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Bai Kamara Jr and Sierra Leone's 'mystical survivors'

By Alison Hird

Bai Kamara Jr is a singer-songwriter from Sierra Leone. As his country peacefully goes to the polls, the Brussels-based musician, who's lent his voice to Amnesty International and Unicef, talks to RFI about reasons to feel proud of his homeland and why he chose a musical path rather than following his family into politics.

On his latest, fifth, album The Mystical Survivors and Some Rare Earthlings Vol 1 Bai brings a 70s vibe to his repertoire of protest and love songs.

"I had done other stuff like folky stuff, a world music record, a record with Cuban and Brazilian musicians," he told RFI ahead of a concert in Paris. "So for this record I just said 'let me come back and revisit soul music in the way I grew up with it' like listening to Curtis Mayfield, Isaac Hayes, bringing the horns, the girls."

In his close-fitting black suit and unbuttoned shirt, the singer, guitarist and music producer indeed has an air of Mayfield or Hayes about him. While he doesn't sound like either he similarly mixes soul, funk and political commentary.

"I do it my way but I’m a protest singer at heart, I might have soul chords or nice jazzy harmonies but Citizens of the world is a protest song, Refugee is a protest song, Rise is a protest song, Going up the wrong way is a protest song," he says listing tracks from both his new album and Disposable Society released in 2010.

Bai Kamara Jr. gives soulful solo performance at l'Auguste, Paris, 3 March 2018 RFI/HIRD

Mystical Survivors

The new album's title is partly in tribute to the "elaborate" titles so typical in the 70s but also thinking of his fellow Africans' resilience.

"We’ve been through all kinds of things but we’re still there. For example my country we went through civil war [1991-2002], we went through ebola but we’re still here so we’re mystical survivors."

Sierra Leone went to the polls on 7 March to replace Ernest Bai Koroma who stepped down, as planned, after two terms. Bai is proud of how far his country's come since the civil war.

"If 10 years ago someone had told me we’d have free and fair elections and even have a presidential debate where candidates were well behaved, not trading insults, they were talking about policies, about women's rights, well I’m very proud."

"We’ve come a long way from the civil war, to ebola, with a president who is stepping down peacefully after 10 years. A lot of things might be happening but I think that’s one thing we should be commended for."

Bai Kamara Jr. plays La Bellevilleoise, Paris, 31 March 2018

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