Music of Sierra Leone

Last updated
Students celebrate with traditional dancing in Koindu, Kailahun District, Sierra Leone Sierra Leone Koindu dance.jpg
Students celebrate with traditional dancing in Koindu, Kailahun District, Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's music is a mixture of native, French, British, West Indian and Creole musical genres.

Sierra Leone republic in West Africa

Sierra Leone, officially the Republic of Sierra Leone, informally Salone, is a country on the southwest coast of West Africa. It is bordered by Liberia to the southeast and Guinea to the northeast. Sierra Leone has a tropical climate, with a diverse environment ranging from savanna to rainforests, and a total area of 71,740 km2 (27,699 sq mi) and a population of 7,075,641 as of the 2015 census. The capital and largest city is Freetown, and the country is divided into five administrative regions, which are further subdivided into sixteen districts.

Music form of art using sound and silence

Music is an art form and cultural activity whose medium is sound organized in time. General definitions of music include common elements such as pitch, rhythm, dynamics, and the sonic qualities of timbre and texture. Different styles or types of music may emphasize, de-emphasize or omit some of these elements. Music is performed with a vast range of instruments and vocal techniques ranging from singing to rapping; there are solely instrumental pieces, solely vocal pieces and pieces that combine singing and instruments. The word derives from Greek μουσική . See glossary of musical terminology.

France Republic with majority of territory in Europe and numerous oversea territories around the world

France, officially the French Republic, is a country whose territory consists of metropolitan France in Western Europe and several overseas regions and territories. The metropolitan area of France extends from the Mediterranean Sea to the English Channel and the North Sea, and from the Rhine to the Atlantic Ocean. It is bordered by Belgium, Luxembourg and Germany to the northeast, Switzerland and Italy to the east, and Andorra and Spain to the south. The overseas territories include French Guiana in South America and several islands in the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian oceans. The country's 18 integral regions span a combined area of 643,801 square kilometres (248,573 sq mi) and a total population of 67.02 million. France is a unitary semi-presidential republic with its capital in Paris, the country's largest city and main cultural and commercial centre. Other major urban areas include Lyon, Marseille, Toulouse, Bordeaux, Lille and Nice.


Palm wine music is representative, played by an acoustic guitar with percussion in countries throughout coastal West Africa.

Percussion instrument Type of musical instrument that produces a sound by being hit

A percussion instrument is a musical instrument that is sounded by being struck or scraped by a beater including attached or enclosed beaters or rattles struck, scraped or rubbed by hand or struck against another similar instrument. The percussion family is believed to include the oldest musical instruments, following the human voice.

West Africa Westernmost region of the African continent

West Africa is the westernmost region of Africa. The United Nations defines Western Africa as the 16 countries of Benin, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, The Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Ivory Coast, Liberia, Mali, Mauritania, the Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone and Togo, as well as the United Kingdom Overseas Territory of Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha. The population of West Africa is estimated at about 362 million people as of 2016, and at 381,981,000 as of 2017, of which 189,672,000 are female and 192,309,000 male.

Sierra Leone, like much of West Africa is open to Rap, Reggae, Dancehall, R&B, and Grime (music).

Hip hop music music genre consisting of a stylized rhythmic music that commonly accompanies rapping

Hip hop music, also called hip-hop or rap music, is a music genre developed in the United States by inner-city African Americans and Latino Americans in the Bronx borough of New York City in the 1970s. It consists of a stylized rhythmic music that commonly accompanies rapping, a rhythmic and rhyming speech that is chanted. It developed as part of hip hop culture, a subculture defined by four key stylistic elements: MCing/rapping, DJing/scratching with turntables, break dancing, and graffiti writing. Other elements include sampling beats or bass lines from records, and rhythmic beatboxing. While often used to refer solely to rapping, "hip hop" more properly denotes the practice of the entire subculture. The term hip hop music is sometimes used synonymously with the term rap music, though rapping is not a required component of hip hop music; the genre may also incorporate other elements of hip hop culture, including DJing, turntablism, scratching, beatboxing, and instrumental tracks.

Reggae Music genre from Jamaica

Reggae is a music genre that originated in Jamaica in the late 1960s. The term also denotes the modern popular music of Jamaica and its diaspora. A 1968 single by Toots and the Maytals, "Do the Reggay" was the first popular song to use the word "reggae", effectively naming the genre and introducing it to a global audience. While sometimes used in a broad sense to refer to most types of popular Jamaican dance music, the term reggae more properly denotes a particular music style that was strongly influenced by traditional mento as well as American jazz and rhythm and blues, especially the New Orleans R&B practiced by Fats Domino and Allen Toussaint, and evolved out of the earlier genres ska and rocksteady. Reggae usually relates news, social gossip, and political comment. Reggae spread into a commercialized jazz field, being known first as "Rudie Blues", then "Ska", later "Blue Beat", and "Rock Steady". It is instantly recognizable from the counterpoint between the bass and drum downbeat, and the offbeat rhythm section. The immediate origins of reggae were in ska and rocksteady; from the latter, reggae took over the use of the bass as a percussion instrument.

