The music of Sierra Leone shares many similarities with other West African countries. It is made of their own native traditions mixed with elements of French, British, Creole, and Caribbean music. A variety of percussion instruments (including different kinds of drums and rattles), acoustic guitars and a number of other modern instruments are used in their music today. Not to mention many styles of vocal singing.
During the 1950s and 1960s, Ebenezer Calendar & His Maringar Band borrowed the parts of calypso and other Caribbean musical styles to create maringa, or what is also known as palm wine music in nearby Liberia. It grew out of the music people made when they sat around drinking palm wine and a few people would grab their guitars. It gave way to influencing the soukous and highlife styles.
Gumbe is a style that was introduced by the Jamaican maroons when they arrived. The music is centered around the gembe, a large drum with legs. While the drum has some spiritual uses, it has a stronger tradition of being used as a method of communication, stemmed in a history of sending messages to fight the British.
Other pan-African styles are also heard in Sierra Leone. Out of combining several different genres including funk, soul, rumba, the style known as Afropop was born. And many musicians created their own styles and variations off of that. Many modern genres likes pop, dancehall, reggae, rap, R&B, jazz, and a mainly British style called grime (an electronic form that mixes in rap, reggae, and related styles.)
There are three main dance styles are have been popularized in the 20th century: Asiko (or Ashiko), Maringa, and Milo jazz. Gumbe music has a lot to do with their dances and is played as accompaniment to it. Each ethnic group has their own dances. One of the more popular dances in Sierra Leone is the Devil Dance. The people here don’t view devils as the evil entity that most Westerners do. It’s more of a visible representation of secret societies and their leaders. Graham Green wrote about devils and the devil dance as he made his way across Sierra Leone in his book Journey Without Maps.
I only listened to a few musicians/bands from Sierra Leone. The first one I listened to was African Connection. They had a great funk sound to them – I was really digging it. It was complete with the bass and a horn line, but I think I definitely heard some African-influenced percussion rhythms at times. I super liked these guys.
Next on my list was Seydu. I listened to the album Sadaka, and I thought it was very relaxing, very chill. He utilizes the acoustic guitar sound quite a bit along with using African rhythms to accentuate the movement of his music.
The music of Abdul Tee-Jay reminds me of what I think of when I think of African music. I’m not sure exactly what it is: the guitars they use, the rhythms and melody lines, the horn lines that answer each other, the lyrics that I don’t quite understand. But there’s something happy about it, though.
In a way, the music of Bosca Banks reminds me a little of Abdul Tee-Jay, but with more modern, synthesized sounds to it. Not to mention that Bosca Banks sings mostly in English, compared to most of the other musicians I listened to sing in other languages.
Up next: the food