“What has the sinker seen in the pool?”
You’re a conceited lot! Indeed. “What has the sinker seen in the pool that it keeps bobbing wildly on the water?” Of course that line is not in the song the prelude to which I posted (“Salia Sings of His Adventures”). The line is from another song, and though the subject matters of the two songs are different, for me, at least, it distills the attitude of those who’d look down on people from the countryside. That line signifies a general restlessness and a lack of depth (pun intended) that characterise townies as shown in this Salia Koroma composition. What have they seen in the town, popping in and out but still clueless as to the real meaning of what’s important? They’d make sweeping statements about what they have, what they know, about the backwardness of the country and country folk. Other than the spirit of contempt, what else animates these rootless people? Those are the central questions Salia seems to be asking 1940s Sierra Leone (Colony and Protectorate, Town and Country). And these questions are valid sixty years on.
The need to know, the urge to tell… It’s the place of Salia Koroma, the singer/poet to tell us the truth. And it isn’t Truth with a capital ‘T.’ That sort of truth, not even the poet/singer possesses. What he can boast of knowing, our composer, are those little truths that accrue from a keen and patient observation, little insights beyond the reach of the restless and the vain. Insights that need to have resonated with the singer/poet first. Insights that are a sincere, truthful and eloquent rendering of the minstrel’s personal emotions and experiences. Otherwise he won’t be speaking to us, no matter how imaginatively he seeks to engage us.
For Salia, this personal and general awareness gleaned from observation finds its value and weight in the restatements of a line and variations of that line. This anaphoric use becomes more than a poetic device; thus we’re given a gradual unearthing of truths that are no less wonderful than would’ve been a blinding revelation. These restatements seem to be saying: ‘You don’t know what you’re saying; if you did, you’d have observed that…’ But we don’t always see (or we refuse to see most of the time), so the artiste finds himself as if condemned to repeat what should be clear for all to see:
-“You who said there’re no riches in the bush…”
-“Friend, you act as if there’re no riches in the bush…”
-“They act as if there’re no riches in the bush…”
-“You lie when you say there’re no riches in the bush…”
“What a wondrous creature!” You’re a conceited lot! For vanity to trump yours, I give you nothing humbler than a raffia grub. The other day I saw you strutting in your ‘one-‘n-six’ check shirt. Have you had a look at the guinea hen? And you call yourselves civilised because you’ve a soldier in his shiny black boots walking around with his chest in the air, looking fierce. It’s my guess you haven’t seen a bush cow. It wears boots too, and it’s no less brutal than your fancy soldier. As for the hats worn by your colonial bosses, look around. See that anthill? Or the monkey in the tree? Your colonial master’s given your police (askari, Swahili word) a uniform fit for a baboon. Why the swagger, then?
Koroma Salia, this wonder of nature! This is what Salia knows intimately. And there’s an imperative for him to impart this knowledge. He has to say it; he has no control over that. Hasn’t he told us that he’s a vagabond precisely because of the ballad? He’s a dove who settles in a tree to recount his stories and flies off at the end of the day, head pounding and stomach rumbling. He’s a kingfisher always in flight. Ah, but how he knows his stuff! How he knows his stuff, this dove, this snail, this immoral woman, this kingfisher, this Koroma Salia, this wonder of nature!
Nya ngi Yohmie gohloh/Sia jemeko ndogboh goila, eh-
Siiki lomi/Ndomi bengoh jemie ma, eh!
(I know the Yohmie/As the kingfisher knows the bush-
The silk shirt/How that shirt becomes the kingfisher!)