Saturday, August 11, 2018

SIERRA LEONE: MUSIC AND DANCE


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

Sunday, August 5, 2018

SIERRA LEONE: ART AND LITERATURE


Sierra Leone has many ethnic groups living within its borders, and everyone offers their own perspective on some common ubiquitous art forms. Carving is a common style of art found here, and most commonly found using ivory, stone, or wood.
 
There are certain regional styles, such as use of color, patterns, or technique. Common wood-carved pieces include masks and figurines used for ceremonial or spiritual purposes. Stone carvings were a tradition of the Temne people; many were lost and/or destroyed by the Mende people when they took over the Temne lands. (Nice job, guys.)
 

In light of Ramadan, there were quite a few lantern contests where people would make wooden lanterns and float them down the river. Many of them were designed to look like landmarks, people, animals, or supernatural beings. Although it pretty much ended when the civil war broke out, there are some people who have tried to bring back the tradition.
 
By Mudiama Kammoh
When many countries gain their independence (or starting the uprisings leading up to it), there is usually a surge in a patriotic or national art movement. However, Sierra Leone didn’t really go through that during the 1950s and 1960s when they gained their independence. Their movement came during the civil war of the 1990s when youth artists began to paint national and patriotic themes and leaders during that time.
 
By Louise Metzger
Some of the more well known artists include Cam Coker, Louise Metzger, Alusine Bangura, Mudiama Kammoh, Tarawali Tarazadio, Kwame Haleston, and Alphonso Lisk-Carew.



Literature is typically written in English. There was quite a thriving literary scene before the civil war took place, which pretty much went underground or stopped completely. Except perhaps for some journalistic works, or works from those who fled the country and wrote from abroad. As the country healed from nearly a decade of turmoil, literature and publications have been slow to pick up. But it has picked up, as people wrote about their country and their experiences as a way to heal themselves. Civil War literature and children’s literature have both increased in readership and publication since the end of the war through the publishing efforts and support by organizations like PEN International.

Some of the main authors from Sierra Leone include Eustace Palmer (professor, author, literary critic), Wilfred “Freddy Will” Kanu Jr (author, hip-hop recording artist), Karamoh Kabba (novelist), Adelaide Casely Hayford (feminist, public speaker, started a girls school, short story author), Gladys Casely Hayford (poet, playwright, musician, teacher, daughter of Adalaide Casely Hayford), Syl Cheney-Coker (poet, novelist, journalist, editor), Winston Forde (novelist, playwright), Elvis Gbanabom Hallowell (poet, storyteller), Ambrose Massaquoi (poet, short stories), Lucilda Hunter (novelist, librarian), Shiekh Umarr Kamarah (poet, linguist, professor), and Dr Siaka Kroma (novelist, professor).

Up next: music and dance

Sunday, July 29, 2018

SIERRA LEONE: THE LAND AND THE PEOPLE


Earlier this month, I finished reading Graham Greene’s Journey Without Maps. During the 1930s, he was sent to Africa and tasked with mapping out and exploring the interior of Liberia. He had started out in British-controlled Sierra Leone, gathered a crew to help him navigate his way, and made their way through the jungles and villages in the interior parts of Sierra Leone and Liberia. Outside of the coastal cities, all that the Americans, French, and British had written about the interior of theses countries was very little, just vaguely condemning the entire area as belonging to cannibals. I love his way of describing what he saw and the people he met – and no, none of them were cannibals. 

 
Portuguese sailors during the 15th century were the first Europeans to give this area a name and called the hills near Freetown Serra Leoa. It translates to “Lioness Mountains.” The Spanish later called it Sierra Leona, and through a series of misspellings, it became known as Sierra Leone. (To be fair, leone is the Italian word for lion, so it’s still close.)



Sierra Leone is located in West Africa, surrounded by Guinea to the north and east and Liberia to the south. It has a significant coastline on the Atlantic Ocean. The country has a variety of landscapes from mountains to river basins to lowlands to swamps, forests, and farmland. They have a tropical climate divided into a rainy season (May to November) and a dry season (December to May). During the dry season, they experience the harmattan winds that come off of the Sahara Desert. 


