On the re-opening of SLPP Office … “We would never encourage violence” John Benjamin...

Sierra Leone News: A Tale of Two Em(m)ersons

Yet, nobody in Sierra Leone has been canonized. Therefore, music icon and premier entertainer, Emmerson Bockarie, is not a saint. What he is though, is a constant fixture, the Northern Star, the most contrarian and anti-establishmentarian of persons currently dealing in cultural products—period! Is it preposterous to say that a prophet is never honored in his hometown when talking about Emmerson? You be the judge. When he was offered the Order of the Rokel by President Koroma, he was away in the, yes, diaspora, earning a living. As a member of that diaspora, I am looking at “our Emmerson” using the lenses of another; Ralph Waldo Emerson, America’s great poet, philosopher, journalist, et cetera. Dipping in the archives, from the November 1891 edition of Atlantic Monthly, provides the article instrumentalized herein: “Journalism and Literature.” Why? Last I wrote about him was; “If Emmerson Were a Journalist,” just after his “Yesterday Betteh Pass Tiday” release and the backlash, noting that Public Order Act 1965 would have gotten him. Precious little has changed in his content and temperament or their intended, object(s)? Roll with me, as we press ‘Refresh’ button and see what comes up by way of analysis.
America, Sierra Leone, Em(m)ersons, journalism, cultural production…there are a lot of things running on this intersectional grid we are about to negotiate. Duopoly is second nature in both countries: The Republicans and Democrats, variations and iterations of the same, have run ruled America since its inception as a Union/Nation in 1776. Same can be said; Sierra Leone has been ruled by the Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) or All People’s Congress (APC), in party politics, since independence in 1961. That is not to say there have not been mugwumps, crisscrossing parties or independents or alternatives that have gotten in the fray now and then. The aforesaid article focalized the limitations of the American press in the hurly-burly of daily coverage and heavy partisanship in party politics then, and suggested that America (in 1891 still a, one would think, ‘fledgling democracy,’ a description Sierra Leone’s democracy gets a lot) was better off with the products of Culture/Literature that provide alternatives which capture the aspirations and interests of the totality, or at least most, of its peoples. The article went on to quote Ralph Waldo Emerson’s from his essay on Culture, which one has to say, pro forma, provides a frame, passion and contrarianism, that not only find resonance with what ‘our Emmerson,’ for all intent and purposes, may be striving to achieve, but also delves into some of the, seemingly, universal troubles our species (humankind) face when they embark on an endeavor such as democracy for like betterment/civilization.
One does not have to be a (wo)man of letters or a highfalutin intellectual to know Ralph Waldo Emerson. Variety counts. If you have not encountered his poems, you may have been (en)treated to his treatises or an anecdotal mention here and there. The Atlantic says of Emerson: He trumps everyone’s ability to understand the “depth and extent of American life with such an angel’s rod.” Forgive me if I don’t launch into a comparison of the two subjects, for too many reasons, it will make me no bones mentioning right here. Plus, that is not even the object of my piece: the lenses are! Framing the problem of ‘power tripping’ Emerson goes on to posit: “While all the world is in pursuit of power, and wealth as a means of power, culture corrects the theory of success.” Mark you, this is America in the Nineteenth Century in a formative and precarious time, as it worked to perfect its Union and democracy. That same piece elaborates further about Emerson speaking of the “fever of power is drying up the springs of our natural life” as politicians declare war on culture for being outside the firmament of their selfish and narrow party politics. The ways by which these politicians tried to hamper the progress of artifacts of Literature (then a primary source of culture…books, pamphlets, tracts, etc.) were varied, including taxing, relatively heavily, their production. The anti-culture politician at the time had “an instinct” that cultural products “possess the danger to the regime of ignorance and corruption in which he thrives and attains power, and like Caliban, he curses that which every day, and in spite of him, gives the lie to his theory of success.” For some reason most of what is said above may seem very relevant and recognizable if one were to transpose them into the Sierra Leone context. Anon, there is more that speaks especially to its largest demography—the Youth: “The youth must rate as its true mark the inconceivable levity on local opinions.” The lattermost comment may be far-flung from the rest, but weaves together well when we factor in the fact that culture and taste are crucial to the forming of identity and voice, and by extension the quality of civic participation or lack thereof among young people. It is clear so far that the American Emerson was a contrarian, went against the grain of ‘respectability politics’ of his time and spoke truth to power.
Insert our own Emmerson Bockarie. He burst out into the stratosphere as a bona fide star, when in 2006, he released his “Two Foot Arata” album carrying the song “Borbor Belleh” which was an instant hit. It is not far-fetched to suggest that said song added fuel to the change engine that culminated in the defeat of the incumbent SLPP government in 2007, among other factors. His style? That’s when “the inconceivable levity of local opinions” comes in. He vocalizes the legible injustices, tyranny, meanness, all the turpitude and fetidness in life, coats them in palatable colloquialities and vernacular that it finds especial resonance with the common man. And speaking of the limitations of the press, even if pedestrian, Emmerson’s stuff has a wider reach and a more lasting effect that any newspaper published in Freetown. As far as cultural products go, Emmerson has found a market in Sierra Leone and its diaspora who patronize the fact that he can catalyze and package their frustrations about the state of the country. Also, dance and celebrate it with songs like “Tutu Party” and its likes in his oeuvre. Another thing? Even if self-styled, he is, arguably, The Last Man Standing. One word: Consistency. He found his niche and stuck with it. Whether it is “Yesterday Betteh Pas Tiday” or his epic 20-minute-plus “Kokobeh” song, he has arrogated to himself the voice of the common man speaking truth to power. In two of his recent elections-eve songs I listened to, he employed, like in “Kokobeh,” the mode of freestyle talking over many bars to punctuate the songs. With dexterous contemporaneity, he addresses, like a social commentator, matters that have arisen in the public domain, and there seems almost something for everybody. For me, there is “Diaspora don speak, speak tay dem tire…” or the new “s—thole” talk, or that we are suffering in very cold temps out here in the West…always something to resonate. Anyway, no matter what catchy vibes of socio-political commentary Emmerson imbeds in his songs and their timing, people’s minds are made up for this elections cycle. Just as he notes, they remain Arsenal or Manchester United fans, come what may. You can chalk that up to “ignorance” or the “laybelleh” (groveling/sycophancy) all you want. And Emmerson will keep doing Emmerson, hopefully.
ADDENDUM…Beyond Kamalo
This should have been the first order of business. There was first that incident in Kamalo involving Maada Bio, his supporters and townsmen. It has so much he said, she said, that as expected the police will keep investigating until after elections. There is notably another involving C4C supporters in Kono. Then there is the other skirmish in Kenema, where APC/SLPP supporters clashed after Samura Kamara left the town; luckily resulting in zero deaths. Then I saw APC supporters in a clip on Social Media uprooting a Maada Bio billboard. Now you think: this is too darn serious! I liked it when I saw flagbearers at the American Embassy residence in that photo shoot. Further, I watched them debate; heard they had breakfast with ex-President Mahama. It is incumbent upon them (presidential candidates) to tell their caboodles or supporters that there is zero tolerance for violence! PLEASE Sierra Leoneans, the world is watching us. Keep those cameras/phones out; the world is even smaller. Vote and make sure it counts! ADIOS compatriots, do us proud.
Friday March 02, 2018.

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