Sorie Kondi
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Sorie Kondi

Freetown, Western Area, Sierra Leone | INDIE

Freetown, Western Area, Sierra Leone | INDIE
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"Sierra Leone's school-time blues"

Blind busker Sorie Kondi plays to locals in Sierra Leone

How are the Millennium Development Goals playing out across Africa? In the first of a series assessing their impact, we asked the talented blind musician Sorie Kondi to travel around Sierra Leone to find out what schoolchildren, like his own daughter, are experiencing.

Sorie Kondi wanders the streets of Freetown, Sierra Leone, a blind man asking for cash in a city with its own problems.

Life on the edge

The eight Millennium Development Goals world leaders signed up to in 2000 were aimed at cutting hunger and killer diseases, guaranteeing all children an education and empowering women.

With five years left to go to achieve them, what's the picture like today? The new five-part Life on the Edge series takes a look at what's happening on the MDGs in countries across Africa.

Sorie needs US$8 a month to pay his rent, plus a few dollars more to help his 14-year-old daughter Zeinab pay for the "extras" at school. His wife Sally, who is also blind, helps out by making soap.

Sorie is a busker, crunching sad tunes with a thumb piano - known as the kondi - and a beaten-up amp.

Sorie, whose music is available as a digital download from iTunes, is known as Sierra Leone's Stevie Wonder.

His blues inspiration is daughter Zeinab. Many girls like Zeinab are doing just fine. Sierra Leone is making undoubted progress towards the Millennium Development Goals, which include girls' rights, and free primary schooling for all.

But if it was that simple, Sorie would be spending more time in the studio taking a bet on the future, rather than busking for spare leones.

Sorie has been picking up troubled stories about girls' schooling. Education is not just about money and buildings, which are easily measured for the MDGs. Zeinab's cousins have all left school early because of pregnancy. And Sorie is worried about his daughter's future.

'Ghost teachers'
He has hardly been outside Freetown since the end of the decade-long civil war eight years ago, in which both his parents were killed.

Sorie busks to help pay for extras for his daughter
So we asked Freetown's electronic troubadour, and his 20-year-old minder and colleague Foday, to take a minstrel's journey around Sierra Leone.

On the road to his home in Mangay Loko, Sorie meets Theophilus, a primary school teacher who needs a lift. What's making him angry? Ghost teachers. It is estimated the Sierra Leone government has been paying the salaries of 30,000 teachers who don't exist. No-one seems to know where the money is going.

"Teachers do retire, some die," Theophilus says. "But heads of schools still maintain their names in the register. So there are ghost teachers all over."

Back in Freetown, Sorie will learn the government has started a roll call of teachers to make sure the money is spent properly.

Sorie's van passes schoolgirls beautifully turned out in crisp uniforms. It is a long walk to school, maybe many kilometres. Even though it is free, more than a quarter of a million children - mostly girls - do not go to primary school.

Some 12,000 schools were destroyed during the civil conflict.

Unqualified and untrained
In Mangay Loko, Sorie is a success story. So is his old friend Hassan - almost. Hassan used to be a small-time trader. Now he's a teacher. But like almost half Sierra Leone's teachers he's a "UU" or "Unqualified Untrained" teacher. The village pays him what it can, so he is also "Usually Underpaid" or even "Unpaid".


Hassan has been waiting three years to take up a training place
There is little incentive for Hassan to train as a teacher. There are just not enough well-paid jobs, although the government is reviewing teachers' pay.

Hassan was accepted onto a training programme three years ago, but he is still waiting for confirmation of funding.

Next, Sorie heads to Mateboi with Mohamed, a motorbike taxi driver and former student of one of the oldest schools in Sierra Leone.

It has an impressive list of former pupils, including some public figures, and has recently seen a huge increase in its pupil intake.

There are now 425 students - but only five teachers and three classrooms. Many lessons are held under mango trees. When the rain comes, the children pile into the school buildings bringing the entire school to a halt.

"If you could see them," Foday tells Sorie, "you would see that the children have no desks and have to put the books on their laps”

Foday
Sorie's minder
"So, no benches then?" Sorie asks.

"They do have benches to sit on but they haven't got anything to write on.

Sorie turns to the headmaster: "Mr Headmaster, these people in high place, what have they done to help the school?"

"These people have not made any effort to move us from under the mango tree," he headmaster replied.