People have been living in this area for about 2500 years, having migrated from other areas of Africa. Many of them belonged to the Mande group of people. Islam was introduced through the Mali Empire and became widely established during the 18th century. As the Europeans arrived (mainly the Portuguese, Dutch, French, and British), they set up trading posts throughout the area. Of course, the all three countries helped facilitate the African slave trade between various points in West Africa and the West Indies. After the United States won its independence, there were quite a few freed African slaves who fled to Canada. These Black Loyalists of Nova Scotia, tired of Canadian winters and continued racism, decided they’d rather deal with whatever Africa had to give them over that hot mess. Known as The Settlers, they set up the city of Freetown and established their lives like what they learned how to do when they were slaves in the American South. It was a rough process of getting themselves established, and the British didn’t offer much help or support (of course not). They were still threatened from outside groups with re-enslavement. During the 1790s, they held their first election—including women. The British were reluctant to let them take freehold of the land, and then sent in 500 Jamaican Maroons. And when the British abolished slavery, they dumped more recently freed slaves into Sierra Leone, many sold as apprentices or forced to join the Navy. During the 19th century, a new ethnicity of mixed cultures emerged, and they called themselves Krio (Creole). The British turned Sierra Leone into a colony, and Freetown became a regional center, building it up and creating a European-style city complete with markets and universities. It later became a British protectorate, often butting heads with tribal leaders of taxes and land control. During the 1950s, Sierra Leone began drafts of pulling away, as many colonial states were doing in Africa, and they finally gained their independence in 1961. While things generally started out fine, it didn’t take long for all hell to break loose and someone to establish a one-party system. For nearly the first 30 years, politics in Sierra Leone were met with riots and corruption and coups, followed by a decade-long civil war during the 1990s. It took a long time to recover from the civil war, which left the country in a state of disarray and inadequate infrastructure and stability. In 2014, they suffered terribly from the Ebola epidemic that hit many areas of the West African coastal countries.

 
Freetown is Sierra Leone’s largest city and capital with a population of around 1.5 million people. It’s also an important port city, located on a harbor of an estuary of the Sierra Leone River. The city is known for Kings Gate, in which former slaves who walked through the gate were considered freed; The Cotton Tree, representing when the city was christened in 1792; Fourah Bay College, the oldest university in West Africa; and Connaught Hospital, the first hospital to utilize modern medicine in West Africa.


Sierra Leone’s economy has been struggling to recover since their civil war ended in 2002. High unemployment and slow financial infrastructure (like establishing credit systems) have impacted the growth of their economy. They do receive aid from other countries, however. Agriculture (mainly in rice production) and mining (mostly in diamonds and rutile, a type of titanium ore) are huge economic drivers. While many areas of Sierra Leone’s transportation infrastructure have been built up in the urban and coastal areas, there are still many areas of unpaved roads and rudimentary airports.


Technically a secular state, the main two religions are Islam and Christianity. Islam (mostly Sunni) is far more practiced though, with nearly 78% of the people adhering to the religion. A little more than 20% of the population follows Christianity (mostly various Protestant denominations), while a small number of people still stick with indigenous African religions. However, while people may come from different religions, there is a high religious tolerance in Sierra Leone and has strict guidelines on hate speech against other religions.


Because Sierra Leone was once governed by Britain, English remains the official language. Krio, a Creole made of combining English and several other African languages, is the most widely spoken language. Nearly 90% of the people speak it and use it in everyday living. It was actually used as a lingua franca in the early days of the country when it was set up during the 1700s.

It says "We will defeat Ebola" in Krio.
Mentioned in Journey Without Maps, Sierra Leone’s dense interior and tropical climate makes it a deep haven for various diseases like malaria, yellow fever, hepatitis A, typhoid fever, and Ebola. Rabies, dengue fever, and schistosomiasis are also commonly found there as well. Sierra Leone, Liberia, Guinea and other nearby countries often struggle with managing these diseases, but their infrastructure, political instability, and lack of medical resources makes it hard to combat them. I remember reading an article about the 2014 Ebola outbreak, and in some cases, there were only a handful of doctors with supplies available in the entire country. While quarantines helped stop the flow of people into and out of the country, it also made it more difficult to get supplies and people to help. It was a very scary time. But we could be doing more to help.