Dancehall is a genre of Jamaican popular music that originated in the late 1970s. Initially, dancehall was a more sparse version of reggae than the roots style, which had dominated much of the 1970s. In the mid-1980s, digital instrumentation became more prevalent, changing the sound considerably, with digital dancehall becoming increasingly characterized by faster rhythms. Key elements of dancehall music include its extensive use of Jamaican Patois rather than Jamaican standard English and a focus on the track instrumentals.

National music

The national anthem of Sierra Leone, "High We Exalt Thee, Realm of the Free", was composed by John Akar with lyrics by Clifford Nelson Fyle and arrangement by Logie E. K. Wright. It was adopted upon independence in 1961.

High We Exalt Thee, Realm of the Free national anthem

"High We Exalt Thee, Realm of the Free" is the national anthem of Sierra Leone.

Traditional music

The largest ethnic group in Sierra Leone (2009) is that of the Mel-speaking Temne people, 35% of the population. Next, at 31%, the Mande, along with 2% Mandingo, have music traditions related to Mande populations in neighbouring countries. Other recorded populations were the Limba ( 8%), the Kono (5%), the Loko (2%) and the Sierra Leone Creole people (2%), while 15% were recorded as "others".

The Mel languages are a branch of Niger–Congo languages spoken in Guinea-Bissau, Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia. The most populous is Temne, with about two million speakers; Kissi is next, with half a million.

Temne people West African ethnic group

The Temne people, also called Time, Temen, Timni or Timmanee people, are a West African ethnic group. They are predominantly found in the Northern Province of Sierra Leone, as well as the national capital Freetown. Some Temne are also found in Guinea. The Temne constitute the largest ethnic group in Sierra Leone, at 35% of the total population, which is slightly more than the Mende people at 31%. They speak Temne, a Mel branch of the Niger–Congo languages.

Mende people ethnic group

The Mende people are one of the two largest ethnic groups in Sierra Leone; their neighbours, the Temne people, have roughly the same population. The Mende and Temne each account for slightly more than 30% of the total population. The Mende are predominantly found in the Southern Province and the Eastern Province, while the Temne are found primarily in the Northern Province and the Western Area, including the capital city of Freetown. Some of the major cities with significant Mende populations include Bo, Kenema, Kailahun, and Moyamba.

The wars and civil conflict throughout West Africa, [1] have resulted in a decrease in the presence of traditional music artists.


Sierra Leonean palm wine music is known as maringa, and it was first popularized by Ebenezer Calendar & His Maringar Band, who used Caribbean styles, especially Trinidadian calypso. [2] Calendar played the guitar, trumpet, mandolin and the cornet, while also penning some of the most oft-played songs in Sierra Leonean music in the 1950s and 60s. [3] His most popular song was "Double-Decker Bus", commissioned by Decca to promote the launching of a double-decker bus line. He eventually moved towards socially and spiritually aware lyrics.


Gumbe (also goombay or gumbay), is a Creole musical genre and has also had a long presence in Sierra Leone. The gumbe, a square drum with legs, was an important cultural symbol for the Jamaican maroon settlers who were to become part of the Sierra Leone Creole ethnic community. The drum had always been associated with the invocation of their ancestors (Bilby 2007:15), and played an important role in their Maroon strongholds in Jamaica in the 18th century, in their fight for freedom against the British. It was used for the communication of messages and also to warn them of future attacks being planned by the British. The sound of these drums provoked a trance from which these premonitions were made (Lewin 2000:160). The gumbe is still used today by the descendants of the maroons in Jamaica and Sierra Leone. Currently the gumbe enjoys a continuing presence in Krio culture in Sierra Leone. This drum is also still used in Freetown to enter into a trance and predict the future in events such as baptisms and weddings (Aranzadi 2010). Gumbe has also been influential on three of Sierra Leones’s 20th century popular dance-music styles: namely Asiko or Ashiko, Maringa and Milo jazz (Collins: 2007:180). [4] Dr. Oloh was the most widely acknowledged innovator of Sierra Leone gumbe and milo jazz music


Beginning in the 1970s, rumba, Congolese music, funk and soul combined to form a popular kind of Afropop. Major bands of this era included Sabannoh 75, Orchestra Muyei, Super Combo and the Afro-National. Sierra Leoneans abroad have created their own styles, such as Seydu, Ansoumana Bangura, Abdul Tee-Jay, Bosca Banks, Daddy Rahmanu, Patricia Bakarr and Sidike Diabate and Mwana Musa's African Connexion. [5]


The internet has encouraged the youth to new styles of music. Many songs have political and social themes, informing the populace and checking politicians. The independent film, Sweet Salone, displays many of these artists, fans, and their music.

