Sierra Leone's best known musicians have built themselves by pointing thinly veiled fingers at corruption, unemployment, instability and abuses of power. Singles and albums like the Jungle Leaders' Same Soup, on the changing times but constant hunger of the people, and Daddy Saj's recently released Faya for Faya, a call to end corruption, have touched a chord in a country facing the challenges of rebuilding after a brutal civil war.
The most popular by far is Emmerson Bockarie's Borbor Bele, in reference to a character with an enormous belly that eats money wherever he goes. Since it was first released in middle of last year, Borbor Bele has become an ever present anthem not only in the country but also abroad on the back of the Sierra Leonean diaspora. The soft-spoken 27-year-old Emmerson (he uses his first name as his stage name) believes people identify with the lyrics, and that his lamentation is the lamentation of his fans. "When I say the words, people actually feel they are saying the words themselves," Emmerson told New African. "I'm from the masses. I'm a poor man. I feel like I can say what the people want to say. Whatever the media hesitates to say, I will say. When I was coming up, everybody was scared. The first time they listened to the song people said: 'Who is this boy? He is going to end up in prison'."
He was never arrested or threatened, but he believes people in power are not entirely happy with his songs. Borbor Bele has become popular in other African countries like Ghana, Liberia, Guinea and The Gambia, and scored in the Top 10 charts in the US and the UK. It is almost impossible to walk more than 10 minutes in the streets of Freetown without hearing a song from the album.
Emmerson is now working on his second album, Two Foot Rat, which is due out later this year. "It's a description of thieves," he says. "Everybody knows rats. They take your food." Like Borbor Bele, most of the protest music doesn't tackle any one person directly, rather the musicians use metaphors or folk tales to put their point across. Emmerson's first success came in 2003 when he recorded a...