Salia Koroma: The Adventure With Badawiya The Syrian
You Lucky Few! Salia Koroma’s the gift that keeps on giving, to use a well-worn expression. Today the third instalment of the Yohmie comes online.
A recap: the first instalment was the lyrical prelude. In the second part, our narrator fell in with the rather conniving Saffa, the Koranic teacher.
This new instalment features Salia escaping the teacher and running into the destitute Syrian trader, Badawiya (or Badawea) in Bo. The ne’er-do-well trails after Salia from Bo to Kolibondo, and then to Sumbuya, where another chapter opens in the narrative. (By the way, there really was a Badawiya in Bo in the 1930s and 1940s. My source told me he lived on what’s now Tikonko Road, close to the then-railway station. His shop used to be where the Mano Motorpark is today. Salia Koroma pronounces Badawiya “Badiway” in the song.)
In rapid, descriptive brush strokes Salia paints a canvas with very lively characters: the leech, the insolvent, the lazy, the alcoholic who can barely hold things together, the faithless, those with little grasp of what it means to be moral and upright. They’re restless, searching and finding little to fulfill their hungry hearts. They’re very much like the fireflies in the song itself drawn to the hurricane lamp, energised both by its beauty and thrill and by the ever-present danger it clearly is. Is it the rollicking dance or the mesmerising light that’s keeping them so agitated?
In short, Salia Koroma paints his society as it was: the hardworking and the feckless. The ethnologist will find what they want in Salia’s depiction. But in the end it’s a single person’s view, his fixations, some might say. Do we conclude that those preoccupations/views speak about broader social and cultural interests and norms? Very much so. But only if we trust the artist to show accurately his society.
In any case, enjoy the ballad.