Up next: art and literature

Sunday, July 22, 2018

SEYCHELLES: THE FOOD


This weekend was a challenge. I had so many things going on and not enough time to do it in. I had my 20th high school reunion and a family cookout this weekend, so I had a limited amount of time to cook for my blog. I had to cut a couple recipes from my Seychelles menu, but I managed to fit it all in. I’m exhausted, but I did everything I wanted to do.

Yeah, the two that I ate were good. Could've used some more, though.
The first thing I made was Gato Koko, or coconut cake. But this isn’t like what you think. It’s more like coconut cookies. First I mixed about 3 ½ Tbsp of butter with 2 eggs until it was frothy. Then I added in 1 ½ c of flour, ¾ c of shredded coconut, ½ tsp of baking powder, and ½ c of sugar. Then I mixed it again until it all came together and was smooth. On a greased baking sheet, I dipped out spoonfuls of the dough and rolled them into balls. Before I put it in the oven, I sprinkled a little coconut on top. The recipe was a little vague on how hot my oven was supposed to be, so I set it for 375ºF, and I left it in for about 24 minutes. But in all honesty, I could’ve probably pulled them out closer to 20-22 minutes. I thought they were a little dry at first, but the second bite was better for some reason. It actually kind of grows on you. They must’ve been good. The family ate them all up. Out of the 23 I made, I got two.

Amaaaaaaaaaazing!
The main course today is Seychelles-style Coconut Chicken Curry. I grabbed my heavy pot and heated some oil in it and added in some onions. Once they sautéed for a few minutes, I added in some garlic, dried ginger, black pepper, ground cloves, ground ginger, ground nutmeg, ground cinnamon, some curry powder (I was out, so I just added some cumin and turmeric), a pinch of saffron, and a few bay leaves. I stirred and let it simmer for a couple of minutes before throwing in my diced chicken and diced potato. Once I stirred everything to coat the potatoes and chicken with all of the spices, I covered it and let it simmer for about 5 minutes. Then I added in a can of coconut milk, stirred, lowered the heat, and let it simmer covered for about 20 minutes. After that, I took the lid off, stirred and let it cook down for another 15 minutes or so. I really enjoyed this. It wasn’t spicy, but it was spiceful. I’ve always been a fan of North African, Arab, and Indian cooking styles of combining sweet spices with savory ones. I think it creates a very complex flavor. I don’t think we do that well (or often) in American cuisine.

I loved everything about this.
To go with the curry, I made Creole Rice.  I heated some butter (in lieu of ghee) in a pot and sautéed some diced onion, diced red pepper, minced garlic, and a little bit of ground cloves. Then I added in my rice along with some cinnamon, salt, turmeric, and black pepper. Once I let it sauté for a minute while stirring constantly, I added in my water. After it came to a boil, I turned the heat down and let it simmer until the water was evaporated. I garnished it with a little bit of parsley. I thought this was quite tasty and probably could’ve just eaten it by itself as a side dish, but I put my curry on top of it. And it was amazing.

I thought everything on this plate was really, really good. And the family did, too!
This has been a whirlwind of a weekend. I haven’t been this busy for such a long time. But instead of shirking this off somehow, I decided to go ahead and cook. I had to skip on the octopus curry and the banana ladob, but at least I did make a meal and some cookies (that were gone by the time I got home from my reunion). It was also a weekend of meeting some interesting characters, I mean, people. No matter how normal or how weird people are, I always think the same thing: I might put them in a book one day.

Up next: Sierra Leone

Friday, July 20, 2018

SEYCHELLES: MUSIC AND DANCE


Seychelles’ folk music incorporates many different influences. Its history of French and British colonization along with immigrants from India, the Arab states, and mainland Africa all play into their musical storytelling. European styles like the mazurka, polka, and contredance, sega music from Réunion and Mauritius, and several ubiquitous African styles like zouk, taarab, soukous moutye play an integral part in their musical styles. Add in various Polynesian, Indian, and Mediterranean styles, and you get a unique array of musical sounds. 

