|Freemuse interviewed Sierra Leone’s superstar Daddy Saj in August 2007 to learn more about why he was imprisoned in 2004 after publishing a song about corruption.
By John Sahr Sahid, freelance journalist and writer
– reporting for Freemuse from Freetown in Sierra Leone
Many musicians in Sierra Leone have found themselves victims of threats, torture, jail sentences and abuse whenever they have expressed themselves on sensitive issues.
Daddy Saj – one of Sierra Leone’s most famous musicians – is an example of this. He was imprisoned in June 2004 and spent a month in the notorious Pademba Road Prison in Freetown because he wrote a song about the corruption in the country.
Call for a ban
However the airplay of the song did not last long. Certain officials, members of parliament and even some ministers publicly announced their opinion – that the song contained words which did not reflect the reality of the government. They warned that the song could become a catalyst for public unrest.
Even though the bileager Anti-corruption Commission started to use the song as their theme song in the fight against corruption – even sponsored the distribution of it – politicians outrightly called for a ban of the song. Also, rumours started going around that there was a five million Leones price tag on his head.
Freemuse: Your song ‘Corruption E Do So’ was a big hit. Did you ever imagine it would be so?
Daddy Saj: “To be honest with you: no! I just wanted to produce songs in my own way, that’s all. You see, I do believe many out there would agree with me that music did play a great part in bringing together many opposing parties during the war, and it also has helped to sustain our peace process after the war ended. Many of the songs had peace, reconciliation, unity and love messages. The corruption was another war in itself and it had to be fought through music.”
You were sent to prison then by the political elite accusing you of facilitating civil unrest through your songs. What was your experience in prison like, and how did you feel after your release?
“Well, for me it was a tough time to go through as a young musician. Mind you it was my first song to go public so I had mixed emotions about the way some people view music in general. In prison I was threatened and assaulted several times. They thought someone had paid me to produce the song, but no… [pause]… it was all about how I felt at the time. About the bad practices in our society. For many who appreciate my music, the imprisonment was a wake-up call. It made them join the fight, the fight against corruption.
I was arrested by police officers in civil clothes whilst I was touring the central district of the capital, just after the release of the song. They told me they had an arrest warrant against me, I asked them to give me reasons – they refused to say a word. When I tried to restrain them from arresting me, one of the police officers slapped and kicked me to the ground, so that they could handcuff me, before taking me to the prison.
In prison I wasn’t given any food for at least three days, and I had to sleep on the empty floor – very cold – which gave me some skin decease.”
“I was arrested on the grounds of the Public Order Act of which it was alleged that through my songs I was expressing words which were too offensive, you know. Luckily for me I was not taken to court. I think they feared that it would lead to more public outcry in favour of me.
My release from prison was thanks to that public outcry. I had sympathisers who felt that my freedom had been taken away unjustifiedly, and my song was just merely talking about the bad way things had been done in Sierra Leone at the time.
“After my release from prison I thought my career was over, but a colleague of mine said: ‘You need not to give up, you have to be strong!’. Since then I have not stopped in my career as a musician. My songs are all on issues of great concern; that’s me. My latest album, ‘Faya 4 Faya’ (‘Fire for Fire’) is yet another. Watch out!”
Has censorship affected the way you compose and sing your songs?
“Yah, sure! When you are censored it does affect your input in the messages of your songs, the words and titles of songs as well. Not only me but other musicians as well are affected greatly because most are afraid to sing about tough issues [laughter]. They are restrained from using ‘tough’ words in order to appease the critics – it is really tough for us.”
“Saj” is actually an abbreviation for “Sir Junior”. His real name is Joseph Gerald Adolphus Cole. He was born in Freetown in 1978, and started singing in a church choir when he was seven years old. Aged only 11 years he entered a recording studio for the first time.
Has your musical career been a smooth journey?
Did you go into mainstream pop music straight away when you returned to Sierra Leone?
Daddy Saj about Freemuse
“I am very happy to know as of now that such a body exist and the work you are doing in terms of advocacy for freedom of expressions for musicians. I must admit this is my first knowledge of Freemuse. I really appreciate the work you are doing for us musicians. I hope Freemuse will expand its network to other places in the world,” replied the lyrical warrior of Sierra Leone.
Excerpt of ‘Corruption E Do So’ (real audio file)
Translation of an excerpt of the lyrics of ‘Corruption E Do So’
Why there’s no good electricity
Tribalism and nepotism
A personal encounter
Daddy Saj’s song ‘Corruption E Do So’ is still controversial in 2007. In a bar in Freetown, a DJ who played the song was ordered to stop it or “face serious consequences”.
In Sierra Leone bars are places where controversial and sensitive issues are always talked about loudly. That day was no exception.
In the bar at the time were four officials, and behind me were two guys drinking beer. The guys were arguing loudly about corrupt practices by the ruling authorities. Their argument went on for some time but got out of proportion when the DJ started to play ‘Corruption E Do So’. The officials were not happy about the song nor the argument on corrupt practices by the present governing authorities. It soon resulted into a barrage of insults and exchange of words between the officials and the two guys.
One of the officials forcefully ordered the music to be stopped and warned the DJ not to play the song anymore or he would “face serious consequences”. He stated that the song had been banned and he could be taken to court for playing it in public.
The officials soon left, and I was really perplexed about the incident that I had been a witness to. Why should the music be stopped?
Should they be quiet? When looking at the state of the economy in the country, the growing trend of religious fundamentalism both among Christians and Muslims, the corruption, and many other issues, it is a big question for many to answer. And it creates a web of hard battles for musicians to overcome.
Went into hiding
He says his life was in danger prior to the release of his debut album in April 2007, which meant he had to go into hiding for a period of time when he was about to release the album.
The album is entitled ‘Tu Fut Arata’ (‘A Human Rat’), and this idiomatic phrase in itself caused an uproar among political authorities in Freetown who saw it as a direct insult to them.
Officials and politicians prefer when musicians sing about love, money and other less sensitive areas of life in general.
Sierra Leone borders Guinea and Liberia in West Africa
Emmerson’s new album: ‘A Human Rat’
About the author of this article
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.”
|Related reading on the internet|
|BBC – 26 October 2004:
‘Sierra Leone’s music crusader’
BBC – February 2006:
‘Sierra Leone’s music scene unearthed’
Awareness Times – 18 July 2007:
‘Daddy SAJ Backs SLPP’s Navo’
Emmerson’s profile and music on MySpace: