Despite unfortunate circumstances, Sierra Leone has shared in the musical wealth and creativity of West Africa. Portuguese sailors brought the first guitars, and the coastal peoples took to it early on, developing a local version of so-called palm wine guitar, a lovely, lilting song style epitomized in modern times by the late, great S.E. Rogie. Palm wine music, or maringa as it's known locally, is a cousin of Trinidadian calypso. These light, playful styles may both have origins among the Kru, or Krio --seafaring, guitar-picking peoples of Sierra Leone and Liberia. In the `50s and `60s Ebenezer Calender, the son of a Barbadian soldier, recorded popular maringa songs as well as hits in an older style people called goom-bay (gumbe).
Goom-bay led to a modern form of street music called milo-jazz, named for the chocolate powder can that, when filled with stones, became the style's signature percussion instrument. Olofemi (Doctor Oloh) Israel Cole and his Milo-Jazz Band gave this music its start, and the music remained a feature of street life in Freetown until civil war devastated the city's cultural _expression in the 1990s.
During the 1970's, Sierra Leone did share in the electric Afropop explosion that was sweeping Africa. Maringa blended with funk, soul, and Congolese dance music leading to lively and popular local music. Bands of that era included Afro-Nationals, Orchestra Muyah, Super Combo, and Sabannoh 75. When the recording industry fell apart, ambitious and talented artists like S.E. Rogie mostly went to England to make their careers.
The most successful electric artist of the `80s and `90s is vocalist, guitarist and percussionist Abdul Tee-Jay, who blends palm wine and Congo music from his base in London. Vocalist and percussionist Seydu has launched a career recording fusion music in Spain, and percussionist Ansoumana Bangura plays a mix of Sierra Leonean traditional pop styles in Germany. A few hearty souls are working today in Freetown, including Ngoh Gbetuwai and Great Steady Bongo. -- Courtesy Afropop Worldwide