 2011, page 2.

Page 2 of THE NEW VISION newspaper of Friday, July 15, 2011, reports the same event thus: “Artists across the country made up of the DJ’s Union, All Stars, the Filming Industry, FOSMIS, Lovers and Fans of Sierra Leonean Artists today in a jubilant mood accompanied with heavy sound system joyfully paraded through the Central Business District of Town in celebration of the enactment of the Copyright |bill… (The newspaper published a photograph with the musicians holding aloft a banner with the handsome and more youthful 2007 photograph of the President with the inscription, “Live Prophet”).

Implicit ‘Political Urgency’ of the Anti-Piracy Act

If the NEW VISION newspaper report is correct, the musicians certainly are not going to leave the enforcement of the Intellectual Property Law in the hands of the police: they aim for ‘Citizens’ Arrest’ against ubiquitous pirates and those hawking pirated CDS: ‘Popular musician, Innocent, said they can even make on the spot arrest on suspected culprits and hand them over to the police….’ NEW VISION reports.

The female-heart-fluttering-handsome APC parliamentarian from Freetown, Hon Cherno Bah (famous as ‘Hon. Chericoco’), said the President treated the Intellectual Property Bill “with urgency”. Apparently, for the politically-strategic-thinking President Ernest Bai Koroma the 2012 presidential and parliamentary elections a YEAR away are on the time scale of “URGENT”. Few would dispute the recent historical reality that pop musicians in Freetown inculcated into the minds of the city dwellers intrinsically anti-SLPP songs that awakened contempt for, and anger against, the then governing SLPP – like Emerson’s ‘Bobor belleh’ and “Two foot Arata”; the 2007 hit song by Innocent, “Gee dem notice”…. – and that was a key factor in the SLPP losing all the parliamentary seats in Freetown in 2007. With that inherent ‘support’ of the mainly Freetown-based musicians the APC won by a landslide in 2007 the same Freetown electoral districts the SLPP had won with a landslide in 2002.

Musicians like Innocent have been become overtly political in recent years - with his song, “Gee dem chance” : a pro-APC and Pro-President Koroma song, calling on the political opposition in Sierra Leone to exercise patience with President Koroma as he struggles to lift the nation up.

Can the Musicians Win for Ernest What Inflation Threatens to Snatch from Him?

Now, as nearly most of the most famous indigenous musicians hail President Koroma as a “Live Prophet”, they are more likely to win more converts into the ‘APC political church’, and help the President explain his impressive developmental strides that threatens to be blighted by gnawing inflation. Youth in the densely populated East End of Freetown over the past year see the local musicians as their only real heroes, or, even, demi-gods, and a cult-like following of fans now coalesce around these musicians. The opposition SLPP ought to be painfully aware that our musicians can potently sway the multitudes in the capital city of Freetown during elections; so, the Anti-Piracy Act is a political masterpiece stroke for the APC, and an unnerving legislation for the SLPP.

Flagrant Pirates Had Largely Impoverished Local Musicians

The years 2004 to 2006 were boom years for the musical industry in Sierra Leone. Musicians like the duo, Manzu and C’bolt, Emerson, Extra O (‘Eee dae insai…komot’!), etc. made hits which could be heard in every bar, disco, party, poda poda…all over the country. And they made Sierra Leoneans generally proud!! Millions of their CDs would have been ‘sold’. On the streets of Freetown, hawkers would flagrantly sell the CDs of these local musical stars - for their original CDs would be on the market for Le10,000; while the pirates would sell their copyrighted work for as low as Le4,000. Thus, while the musicians have been very immensely successful, with the exception of a few of them (like Emerson; Pupa Baja), it has not reflected in their lifestyles. Most of them have not been able to even afford to buy second cars. They are, relatively, shabbily dressed, as they trudge under the burning tropical sun of Freetown – with no ‘star sheen’ on them. The Intellectual Property Act is not just political gimmick, it will significantly help to financially empower, even, enrich, these talented youth desperate for hope in their largely impoverished lives.

President Koroma’s derisive and warning words to pirates touch on a fundamental problem of the psyche of Sierra Leoneans “…If you think you can remain idle and feast on other’s hard work you are fooling yourself…’”. It is a ‘national disease’ that is recognized as the ‘monkey woke babu eat’ syndrome. (Meaning: ‘The monkey labors as almost a slave, while the baboon chops all the labor of the monkey’).

Could Salone’s own Stevie Wonder be Born in Blind Allie Conteh of FORENSIC Studios?

One of the Sierra Leoneans in the music industry who has faced the brunt of the piracy malaise over the past fifteen years have been Allie Christopher Conteh. He is physically blind. He is the director, and the brains behind, FORENSIC Studios at the junction of Circular Road and Soldier Street in Freetown. A couple of months ago, I spoke with the heavy-set dark-skinned Allie Conteh at his Spartan Studio, wearing the trade mark dark glasses for blind people.

