Africa: Politics and Societies South of the Sahara

‘It‘s important to tell the story of Sierra Leone’

Posted in African Politics, Culture, Global Africa, Sierra Leone by ruben eberlein on April 9, 2009

Rodney P is one of Britain’s leading rappers. In 2005 he recorded a documentary on Sierra Leone. I talked with him in June 2006 about music and its significance for the West African country. Read the interview here.

Your music is a coloured mixture of HipHop, Ragga, Break Beats, Roots Reggae and other styles. How would you describe it yourself?

First of all, it’s the music that I like myself. This is the only rule in the whole thing. It’s not about if this or that is bringing you to the radio or into the charts. If everything works out you build a following that understands what you do and joins you in your journey. In the music industry, much time is wasted for marketing and promotion, but for me it is always the music that counts.

0606rpjungleWhere will this musical journey take you?

It can take me anywhere. I hope I will never know that because surprise is a lot of fun for me. But my foundation is still HipHop. This is the music that I was listening to when I was age twelve – thirteen, that is at the time when you are looking for the best way to express yourself. Your sisters and brothers are listening to a certain style of music, your mother to something different, and you want something of your own. So I discovered HipHop, and it remained the base of my work.

Your lyrics deal only sometimes with smoking herb and are never about driving around in fat cars and showing off how great one is but often about very everyday problems. Do you conceive yourself to be a a political artist?

No. I only try to be honest. Needless to say, the subjects changed over the years. I made my first record when I was fifteen, sixteen years old, and I was up to different things then. I had a lot of lyrics about weed and girls, a lot of them. But when you get older and your personality matures, you know yourself better and your subjects change.

But most rappers continue to talk about fast cars and a lot of money.

Still I wouldn’t, being almost 40, diss a 18 year old guy because he raps about how many girls he had already. This is exactly the point that he reached. If he is honest to himself, that will change in course of his career. First of all it’s about being honest. It’s about representing what you are, believe and think. I’m a socially thinking person, and that is why I rap about social themes, even if there is no programme on which I would gear to. I don’t attempt to be a voice of the people. If you want to hear my lyrics you get to hear what I think.

It doesn’t go down well all the time to be honest.

Sure, it’s difficult. But for me, music has always been a therapy. I am the one who needs this therapy. It’s for my own mental health that I have to do music. If you don’t like it, you simply don’t buy it.

You have been in Sierra Leone twice. Why did you travel to this country destroyed by war?

I have a close relationship to Sierra Leone and know a lot of people there. I know how hard life is there. It is important to tell their stories so that others learn about what is happening there. In 1993 I went to Sierra Leone for the first time, the artist Jimmy B. invited me. I still played at that time with the London Posse. Twelve years later I returned to record a documentary about how music can influence the society. Many artists in Sierra Leone are very involved in political and social issues.

How do you see the situation in the country today?

It’s hard there, man, hard. The first time I have been there, the dictatorship was just overthrown by the military. The mood was very progressive, very optimistic. It broke my heart as the war returned later with all its horrors. The future that people planned then was looted. Now they must start again. But people are ready to do this. As long as you are ready to stand up and to fight for what you think it’s right, you have a future. This is it what it’s about today in Sierra Leone.

What is the significance of music there?

After the war, there was a vacuum. The politicians didn’t represent the people any more. The artists did it. People like Daddy Saj, Emmerson or the Jungle Leaders, for example, sang about corruption or the position of women in society, about things that nobody else talked about. And they have an impact, they reach the people.

What are the main differences to Western countries?

I think the main difference is that the music industry is just about to emerge. For this reason, music isn’t corrupted by materialism yet. Almost nobody wants to listen to American HipHop, it seems frivolous because it hasn’t anything to do with the daily life of the people in Sierra Leone. It’s certainly ridiculous to rap about your fat gold chain and your car in a country like Sierra Leone. Anyway, these things begin to creep in, and the kids are also interested in that. But I think Sierra Leone is too poor for foolish lyrics like that.

There was a huge demonstration in Washington recently that wanted to call the attention to the massacres and the war in Sudan. Is the interest in the North increasing for the things that happen in Africa?

I live in London. For a long time, people with different migrant backgrounds lived in their respective quarters. But the youth of today lives different, the communities are much more mixed. And this is reflected in the way people think. The people are not only more interested in Africa, but also in other social and political matters. They get aware that they shouldn’t believe in all the things that they hear all day. This is a global development, I think. The lies we were told are evident. Many got this clear, and that’s all right, because it is a cause to pose questions.

An example?

We witness for instance how nationalist and fascist movements in Britain are gaining a strength which waned during the 80s and now returns. As stronger nationalism gets, the stronger gets the defense against this nationalism. The people have to deal with the fact that their own communities aren’t safe any more. The racist assaults and the attacks against Muslims from all directions are things that press people down, that push them in a corner and make them realise: I don’t have a choice but to defend myself. This must not be an aggressive, violent kind of defence. Another way to protect yourself is to be more socially-minded.

This text is a retranslation from the German interview as published in Jungle World, 27/06, entitled ‘Es geht darum, ehrlich zu sein’. Info about and music from da Riddimkilla on Myspace.


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