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.
I’ve found it remarkable the extent to which Salia Koroma was topical in his songs and ballads. Some of the issues he dealt with were local chiefdom or district issues, others were on the national level. This is especially the case with the Minah treason trial in the late 1980s.
In 1987 Vice President Francis Mischek (sp?) Minah, onetime Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, was arrested and charged with high treason and misprision of treason (we love our colonial-era laws!). Two years later, he was hanged. Others more qualified in such matters than my humble self would argue the merits of the whole process (and I’m using the term ‘process’ with tongue firmly in cheek). What concerns me here is that the “process” produced a Salia Koroma album, likely recorded between 1987 and 1989.
The song I’m posting today borrows the music and a significant portion of its lyrics from an older recording/composition. The other songs on the album are also set to the music of recordings dating back to the 1950s and 1960s.
Don’t think you’ll improve yourself and expect not to be the subject of gossip.
Even as I do this they go on about me. What did I do?
They say because I’m wandering about.
But who is it in the world that doesn’t travel?
A self-serving question, surely? A peripatetic life will keep tongues wagging, especially when a story told with a knowing wink caps each tour. So what do we have here?
1) Salia goes to Kayima, in Kono country. He strikes up with an unnamed woman, who leaves him penniless.
The one and only bobani she gave me/Is what I came and pawned for a drink.
But the nameless woman here will put in a proper appearance, complete with a face and back story, in another song.
2) He leaves Jimmi Makpe with nine yards of shirting and arrives in Bauya. In Bauya Salia hands over threes yards to the local tailor, who goes on to sew the tightest fitting shirt ever. The pocket “was under my arm.” The shirt hung on him while he cried out in pain. Salia implies that Saffa, the tailor, has kept some of the cloth for himself. He complains to anyone who would listen, but the common reply is: Saffa’s a freeborn (mahalo, literally meaning “a chief’s child”). Salia goes on to play on the name of the town: Bauya means Salvation, Haven. “Teh nya bawo Bauya” (They wouldn’t save me in Bauya).
The vagrant is always at the mercy of his hosts. Perhaps this is what Salia Koroma was saying, that the fact that he was himself a freeborn (a complicated, delicate question in old Mende) didn’t matter in a strange town where the locals accrue to themselves certain obscure advantages.