 
In many cases, two or more of these styles merged to create something new. Kanmtole, a type of complex percussion rhythms is commonly used. Reggae is a common musical style in Africa and African diaspora and has mixed with other styles. For example, sega and reggae became seggae, while reggae and moutya became mouggae. Mainly the lyrics are sung in Creole, French, English, or some combination of these languages. 


At festivals throughout the year, moutya and kontredans (their version of the English contredanse) are so popular that there are competitions. The annual Festival Kreol is one of the biggest festivals held in Seychelles. Both of these along with Kanmtole are dances that have been danced in Seychelles for centuries.


As far as traditional instruments go, there are a few that are incorporated into Seychellois music: makalapo (a wooden pole based in a can, with strings attached to the pole), bonm (calabash with one string), zez (similar to a bonm except with a resonator), tambour moutya (a wooden flat drum with a cow or goat skin for the drum head), and the mouloumba (a type of bamboo drum). Many of today’s songs use modern instruments like the violin, guitar, accordion, banjo, drums, and other percussion instruments like the triangle.  


I wasn’t able to find as many Seychellois musicians as I thought I was going to. Jean-Marc Volcy was one of the main ones mentioned that I found – but I only found one song by him on Spotify. I could definitely hear some of the instruments represented above.


However, I did find some other musicians mentioned in the Suggested section on Spotify. One was a beach chillout compilation with various artists on the album. I was kind of into this one. There were several songs on there that I liked. Because sometimes you just need to chill.


I also found some music from Sonny Morgan. Although he now lives in Australia, his music is quite reflective of his Seychellois heritage. He brings a certain Indian Ocean flair to his music which integrates blues and other styles into his sega/reggae sound.

Up next: the food

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

SEYCHELLES: ART AND LITERATURE


The postcard-like beaches and tropical colors of the island’s flora and fauna are inspiration enough for many artists to try their hand at capturing the beauty of the scenery. 

by Michael Adams

Many of their arts stem back to the early days of their island existence and often use materials found on the island. Themes often cover island life and historical events. Some of the items used in their art and jewelry found here include parts of coconuts, pottery, reeds and palm fronds, shells, corals, wood, husks, sand, and other natural materials.

by Alyssa Adams
One of the more well-known artists on the island is Michael Adams (no relation, but if he wanted to, say, get me a plane ticket to come visit, I mean, I’d oblige). His main art styles include watercolors and silkscreen prints. And actually, his two kids also share exhibit space in his gallery.



Andrew Gee paints in a realistic style, especially showing the changing landscape and other scenes around the island. He actually left England to become a fashion and textile instructor in the islands about 25 years ago. (I’m sure the winters are much nicer.)
 
by Sheila Markham

There are a couple of artists who work in sculpture of different mediums. Sheila Markham uses cardboard boxes and newspapers for her sculptures while Tom Bower sticks to bronze. Egbert Marday uses whatever materials he has around him that inspires him: a true recycler.
 
by Nigel Henri
Some artists’ works are seen throughout areas of the islands. A few of Nigel Henri’s paintings can be seen in the Seychelles International Airport, many people’s first official views of the country. And George Camille found his work as an artist showcased for Air Seychelles and in a popular guidebook called “Seychelles in Your Pocket.” 

cover art by George Camille

Because Seychelles is a multi-ethnic country with people of French, British, African, Indian, and Arab backgrounds, their folklore and storytelling also reflects these roots as well. Early on, these stories were passed down from generation to generation.



One of the most well-known authors is Antoine Abel. Many of his short stories, novels, poems, and plays were centered around the islands and its folklore. He wrote in English, French, and Creole, bringing the literature of Seychelles to the world.


Outside of Antoine Abel, I only came up a couple other names of writers from Seychelles. Leu Mancienne is known for his book called Fler fletri, published in both Creole and French. Although he was born in Mauritius, Guy Lionnet moved to Seychelles and became really involved with the environment and conservation. He published several works on the history and ecology of the islands. I’m sure there are others out there, but perhaps they have a far more limited audience.