He told me that most of the hit songs by local stars that have received rave reviews, have excited youth, have won awards, have been produced in FORENSIC studios (owned by one Bo-based David S. Sesay, a retired Assistant Inspector-General of Police) under Allie Conteh’s guidance. “When you come to the studio, you see only a few gadgets; but, the output that we come out with astounds people; especially when you consider that most local artists pay just on average Le400,000 for a single (about $100) – while artists and agents could pay $8,000 on average for similar work in studios in the U.S. It is like magic what we do here!”.

From K-Man, to Buberi to Pupa Baja….All Nurtured in FORENSIC STUDIOS

With clearly a sharp memory, Allie Conteh gave me an outline of some of the productions of FORENSIC studios. They include one of the most popular singles in the history of pop music in Sierra Leone: Shadrack’s “Love nar dae tire”; and the song making the biggest waves in Freetown, “Watch u face”…(So poignant, so much a blend of youthful defiance and love song; so easy to sing along with, ‘When ar kam with me yone style, me nar watch u face”; which got the youth berserk when Shadrack performed in the Jubilee Concert at the National Stadium on April 27, 2011!!). Preacher Man’s hit song of 2011, “Boku Tuk” also has come from FORENSIC. Then, Baw Waw Society’s “Gege nar Throat”. Buberi has cultural songs, among which is “Gbontami” (in Temne, it means: confess your infidelity.

‘K-Man’ is the strikingly handsome heart throb of the love song genre - ‘Fall in Love’; ‘You are my Teddy Bear’ - that get especially young girls ecstatically crazy during his live performances, having drawn the largest crowds in history for any event at the National Stadium in Freetown (over a 100,000 screaming fans!!): he has his songs produced in FORENSIC studios.

Revolutionary musicians like Pupa Baja – with his 2007 hit song, ‘Di Pa Dae Park for Go’ – have produced their songs in FORENSIC studios; also social commentators like ‘Buberi’, with his 2008 AWOL-award-winning Temne song, ‘Kubokoh’ – mocking those who don’t take their bath regularly in hot and humid Sierra Leone. Dry Yai Crew’s 2006 song, ‘Mabinty’, was at once a slap against the rich men in society who ‘steal’ away young girls from impoverished young boys because they have money, and a pragmatic capitulation of the young who show understanding for young girls who prostitute themselves. (‘Mabinty…or to say are nar want u…but, nar di bomba dem way dae behin u…’).

Pirates Have Impoverished the Blind Musical Genius, Allie Conteh

The blind Allie Conteh told me categorically that “70 percent of all the hit pop songs in the country” have been produced by him in FORENSIC studios. But, in spite of such soaring success, the blind Allie Conteh has had his wealth almost literally stolen by sighted pirates who flagrantly pirate the CDS produced by musicians who his genius has helped to flower. “I can’t even afford to buy a car today, and I have to use commercial transport daily…” - to move from his Spartan single room in the compound of the Milton Margai School for the Blind (where he teaches music) on Wilkinson Road to his Circular Road Studio. It is a vexatious situation for this man who got blind before his first birthday in the mid-1970s after he was stricken by measles in his village of Yele, in the Tonkolili District, in Northern Province of Sierra Leone. After many years of futilely using traditional herbs to get Allie Conteh to get his sight, an uncle advised his parents that youthful Allie Conteh should be taken to the blind school in Freetown. In 1983, he joined the blind school choir.

With galloping inflation in the country, life is daily grind for the talented Allie Conteh; therefore, taking care of his two sons, Allison, 4 and Aloysius, 2, is a daily worry for him. The token sum Allie Conteh is offered as organist of the Vine Memorial Baptist Church in Congo Cross, and spasmodically, as organist in the Anglican St. George’s Cathedral Church on George Street in Freetown, can only get him to send his sons to public schools, where standards are generally declining. Over the past decade, as most of the musicians in the country came to depend on Allie Conteh’s genius, centrifugal forces from the developed countries has been torturing Allie Conteh. Music producers in the United States have been pressuring him to leave Sierra Leone to make dramatically increased money in the U.S. But, his sense of commitment to local musicians who desperately need his musical production talents to grow has made him stay put. So, far, the deeply Christian Allie Conteh has resisted the pull towards big money in the US to fulfill his divine role to push Sierra Leone music forward. ‘Prophet’ Ernest Bai Koroma initiative in getting his APC majority in parliament to pass the Anti-Piracy Law would certainly give a new lease of life to the music industry, and to the likes of FORENSIC producer, Allie Conteh – and writers like Oswald Hanciles, who has written the first biography on President Koroma.