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Salia says…Something Weighty Billows Across The Sky

rain clouds

Rain clouds gather, but only, for they will not break.

They will not break at all; only the Society is passing by.

Something weighty billows across the sky, hemmed in by rain clouds.

A Know-nothing may see it but will not, foolhardily, give it away

If you blab on about it you will not be back when you go.


Perhaps Imitation Is The Sincerest Form Of Flattery?

For the absolute gems I’m putting up, I’d like to say a heartfelt thank-you to Sierra Leone Heritage. Well, who ever would have guessed it?

In my research into Salia Koroma’s oeuvre I’ve come across very interesting surprises, such as happened when I came upon the field recordings of the late Cootje Van Oven, a Dutch musicologist who taught in Sierra Leone in the 1960s and 1970s. During that time she made many recordings of the traditional musics of our beloved Sierra Leone, most (if not all) of them curated on It’s on this site that I found the four recordings that I have the privilege of bringing to a wider audience. We cannot honour the memory of Ms Van Oven enough. Making known her work on our culture and our traditions to my Sierra Leonean ‘family’ is the least yours truly can do here.

Abu Taiama in his jaunty white hat

Abu Taiama in his jaunty white hat


Momoh Koroma of Zimmi Makpele, December 1966


The recordings that caught my interest are of two young men covering three of Salia Koroma’s songs. Momoh Koroma, recorded in late December 1966, is noted on the record card as being from the town of Zimmi in the Pujehun District, while Abu Taiama was recorded in Giehun in the Kenema District on Christmas eve 1970. Abu,  if his moniker is anything to go on, hailed from Taiama in Kori Chiefdom, Moyamba District. There’s a detectable kpa-Mende accent to his singing, and it would be safe to assume that, of the two singers, he was the professional, willing to venture farther from home to make a go of it. He’s the more accomplished accordionist too.

What definitely he’s not is a lyricist or a composer in his own right if these recordings are anything to go on. Abu Taiama doesn’t hue close, in terms of lyrics, to the Salia songs he sings. Momoh Koroma, on the other hand, does his best to keep the lyrics; perhaps because of that he comes across as hesitant and amateurish in his playing and singing. Abu has a lot of verve, taking snatches of Salia Koroma lyrics to come up with a potpourri of a song. But he’s definitely confident; he has a style that can be called his. He was singing someone else’s compositions but there’s an obvious personal stylistic sincerity to his ‘copying.’

I like both singers on their own merits, and the preceding remarks shouldn’t be read as a condemnation of Abu’s and Momoh’s singing or playing. They were both, after all, declaring their admiration for the work of an artist who at this time in his life was already a point of reference, a national treasure.

Salia Koroma: Metamorphosis & Shape-Shifting In A Land Of Wonders

In his 1947 Man article on a nameless Mende accordionist “in the service of a chief in Middle Mende Country,” Kenneth Little referred in his end notes to the resemblance of that musician’s material to what he called “the fountainhead of the European novel.” That fountainhead was of course Lucius Apuleius’s “The Golden Ass.” (Man, # 47, March 1947.) Dr Little only went on to translate in that article, to illustrate his point, the “Yohmeh.” We’ll propose here another illustration, too uncanny a resemblance to Apuleius’s novel.

This prelude (translated) sets up very poetically the rest of the story, as a woman leads Salia into a land of magic and witchcraft. The story that’s about to unfold is one wondrous tale of duelling magic arts and wits. The ballad raises many interesting issues that we shall discuss in the next postings of the song.