"Forget the government, it's up to local people to move these children into classrooms. I had a better education than them because we had the facilities in school. In those days, we had enough desks to write on. These days, children use their lap to write on. That doesn't help their writing skills."

Pregnant schoolgirls

Sixteen-year-old Mammy Musa, her mother and stepfather, need a lift back to their village. Foday asks Mammy Musa how many cases of pregnancy had she heard of since she started school.

"Many," she replied. "More than 40 - more than 50."

"Are these cases you really know? I don't want you to lie," says Foday.

"It's not a lie," Mammy Musa says.

In Kenema, the country's diamond-trading centre in eastern Sierra Leone, Sorie and Foday meet Juliette, a primary school teacher, volunteer radio journalist, and single mother. She runs a youth programme and opens the phone lines every Saturday morning.


This girl got pregnant while she was still at school
"Most questions that used to come to our studio, whenever I'm presenting this programme, people say the teenagers themselves are responsible for the problems they face," she says.

"They want to live big, they want to live with all opportunities. So most of the time they choose to go to the street and just live their own life. I'll blame the parents, the guidance, I'll blame the teenagers, themselves. Then I'll blame also the schools that these teenagers are attending."

These are not comfortable messages for the father of a 14-year-old girl.

And there is more to come from a boatman transferring tourists to Tiwai Island, Sierra Leone's river island wildlife sanctuary.

He has spent a lot of money on his daughter's secondary education. As a result, her "belly business", or pregnancy, has been a disappointment - particularly as she says it involved her teacher.

"I was going to school and I suddenly get pregnant," his daughter tells Sorie and Foday. "I was in love with my teacher a long time. Since I was in Form One. He helped me pass my exams and paid for my practical fees and other things. When I told him that I was pregnant, he said, 'Don't tell me that.'

"He said if I was willing, he had the money, I could have an abortion. I said, 'No', because some friends have died because of abortion."

Back in Freetown, Sorie reflects on his recent experiences.

"Zeinab's my child, but she has a mind of her own," he says. "Even though I really hope she finishes her studies, it's up to her. I am praying to God that she finishes her education because I believe it will be good for her. If I get money I will send her to college. I believe God will provide."

The MDGs are meant to be measurable and, on some counts, countries like Sierra Leone are making progress.

But our 21st Century troubadour has returned home with an old bluesman's message: "That life is messier, and more troublesome, and money alone won't always fix things." - BBC News


"Ghetto Palms: Exclusive Tim Turbo Blend / Lexie Lee / Douster / Sorie Kondi"

First of all there’s Sorie Kondi, a blind Sierra Leonan singer/instrumentalist (the Kondi is his instrument, and apparently he is so married to that shit he took it’s name as his own, you know, like Alicia to Keys.) represented here in fine remixed form courtesy of Ghetto Palmist Chief Boima

Read more: http://www.thefader.com/2009/04/29/ghetto-palms-exclusive-tim-turbo-blend-lexie-lee-douster-sorie-kondi/#ixzz1dMKyKly1 - The Fader


"Ghetto Palms: Exclusive Tim Turbo Blend / Lexie Lee / Douster / Sorie Kondi"

First of all there’s Sorie Kondi, a blind Sierra Leonan singer/instrumentalist (the Kondi is his instrument, and apparently he is so married to that shit he took it’s name as his own, you know, like Alicia to Keys.) represented here in fine remixed form courtesy of Ghetto Palmist Chief Boima

Read more: http://www.thefader.com/2009/04/29/ghetto-palms-exclusive-tim-turbo-blend-lexie-lee-douster-sorie-kondi/#ixzz1dMKyKly1 - The Fader


"Sierra Leone's Blind Musical Genius Sorie Kondi"

April 2010: Sorie Kondi has been seen at LP Studio in Freetown working on a new album. The album is being produced by Fadie Conteh, and should be released by the end of the year.

November 2009: Sorie Kondi played at the Country Lodge, a hotel at Hill Staton in Freetown, for the first time. The performance was filmed by a television crew and was featured on the Vickie Remoe Show, an arts & entertainment television program on SLBS-TV.

November 2009: Sorie Kondi's music was featured on the November 1st edition of Music Time in Africa, a program produced by Matthew Lavoie and broadcast by the Voice of America throughout Africa on FM and shortwave. Mr. Lavoie praised Sorie as a musical genius, read English translations of his lyrics, and played two of his songs: "Nor Fala" from MOSL, vol. 3 and "Politicians" from the Without Money, No Family album.

