The song I’ve posted is in every way a stand-alone performance, ‘culled’ by the singer himself from the longer composition that we all know. What we have here is the fifth portion of Fishing For Our Father, The Legend Of Fawonde, in other words the conclusion of the song.
We should note that Salia has given to a familiar story a very deft narrative slant, and this is so only because of the chiefly audience.
The short-stemmed pipe smoker is a cocky one.
No sooner he clenches on one side of the mouth than he goes:
-My head is in the clouds!
–Salia Koroma, Kpomuma Jekele
But as the great tree falls they take flight.
When the Worthy falls the whispering campaigns come to an end.
–Salia Koroma, Manawa (longer version)
The late American-born ethnomusicologist Jean Jenkins was in Sierra Leone in 1976 and recorded Salia Koroma in Kenema.
One thing we should note about this recording is that Salia was recorded in context, within a particular cultural and social frame of reference, in this case Salia performing his role as court singer and accordionist. So this wasn’t Salia Koroma putting out a commercial recording, and he wasn’t performing for someone on an intellectual investigation of foreign, non-western musical traditions.
The recording is the crowd favourite, the inescapable Mende Gendei, remarkable in this incarnation only by its consistency to most other versions. I say most other versions because Salia for the most part tended to avoid (as he has done here) the second ‘movement’ that chronicles chiefs who have passed on and the silence they have left behind them.