In a new editorial collaboration with Dazed, we’re releasing the first of two special episodes of our landmark series, Scenes—where we get up close and personal with some of the world’s most compelling musical communities. Catch George Daniell’s deep dive into Sierra Leone’s rap scene right here on NOWNESS. The second episode will feature over on Dazed next week.
When the Sierra Leone Civil War broke out in 1991, a generation of the country’s youth faced a period of ongoing instability. Some identify these years as the moment when rap and hip hop first gained its unexpected popularity, with the lyrics of Tupac Shakur and Notorious B.I.G. coming easily to the mouths of the country’s youth. Today, this scene has absorbed its influences and set off on its own curious path, fuelled by the intense and committed activism of a community who—as director George Daniell found out in his latest film, a new editorial collaboration with Dazed—bring an intense passion and lyrical ingenuity that marks Sierra Leone rap apart: as a sound with its own internal identity, even while it throws a glance at the sounds around it (think: Xzu B’s rendition of Childish Gambino’s This is America—with an eyebrow raised, he named it ‘This is Sierra Leone’).
Freetown, Sierra Leone’s coastal capital, is oriented to its harbor—the beating heart of the city, and the reason for its founding. In the 1790s, the city became a haven for free-born and freed African American former slaves, while also being the oldest capital founded by African Americans. Its Creole architecture—mixing American and Caribbean influences—reflects the city’s ethnic and linguistic diversity, and sets the scene for its free-wheeling music. The beach, a sprawl of soft yellow sand rolling into the warm mouth of the Atlantic Ocean, plays a major role—as we see in Daniell’s film—in bringing this scene together. As Rap Son, one of the emerging musicians featuring in Daniell’s film, puts it: “You know this city Freetown—we do things in common here.”
Reflecting on daily life, popular culture, and messages of change and positivity, the city’s rap scene has gained recognition beyond the country’s Atlantic coast. Featuring the music of Yung Sal and Drizilik, Daniell’s film mirrors the “intense energy that the capital, Freetown, had to offer,” as he explains. “While working in Freetown I met a young musician called Rap Son and his friends, and we flew around the sprawling city, up its mountainous roads, and down to the West African beaches and through the bustling market streets.
“It felt like an honest insight into a group of young friends growing up in Freetown, supporting one another in their attempts to break through as young artists. I knew I wanted to go back and explore that feeling among this group and others like it. Sierra Leone has a complex past that has often suppressed positive stories being heard. So when I went back this year I wanted to experience more of that day I had spent with Rap Son and his friends and to shed light on the positivity I had experienced previously. We tagged on with two more young musicians, Yung Sal and Drizilik, and they gave us an intimate look into what’s empowering others in Freetown to feel free to create, free to express themselves.”
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