Over the years, Sierra Leone’s reputation has been dictated by the sad events of its past: First civil war, then Ebola.
Earlier this year, that changed with the organization of the first Freetown Music Festival in the country’s capital.
“When I tell people I am half-Sierra Leonean, people think, ‘oh, Ebola,’ or, ‘they had a war there.’ What we want is to show the world that Sierra Leone is not misery. In fact, it’s a super positive country where people smile all the time,” says Esther Kamara, a Dutch-Sierra Leonean who helped manage the event.
The two-day festival featured not only live music, but fashion, art and pop-up cinema. Though such an event may seem ordinary in most countries, in Sierra Leone, it was once unthinkable.
“After Ebola, things were flat. People were not allowed on the street, weren’t allowed to touch each other or be in close space near each other,” recalls Kamara. “To have this original thing on the beach, it’s beautiful, it’s unique.”
‘It’s a freedom’
Sierra Leone’s live music scene is slowly starting to grow.
“Before, live music was not a thing – people frowned at it, it was only for the old,” notes Solo, a member of the music collective and homegrown label Freetown Uncut.
“Now, music is the driving force bringing people out of the past. People want it, they want to rejoice. It’s a freedom.”
A bridge to the past
Often, music can be a rebellion against previous generations. In Sierra Leone, the opposite seems to be true.
“My mom would tell me stories about how they used to dress up and go out to plays, and listen to live music and all that stuff,” recalls Kadiatu Kamara, a Sierra Leonean designer and model.
“For a while we kind of lost it because of everything that has been going on. But now we’re back in that place and we’re trying to revive it.”
The next challenge for the upcoming generation is finding their own musical identity.
“We have loads and loads of talent, but we don’t have a sound yet,” laments Solo. “We are still fighting for our sound, so what we are trying to do with this festival is bring the old sound, the real Sierra Leone sound – Reggae, Bubu and Milo Jazz – and bring these together to form a fusion.”