Mwana Musa (Musa Kalamulah) and the band African Connexion married Sierra Leone, Congolese and jazz rhythms. Mwana Musa was an able composer who worked with musicians such as David Toop, Steve Beresford, Ray Carless, Ugo Delmirani, Robin Jones, Mongoley (Lipua Lipua) Safroman (GO Malebo)Len Jones one of Sierra Leones finest guitarists, Lindel Lewis, Ayo-Roy MAcauley leading guitarist from Sierra Leone, Kevin Robinson, Paapa Jay-Mensah etc. African Connexion was signed to Charlie Gillet's Oval Records and produced "C'est La Danse", "Moziki", "City Limits", "Midnight Pressure", "Dancing On The Sidewalk", a soca-tinged soukous, and "E Sidom Panam" - typical Sierra Leone dance music.

Related Research Articles

Sierra Leone first became inhabited by indigenous African peoples at least 2,500 years ago. The dense tropical rainforest partially isolated the region from other West African cultures, and it became a refuge for peoples escaping violence and jihads. Sierra Leone was named by Portuguese explorer Pedro de Sintra, who mapped the region in 1462. The Freetown estuary provided a good natural harbour for ships to shelter and replenish drinking water, and gained more international attention as coastal and trans-Atlantic trade supplanted trans-Saharan trade.

Palm-wine music is a West African musical genre. It evolved among the Kru people of Liberia, who used Portuguese guitars brought by sailors, combining local melodies and rhythms with Trinidadian calypso. Palm-wine music was named after a drink, palm wine, made from the naturally fermented sap of the oil palm, which was drunk at gatherings where early African guitarists played.

Sierra Leonean Creole or Krio is an English-based creole language that is lingua franca and de facto national language spoken throughout the West African nation of Sierra Leone. Krio is spoken by 87% of Sierra Leone's population and unites the different ethnic groups in the country, especially in their trade and social interaction with each other. Krio is the primary language of communication among Sierra Leoneans at home and abroad. The language is native to the Sierra Leone Creole people or Krios,, and is spoken as a second language by millions of other Sierra Leoneans belonging to the country's indigenous tribes. English is Sierra Leone's official language, while Krio, despite its common use throughout the country, has no official status.

Gumbe, also goombay or gumbay, is a West African style of music found in countries such as Sierra Leone and Guinea-Bissau. Sierra Leonean gumbe music is indigenous to the Sierra Leone Creole people and was derived from the Jamaican Maroon ancestors of the Creole people.

Waterloo, Sierra Leone Place in Western Area, Sierra Leone

Waterloo is a city in the Western Area of Sierra Leone and the capital of the Western Area Rural District, which is one of the sixteen districts of Sierra Leone. Waterloo is located about twenty miles east of Freetown. Waterloo is the second largest city in the Western Area region of Sierra Leone, after Freetown. The city had a population of 34,079 in the 2004 census, and 40,000 as per a 2015 estimate.Waterloo is part of Freetown metropolitan area.

Sierra Leones Refugee All Stars

Sierra Leone's Refugee All Stars is a band from Sierra Leone which was formed by a group of refugees displaced to Guinea during the Sierra Leone Civil War. Since their return to Freetown in 2004, the band has toured extensively to raise awareness for humanitarian causes. Their story is documented in the 2005 documentary film Sierra Leone's Refugee All Stars.

Maroon Town, Sierra Leone, is a district in the settlement of Freetown, a colony founded in West Africa by Great Britain.

The Jamaican Maroons in Sierra Leone were a group of just under 600 Jamaican Maroons from Cudjoe's Town, the largest of the five Maroon towns in Jamaica, who were deported by British forces following the Second Maroon War in 1796, first to Nova Scotia. Four years later in 1800, they were transported to Sierra Leone.

Nova Scotian Settlers historical ethnic group that settled Sierra Leone

The Nova Scotian Settlers, or Sierra Leone Settlers were Black Britons who founded the settlement of Freetown, Sierra Leone on March 11, 1792. The majority of these black immigrants were among 3000 Blacks who had been in enslaved in North America, who had sought freedom and refuge with the British during the American Revolutionary War, leaving rebel masters. They became known as the Black Loyalists. The Nova Scotian settlers were jointly led by African-American Thomas Peters, a former soldier, and English abolitionist John Clarkson. For most of the 19th century, the Settlers resided in Settler Town and remained a distinct ethnic group within the Freetown territory, tending to marry among themselves and with Europeans in the colony. Indigenous tribes in the region included the Sherbro and Mende.

