Sierra Leone: Death threats to musicians

28 August 2007
Two well-known musicians in Sierra Leone wrote a song in support of a political party. Soon after they received death threats from their political opponents and had to go in hiding. The so-called ‘musicalisation of the political scene’ turned into a dangerous enterprise for the composers of campaign songs during the recent elections in Sierra Leone, reports Freemuse’s correspondent

By John Sahr Sahid, freelance journalist and writer
– reporting for Freemuse from Freetown in Sierra Leone

The presidential and parliamentary elections in Sierra Leone on 11 August 2007 had seven contesting parties but the two main arch rivals were the All People’s Congress, APC, and the Sierra Leone People’s Party, SLPP.

APC were the first to use music in their campaign. They published the hit single ‘Dem wan ya we go’ – a frase which a landlord could use when giving a leave notice to a tenant. In this case it refers to the incumbent SLPP party.

The song soon became a popular best seller, and during the whole campaign people could hear it in the streets, and it was song at the APC campaign rallies.

The SLPP party realised that the song of their opponent was a threat to the success of their campaign, and they decided to launch a version of their own. ‘The Notice Nor Go Right’ was the title of their musical counter-attack. The title is a phrase which could be used by a tenant who refuses to accept a pending notice – it is also an idiomatic expression used to evict a person, a group or an organisation from continuously holding on to something.

The song was written and performed by a well-known musician, Oba (real name: Bai Kanu), and his vocalist Taribo (real name: Alpha Lamin Korom). Oba is very popular in Sierra Leone, and he has contributed immensely in the development of music in the country.

Deaths threats to SLPP musicians
As the election was coming close, new strategies of campaigning were implemented by the various parties to win more support and the voters’ sympathies. A jogging rally along a selected route was organised by the SLPP supporters, starting from Fourah Bay, a suburb in the eastern part of the capital Freetown, on 5 August 2007.

SLPP rally in Freetown. Photo: Sierra Leone News Agency, SLAJ

APC supporters then organised another jogging rally along a different route on the same day, and at a junction which is notorious for flaring up violence, the two jogging groups met.

The SLPP supporters were singing their theme song, ‘The Notice Nor Go Right’ and it was alleged that Taribo, the main vocalist of the recorded version of the song, was among the joggers of the SLPP at the time.

Fighting erupted with supporters on both sides, and some were injured from knife stabs. An eye witness lamented that the scene was comparable to the old days of the war in the country, and it was reported that several supporters of the APC party involved in the fighting gave out bad statements and threats to kill the two musicians and their families.

SLPP rally. Photo: Nasratha

Musicians in hiding
The threats on their lives still stands, even after the election campaign is over. In a country where freedom of expression is a contentious issue, these musicians have had no other option but to take the threat of these statements seriously and go underground. They fear for their lives.

It is only five years ago Sierra Leone emerged from a brutal conflict that saw thousands killed and many others with their limbs cut off in a terror-campaign of mutilation. The memory of violence and easy access to weapons is still an issue to be dealt with.

Producing a song for a political party became a turning point in their careers as musicians, and not necessarily a positive one. At this point we are still waiting for the results of the election, and the future and safety of these musicians could depend on which political party turns out to be the winner.

Musicalisation of politics
The way the presidential and parliamentary elections were conducted in Sierra Leone on 11 August 2007 were hailed by both local and international observers as positive. It stands clear that an important ingredient which helped this positive outcome was music. The political process in Sierra Leone is said to have benefited enormously by the influence of songs by various music artists.

In a recent press conference the head of the electoral commission Christiana Thorpe joked openly: “I like music!”

Live music during the political campaign rallies was used rampantly by the various contesting parties, and the sound of music turned out to be an effective way to gather large crowds on the streets.

An initiative supported by the United Nations entitled ‘Artists for Peace’ showcased popular musicians such as Wahid, Daddy Ish, Cee Jay, Velma and Camouflage at socalled ‘peace rallies’, held at several locations in Freetown, and in the provinces in Makeni, Bo, Kenema and Kono.

The Awoko Newspaper called it “the musicalisation of Sierra Leone politics”, and during the entire presidential election campaign period it dedicated a special column to issues relating to music in politics. Another newspaper, the Standard Times, took similar measures. People in general may not have considered this of great importance but for the musicians it made a significant difference. It gave them a sense of that their talents were being appreciated.

Dilemma for the musicians
Meanwhile, within the music industry and among their fans, the various artists and composers who had not involved themselves directly in the political process, but whose songs had been used by one of the various political parties, found that they might have stained their reputation, allowing their art to be misused by the very people they had critisised for bad governance and other forms of restriction of freedom.

The invitation to direct involvement – and in some cases luring – of musicians to write and sing songs for various political parties created a dilemma for those musicians whose admirers were of both sides of the political spectrum.

To some musicians of Sierra Leone, “the musicalisation of politics” has turned out to be a threat to their livelihood and survival as musicians. It is yet to be seen how far the various political parties and their supporters will be ready to dance to the tunes of these musicians for who ever that wins the presidential race.

The results for the Sierra Leone presidential elections was that APC got 44 percent of the votes while SLPP got 38 percent, and the rest of the parties shared the last 18 percent. The final presidential run-off between the APC and the SLPP will be held on 8 September 2007.



Oba – gone underground

Vocalist Taribo

Photo: SLBS Photos, Sierra Leone News

Click to read more about Sierra Leone in the CIA World Fact Book
Sierra Leone borders Guinea and Liberia in West Africa


Song lyrics

Translation of a six-lines excerpt of the SLPP counter-attack song ‘The Notice Nor Go Right’

Go Lidom if you heart done warm
[Go to bed if your heart is burning] For 24 years back, oodat bin take Salone lek farm?
[24 years ago, who took Sierra Leone like his own farm
(or: private property)] Two Ship Res; you want know ‘bout that? 
[Are you denying the two ship loads of rice
which were sent to the country?] Ask Ernest Koroma ‘bout that
[Go and ask Ernest Bai Koroma (opposition leader of
the APC) about it] Na im na bin NASSIT Chairman
[He was then the head of the National Insurance Trust] NASSIT Chairman na Parliament
[Before becoming member of the parliament]



About the author of this article

John Sahr Sahid, 29, is a freelance journalist and writer based in Freetown. He has an Associate Degree in mass communication and media, and has worked for SASweb, Sierra Leone’s first news web site, and as a translator and reporter for foreign media people visiting the country. He is a member of TakingITGlobal, and also works with the Student World Assembly.

John Sahr Sahid grew up with music. He remembers how – as a young member of the local church choir – he used to love getting to know the different rhythms and rhymes. “Music is part of our daily life: the birds sing, the wind rustles the leaves in the trees, the rivers trickle – all do give us various kinds of music and tunes,” he says.

“I see Freemuse as an important body for music, just as other issues of importance have theirs. The music and its makers need protection and encouragement, and as we live in a more and more globalised village, everyone needs a global mouthpiece. Freemuse is just that.”



John Sahr SaidPhoto: Nasratha
Related reading on the internet
Awareness Times – 23 July 2007:
‘APC Youths Issue Death Order for 2 Sierra Leone Musicians’

Awareness Times – 19 July 2007:

Lyrics of ‘The Notice Nor Go Right Oh; We Na De Landlord!’

Awareness Times – 19 July 2007:

‘Fourah Bay Residents Respond to Ejectment Notice Track with new release: “Notice Nor Go Right; We Na De Landlord!”‘

Awareness Times – 18 July 2007:

‘Daddy SAJ Backs SLPP’s Navo’
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