This autumn, as the rain returns and the great grey descends, treat yourself to a sweet dose of Sierra Leonean sunshine. Straight off the beaches of Freetown comes OSUSU, a 12-part album recorded in a sun-soaked jam session last November, arranged to connect the stars of the local scene to a constellation of international musicians, producers, and technicians.
For three days, across three hotel rooms, London beat poet Brother Portrait rhymed with Freetown rapper Drizilik, whilst UK producers Nabihah Iqbal and Mark Crown jammed with traditional musician Loverboy from Northern Sierra Leone. With Irish and Icelandic vocalists Loah and Hildur singing on tracks with the relentless rhythm rollercoaster of the Freetown Uncut Band (a strong contender for the title of ‘World’s Best House Band’), this album is a shining testament to the power of collaboration and the universal language of music.
Out of this far-ranging line-up of 17 artists, producers, and technicians (see list below) 22 tracks were born, 12 of which are now being released on Molten Keys/Cuppa Gumbo. Four tracks have already been released – one every Friday since September 13th: the soaring ‘Woman’, the shoulder-shaking ‘Mercy’, the slinky ‘Hustlin’ (born for the dance floor), and last week’s straight-talking ‘Nathaniel John’. Each release is accompanied by an image taken by London-based photographer Jay Kammy, who travelled to Sierra Leone in 2018 to better understand his heritage, laid on top of a textile by Labrum, a London-based menswear brand centred on telling the ‘untold West African story’.
The OSUSU retreat was the brainchild of the Freetown Music Festival (now celebrating its fourth year), the Icelandic cultural exchange organisation Aurora Foundation (who provided the funding and additional support), the British Council, and Cuppa’ Gumbo, a newly established London-based community organisation that facilitates international cultural exchange sessions like OSUSU.
The Freetown Uncut Festival was founded in 2016 to provide young creatives in Sierra Leone with the exposure, education, and empowerment (the ‘Three E’s) needed to successfully build a career in the music industry amidst a local landscape lacking almost any form of support. Despite a huge amount of cultural talent in the country, Sierra Leone’s capital, Freetown, lacks any form of official performance space – whether that be a concert hall, theatre, cinema, gallery, or museum – and houses only a handful of small music academies geared towards classical and gospel music. Without a developed creative arts industry, becoming a musician is a challenging and stigmatised path. Many young musicians are thrown out of their homes and rejected by their families. The Freetown Uncut Festival is working to remedy this by bringing artists together, providing a platform for performing, and paying artists as close to Western rates as possible whilst keeping audience access to live music open (festival tickets are around £1). OSUSU continues this work of building the capacity and potential of local artists by connecting them to the wider international music industry.
Having now performed the album on several occasions, both in Freetown and the UK (including at a Skin Deep co-hosted Sierra Leonean showcase in September), additional collaborations are already underway amongst the artists, and the network that OSUSU sought to establish is alive and kicking. So catch the latest tracks each Friday, feel that Freetown beach between your toes, and enjoy the sweet fruits of musical collaboration, Sierra Leone-style.
Sierra Leone: Drizilik, Mohammed Kamara, Emma, Zainab, Solo’s Beat, Fantacee Wiz, Daniel Bangura, Lover Boy
UK: Brother Portrait, Nabihah Iqbal, Mark Crown
Iceland: Hildur, Logi Pedro, Kraftgalli, Sammi, Cell7
Listen to the tracks that have been released from the OSUSU album here.