Up next: music and dance

Saturday, July 14, 2018

SEYCHELLES: THE LAND AND THE PEOPLE


So I made some amendments to the childhood tongue twister: She sells seashells from Seychelles down by the seashore made of sea shale. Try saying that a few times fast. (Now try it after a few drinks.) The only things I knew about the Seychelles were that they were near Africa in the Indian Ocean, and that I had read somewhere they were a popular destination for the rich and famous to spend their free time. And they have an odd double coconut. 

 
These islands were pretty much uninhabited, so there really isn’t a native name. The Portuguese called them the Amirantes. But it was the French who named them after their Minister of Finance to Louis XV, Jean Moreau de Séchelles. From what I gathered, the guy really didn’t do all that much for the Seychelles Islands, so they probably just owed him a favor or something.


The Seychelles Islands are located roughly 950 miles east of Kenya in the Indian Ocean. This 115-island nation is northeast of Madagascar and the Comoros Islands, north of Mauritius, and southwest of the Maldives. Some of the islands are granite-based and others are coral-based. Understandably because of its location and proximity to the equator, the Seychelles Islands are humid and tropical.  July and August are the cooler months of the year whereas the heat and humidity tend to be higher from December through April.


Although the islands weren’t readily inhabited, it’s also reasonable to think that sailors from the Maldives and the Arabian Peninsula probably visited the area. After the Portuguese arrived, the British showed up, and then the French. And there were a fair number of pirates who used the islands as a pit stop between Africa and Asia. However, the British moved back into the area and took control of the islands in 1794. The British and the French decided to work it out among themselves, and the British gains included adding the Seychelles Islands in with the Mauritius Islands, known as British Mauritius. In 1903, Seychelles separated itself from Mauritius and became a crown colony. They actually held their own elections just prior to their independence in 1976. It quickly became known as the place where the rich and famous go to play. However, there was a coup in 1977 and the new president warned about too much tourism and then put into place a strict one-party socialist system that lasted until 1991. The 1980s brought a number of coup attempts. But once they got rid of that mess, they approved a new constitution and tried to start over. In 2013, the Seychelles Islands were devastated by flooding from a tropical cyclone that tore through the islands causing quite a bit of damages.



The capital city of Victoria is found on the island of Mahé. Originally established by the British as the capital of its colonial government, the British gave it its current name after acquiring it from the French. With roughly 26,000 people in the greater capital area, there are several places of note they’re known for: their botanical gardens, their large fruit and fish market, a national stadium, a clock tower built after the Vauxhall Clocktower in London, and a couple national museums.


Seychelles’s economy is similar that of other island nations. Their major agricultural products include fish (both fresh and frozen), vanilla, sweet potatoes, cinnamon, and copra (dried coconut meat or kernels used to make coconut oil). There have been some efforts in recent years to really ramp up their tourism with more beach resort hotels and restaurants. 


The vast majority of Seychellois are Christian, with most of them following Roman Catholicism. The main Protestant denominations represented in the islands include Anglican, Pentecostal Assembly, Seventh-Day Adventist, and others. Because of Seychelles’s proximity and history with Arabs and Indians, there are also pockets of Hindus and Muslims as well. And surprisingly, there are a significant number of atheists and agnostics there.


While English and French remain as official languages from their colonial days, Seychellois Creole is also listed as an official language and spoken by most of the people there. Seychellois is a French-based Creole with a number of English words mixed in.

Miss Seychelles 2008, Elena Angione
So, I was reading about how their society is essentially a matriarchal one when it comes to taking care of the household and raising the children. In fact, unwed mothers do not share the same stigma that they do in the US. However, outside of the home, a woman’s status only goes so far. Sexual harassment, domestic abuse and rape, and discrimination still regularly occur, and the problem is that those in authority to do something about it often look the other way.  Numerous studies have shown that giving women access to education and equal job and housing opportunities are shown to help reduce poverty. This is why we need feminism.

Up next: art and literature