Salia Koroma: On Love 2
In my previous post I noted that Salia uses love as a “gateway” theme in the song Mende Gendei. I went on to highlight the different aspects of love as seen through the eyes of the artist. Love has its highs, emotional and physical. Love is a refuge.
But Salia points out that the high and the low go together; love faces mortal threat on the inside, and the lovers need always to have their shields up in order to deflect the blows aimed at them; once the shade-giving tree is brought down, everyone is exposed to the harsh sun. Salia seems to be saying that the greatest threat to love isn’t the beloved’s waning interest. Rather, it’s the jealousy of others, those who aren’t necessarily over the moon about the lovers’ apparent happiness. Some of the envious are hard-pressed to hide their envy, hate even, for that’s what it ultimately is. Their scowling faces betray them only too well.
What I need to state now is that these reflections on love between a man and a woman is actually a global reflection on the relation between Salia Koroma the artist and his patrons. It’s especially about his relationship with P.C. Kposowa of Bumpeh Ngao(commonly refered to as Bumpeh Tabema, Bumpeh-on-the Tabe). Paramount Chief Kposowa had been more than a patron of the arts; in Salia’s telling, he was both a friend of, and confidant to, the Chief. A commoner like that, albeit a gifted one, wouldn’t necessarily be appreciated by other powerful people at the court. This council of chiefs mayn’t have looked favourably on this ‘foreigner;’ Mende, yes, but a stranger/commoner in their chiefdom anyway. When Gary Schulze (Music of the Mende of Sierra Leone, Smithsonian Folkways) saw Salia Koroma with what he believed was the musician’s own Landrover, wasn’t Salia using his patron’s vehicle? With the Chief’s passing, wasn’t Salia suddenly confronted with the hostility of the powerful, hostility he may have ignored while his patron was still alive? Wasn’t that the same situation at the other courts? In short, yes. Pettiness, envy and blind hate undermine every human relationship.
Salia Koroma teaches us this lesson. He’s learnt that nothing lasts: not love, not friendship, not fame, not wealth. Everything passes. Pointing this out isn’t a jaded view of humanity. The third section of Mende Gendei (the second part in our ‘video’ montage, coming later) makes this all too clear.