The gumbe or bench drum is a frame drum found in French Guiana, Jamaica and Sierra Leone. It has a small size, with square frame and one head of goat skin.

Professor Eldred Durosimi Jones is a Sierra Leonean academic and literary critic. Jones is known for his book Othello's Countrymen: A Study of Africa in the Elizabethan and Jacobean Drama. He is a former principal of Fourah Bay College.

Edna Elliott Horton was the second West African woman from a British colony to receive a university degree after the Nigerian physician, Agnes Yewande Savage who received a medical degree from the University of Edinburgh in 1929. A Sierra Leonean, Elliott-Horton became the first West African woman to complete a BA degree in the liberal arts, after graduating from Howard University in 1933. where Dr. Edward Mayfield Boyle, her maternal uncle, had graduated as a medical doctor. Elliott-Horton was a political activist who challenged the colonial authorities in Sierra Leone through her participation in the West African Youth League which was formally established in her living room.

<i>Living Like a Refugee</i> 2006 studio album / field recordings by Sierra Leones Refugee All Stars

Living Like a Refugee is the debut album from Sierra Leonian band Sierra Leone's Refugee All Stars, released in the Europe on 25 September 2006 and in the United States on 26 September 2006.

Macormack Charles Farrell Easmon Sierra Leonean doctor

Macormack Charles Farrell Easmon, OBE, popularly known as M. C. F. Easmon or "Charlie", was a Sierra Leone Creole born in Accra in the Gold Coast, where his father John Farrell Easmon, a prominent Creole doctor, was working at the time. He belonged to the notable Easmon family of Sierra Leone of African-American descent.

The Sierra Leone Creole people is an ethnic group in Sierra Leone. The Creole people are descendants of freed African American, West Indian, and Liberated African slaves who settled in the Western Area of Sierra Leone between 1787 and about 1885. The colony was established by the British, supported by abolitionists, under the Sierra Leone Company as a place for freedmen. The settlers called their new settlement Freetown. Today, the Creoles comprise about 2% of the population of Sierra Leone.

Arthur Thomas Daniel Porter III was a Creole professor, historian, and author. His book on the Sierra Leone Creole people, Creoledom: A study of the development of Freetown society, examines their society in a way in which few books of their time period had, and it is one of the most quoted books on the Creoles. He was also published in East Africa and the UK.

Libation (2014) is the fourth album by Sierra Leone's Refugee All Stars, following Radio Salone (2012). It was produced by Canadian singer-songwriter Chris Velan, mixed by Iestyn Polson, and recorded at Lane Gibson Recording & Mastering in Charlotte, Vermont. The album celebrates the band's 10-year anniversary with a "return to roots, specifically the acoustic "around the campfire" vibe of their earliest recordings." Their sound combines elements of highlife, palm wine, maringa, baskeda and gumbe with modern dubstep and reggae.

Easmon family Sierra Leone Creole family

The Easmon family or the Easmon Medical Dynasty is a Sierra Leone Creole medical dynasty of African-American descent originally based in Freetown, Sierra Leone. The Easmon family has ancestral roots in the United States, and in particular Savannah, Georgia and other states in the American South. There are several descendants of the Sierra Leonean family in the United Kingdom and the United States, and in Accra, Ghana and Kumasi, Ghana. The family produced several medical doctors beginning with John Farrell Easmon, the medical doctor who coined the term Blackwater fever and wrote the first clinical diagnosis of the disease linking it to malaria and Albert Whiggs Easmon, who was a leading gynaecologist in Freetown, Sierra Leone. Several members of the family were active in business, academia, politics, the arts including music, cultural dance, playwriting and literature, history, anthropology, cultural studies, and anti-colonial activism against racism.

Thomas Frederick Hope

Thomas Frederick Hope OBE CEng, known as Tommy Hope or as Tom Hope, was a Sierra Leonean civil engineer, businessman, and scholar who was the general manager and Chief Engineer of the Guma Valley Water Company and President of the Sierra Leone Chamber of Commerce. He was one-time President of the Ecobank Transnational Incorporated and was one-time President of the Federation of West African Chambers of Commerce.


  1. "Freetown". Archived from the original on 12 January 2019. Retrieved 26 July 2019.
  2. Broughton, Simon, ed. (1999). World music (New ed.). London: Rough Guides. p. 634. ISBN   1858286352.
  3. "McCORMACK CHARLES FARRELL EASMON 1890-1972 FOUNDER OF THE SIERRA LEONE MUSEUM". Archived from the original on 2007-07-01. Retrieved 2007-08-14.Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)
  4. de Aranzadi, Isabela. "A Drum's Trans-Atlantic Journey from Africa to the Americas and Back after the end of Slavery: Annobonese and Fernandino musical cultures" . Retrieved 26 July 2019.
  5. "Afropop". Archived from the original on April 14, 2005.Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)