Our Music Industry: The Good, the Bad, the Ugly

By Moses Kamara

Sierra Leone’s modern music industry has grown tremendously over the years. There has been a remarkable increase in the quality and standard of music produced, played, and danced to. Within the last decade or so, there has been a steady improvement from the way music is made by artistes in the industry. Starting from artistes like Jimmy B, K. Man, Sisters with Attitude (SWA), steady Bongo, etc. we have seen how different music genre and style have changed, as we now listen to artistes like, Rozay, Famous, Abizzy, Nega Don, and the rest.

Irrespective of how far Sierra Leone’s music industry has progressed, the industry has also had its up and downsides respectively. There is the good, the bad and definitely the ugly. With the explosive growth of the music industry worldwide, and especially with countries like Nigeria and Ghana showing the world that music can lead to wealth creation and prosperity, it is prudent to look into Sierra Leone’s music industry and see if it can say the same, as in other countries.  And the only way one can find out about the status of Sierra Leone’s music industry is to analyze the spectrum of progress including both the gains and challenges.

The Good

By all means, one of the good things about Sierra Leone music industry is its low barrier to entry. The music industry is open to the point that anyone with an overnight dream of becoming a musician can walk into any studio and record his/her song. As compared to other countries like Nigeria, for an artiste’s music to be played on the radio, he will need to have produced and mastered good music and have a good record label to promote their song. Sierra Leonean artistes in the music industry comparatively have their way easier. An upcoming artiste can have his/her song played on any radio without having any promotion budget to do so. The market is excessively liberal and it can take anyone a relatively shorter turnover time to become famous, once the genre of music is popularly demanded by the Sierra Leonean music consumer population.

Furthermore, as a result of an industry operated by a liberal market principle, another bonus freely provided by the nature and state of the music market is the freedom of upcoming artistes to focus on developing their talent and subsequently rise to stardom life instead of stressing over wooing renowned record labels and promoters. An aspiring musician only needs to work hard, improve his/her talent on a daily basis, and make good music that Sierra Leoneans can enjoy. That is the ultimate price it takes for any upcoming artiste to rise to success. For example, the artiste Rozay Sokota’s ascendance to becoming arguably one of the most prolific modern Sierra Leonean pop singers can pass for a good testimony here. Rozay as an artiste was spotted when she published her low budget single titled: “Life Goes On.” For Rozay to become known in Sierra Leone, it only took her to do a well-appreciated music by the Sierra Leone population. And because of how popular the music became as well as appreciation of the motivational and morally centered theme of the song, Rozay became popular overnight and was soon to be recognized as a talented musician in Sierra Leone.

The musical success testaments of artiste like Rozay Sokota is an exemplary way to prove how easy it is for artistes to be recognized based on their talents and Sierra Leoneans’ appreciation of the music they make.

The Bad

Notwithstanding the beautiful side, the country’s music industry also struggles with quality and standard. Despite the fact that it is easier for an upcoming musician to break into the Sierra Leonean music market, there is a high probability that the music that artiste produces is subpar to the quality of music produced in other countries like Ghana. Low quality of music is one factor that has kept Sierra Leone music stunted and hardly ever known in other parts of West Africa.

When you talk to upcoming artistes in the industry, most are often stressed about finding a good music studio to make record and master their songs. And because of this challenge, some musicians who can afford the financial implications that come with doing a great song often go to Nigeria to master their songs. The low quality of music produced is not only as a result of the sound engineering component. Many music critiques of Sierra Leonean music have also highlighted a poorly crafted concept on which songs are written. This implies that a Sierra Leonean song nowadays have no strong music concept to give it the style it needs to thrive and even compete internationally.

For most Sierra Leonean musicians, music is just about putting some lyrics on paper and then hit the studios to make sound and record. This subculture that is prevalent in the music industry is also due to a lackadaisical attitude towards the length of time musicians undertake in perfecting their skills or talents into producing a masterpiece. Like a gold rush, musicians in Sierra Leone seem to be more focused on local fame and the money they get from gate takings through organizing micro shows in their communities. Overall, with the lack of sound engineers, enough time to master their arts, musicians in Sierra Leone are far away from breaking into the mega music market like that of Nigeria. As a result, all these challenges culminate to be bad for the growth of the music industry.

The Ugly

Perhaps, Sierra Leone music industry’s most undisputed ugly challenge is the influence of mainstream national politics. As recent as during the 2018 national elections, musicians were openly and visibly declaring for main political party contenders. As a developing subculture, linking the music industry with national politics has existed far beyond the 2018 national elections. Notwithstanding the fact that everybody has right to belong to a political party, it is however unwise for musicians to link the music industry in Sierra Leone to politics. By standard, music being entertainment thrives well when it is nurtured as a purely private industry. Without entirely blaming the status quo of politically sided musicians, it is also clear that one of the reasons for this is the lack of private investors by the industry to support the growth or success of musicians.

Politicians are often willing to give musician vast sums of money with the catch that they declare for their political party and even produce political songs. The interference of politics in the industry has undermined a healthy competition among musical artistes and has succeeded in plunging the music industry into unhealthy rivalry and dissing. For a population that is so small and an economy that is still struggling, there is no chance for the country’s music industry to progress if the leading musicians still indulge in supporting mainstream national politicians and also engaging in constant dissing.

The Way Forward

Given the fact that music has to create wealth and prosperity for Sierra Leone’s youth, it is crucial that all stakeholders pay attention to its development and ensure that the industry has all the needed resources and support to grow successfully. Stakeholders such as successful musicians should begin playing the role of curators rather than continue to compete on the same stage with upcoming musicians.

One model that can be copied in light of the above is that which Kabaka Multimedia Entertainment (KME) is using. Over the past two years, KME has proved to all Sierra Leoneans that investment in music through the signing of talented upcoming musicians can yield good dividend. The success of the female artiste Rozay Sokota, despite her talent in music is largely attributed to KME. What KME has successfully done is scouting and pushing upcoming artistes to celebrity status in Sierra Leone. This has largely been a successful model as KME ensures competent sound engineers, good promotion and better opportunity for its signed artistes thereby enhancing their access to other talented singers and platforms in West Africa.

If successful musicians who have played their own part in influencing Sierra Leone music can take up new challenges as scouting and identifying new musicians and ensure they are provided with all the needed resources, it is very likely that the music industry can be at par with other countries like Nigeria and Ghana. Other issues such as unhealthy competition and influence of politics will all become redundant eventually as most musicians will tend to focus on developing their craft to attract music investors, promoters and record labels. If this can be achieved, then Sierra Leone’s music industry can shine like a beautiful diamond among others.

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