When Kanye West released “Diamonds from Sierra Leone”, I felt like my two worlds were colliding. I’m an avid hip-hop fan and in 2005, Mr West was arguably the biggest hip-hop artist in the world and here he was about to release the most anticipated album of the year to follow up to his classic debut, and he, Kanye West, put the name of my country on the title of his first single!
I had heard a snippet of the song on the radio but I didn’t think the video would have anything to do with Salone. I had secretly hope of maybe a scene or two of the country though. I’m a fan of lyrics and from the little I’d heard I’d gathered that he was using the conflict diamonds issue as a metaphor for the inner politics that was happening at the time, at his music label Roc-a-Fella, “THE R.O.C.”
Yet it was the video that really surprised me, the eerie intro to the video starting with children in the diamond mines depicted with dilated pupils to emphasis the eyes response when attracted to something, hearing Krio in the narration of a hip-hop video (though my cousin argued the accent was off), the journey of these precious stones from the ground of Salone to the Jewellery shops of Europe and even the message in the closing credits “Please Buy Conflict-free Diamonds”… I mean school teachers were playing the video in Geography classes!
However more was to come when he released the remix with Jay Z with content more specific to the plight of children working in mines to dig stones out the ground. Overnight the blank expressions I would get when I mentioned where I was from were now replaced with expressions of intrigue and wonder. Ignorance was bliss until you decide you want to learn something new and if we choose to close our eyes when we’re afraid of what we might see, it’s because we’re comfortable in our own lack of light.
These ain’t Conflict diamonds, is they Jacob? Don’t lie to me man!
See a part of me sayin’ keep shinin,
How, when I know what a blood diamond is?
Kanye West – “Diamonds are from Sierra Leone Remix”
Being a fan of hip-hop you are always going to be conflicted and Kanye is the epitome of that back then as he is now. He highlighted and generated more awareness about conflict diamonds and now people knew Sierra Leone is a country in Africa and not an island off Portugal.
This was not to be the last time I would hear Sierra Leone being used in lyrics for songs. The flood gates opened and now every hip-hop artist had license to use Sierra Leone as the new slang to refer to the diamond jewellery that they wore.
In Big Sean’s song titled “Sierra Leone” the intro starts with a sample from the rapper Nas from a track on another song from the same album.
“Sorry Sierra Leone, one day we’ll right the wrongs”
Nas – “First Chain”
Big Sean then goes on to say
“Diamonds and gold, Sierra Leone, Leone
Hotel look like Sierra Leone, Leone
Chain, ring look like Sierra Leone, Leone
And she don’t ever tell me I’m wrong, I’m wrong
‘Cause she don’t want to leave Sierra Leone, Leone”
Living his life in the moment, Sierra Leone representing the beautiful material things he enjoys and wears and one day he’ll go back and right the wrongs done in the name of mining of these items of wealth.
Frank Ocean’s song ‘Sierra Leone’ uses a different context.
“Her Pink Skies keep me warm”
Frank Ocean -“Sierra Leone”
He uses imagery of Sierra Leone’s Pink Skies and Shimmering underneath the sunlight as a metaphor to describe an intimate scene with his partner creating a precious new baby , just like the land of Sierra Leone creates precious diamonds.
Type in Sierra Leone on the RapGenius search engine you’ll find an ongoing list of quotes spanning different genres from reggae with Ziggy Marley’s ‘Diamond City’ to the Dubsteps Mt Eden. There’s even a rapper called Sierra Leone, though I can’t confirm yet if she’s of Salone origin or she chose the name as it refers to something precious.
However there is more to Sierra Leone than this, and I myself intend to listen to more artists of Salone origin to hear Sierra Leone’s own artists write their own narratives.
As I end this blog post, I’m very intrigued to know,
Who are some of your favourite Salone artists for me to check out?
And what are your favourite songs referencing Sierra Leone?