October 2009: Sorie Kondi has built himself a new kondi, and it was fitted with a Barcus Berry "Insider" piezo pickup. Thanks to N. Scott Robinson for the pickup recommendation. (updates from www.soriekondi.com)
- The Vickie Remoe Show


"Sierra Leone's Blind Musical Genius Sorie Kondi"

April 2010: Sorie Kondi has been seen at LP Studio in Freetown working on a new album. The album is being produced by Fadie Conteh, and should be released by the end of the year.

November 2009: Sorie Kondi played at the Country Lodge, a hotel at Hill Staton in Freetown, for the first time. The performance was filmed by a television crew and was featured on the Vickie Remoe Show, an arts & entertainment television program on SLBS-TV.

November 2009: Sorie Kondi's music was featured on the November 1st edition of Music Time in Africa, a program produced by Matthew Lavoie and broadcast by the Voice of America throughout Africa on FM and shortwave. Mr. Lavoie praised Sorie as a musical genius, read English translations of his lyrics, and played two of his songs: "Nor Fala" from MOSL, vol. 3 and "Politicians" from the Without Money, No Family album.

October 2009: Sorie Kondi has built himself a new kondi, and it was fitted with a Barcus Berry "Insider" piezo pickup. Thanks to N. Scott Robinson for the pickup recommendation. (updates from www.soriekondi.com)
- The Vickie Remoe Show


"Sierra Leone's school-time blues"

Blind busker Sorie Kondi plays to locals in Sierra Leone
How are the Millennium Development Goals playing out across Africa? In the first of a series assessing their impact, we asked the talented blind musician Sorie Kondi to travel around Sierra Leone to find out what schoolchildren, like his own daughter, are experiencing.

Sorie Kondi wanders the streets of Freetown, Sierra Leone, a blind man asking for cash in a city with its own problems.

Continue reading the main story
Life on the edge

The eight Millennium Development Goals world leaders signed up to in 2000 were aimed at cutting hunger and killer diseases, guaranteeing all children an education and empowering women.

With five years left to go to achieve them, what's the picture like today? The new five-part Life on the Edge series takes a look at what's happening on the MDGs in countries across Africa.

The films were made for the BBC by tve

tve
Sorie needs US$8 a month to pay his rent, plus a few dollars more to help his 14-year-old daughter Zeinab pay for the "extras" at school. His wife Sally, who is also blind, helps out by making soap.

Sorie is a busker, crunching sad tunes with a thumb piano - known as the kondi - and a beaten-up amp.

Sorie, whose music is available as a digital download from iTunes, is known as Sierra Leone's Stevie Wonder.

His blues inspiration is daughter Zeinab. Many girls like Zeinab are doing just fine. Sierra Leone is making undoubted progress towards the Millennium Development Goals, which include girls' rights, and free primary schooling for all.

But if it was that simple, Sorie would be spending more time in the studio taking a bet on the future, rather than busking for spare leones.

Sorie has been picking up troubled stories about girls' schooling. Education is not just about money and buildings, which are easily measured for the MDGs. Zeinab's cousins have all left school early because of pregnancy. And Sorie is worried about his daughter's future.

'Ghost teachers'
He has hardly been outside Freetown since the end of the decade-long civil war eight years ago, in which both his parents were killed.


Sorie busks to help pay for extras for his daughter
So we asked Freetown's electronic troubadour, and his 20-year-old minder and colleague Foday, to take a minstrel's journey around Sierra Leone.

On the road to his home in Mangay Loko, Sorie meets Theophilus, a primary school teacher who needs a lift. What's making him angry? Ghost teachers. It is estimated the Sierra Leone government has been paying the salaries of 30,000 teachers who don't exist. No-one seems to know where the money is going.

"Teachers do retire, some die," Theophilus says. "But heads of schools still maintain their names in the register. So there are ghost teachers all over."

Back in Freetown, Sorie will learn the government has started a roll call of teachers to make sure the money is spent properly.

Sorie's van passes schoolgirls beautifully turned out in crisp uniforms. It is a long walk to school, maybe many kilometres. Even though it is free, more than a quarter of a million children - mostly girls - do not go to primary school.

Some 12,000 schools were destroyed during the civil conflict.

Unqualified and untrained
In Mangay Loko, Sorie is a success story. So is his old friend Hassan - almost. Hassan used to be a small-time trader. Now he's a teacher. But like almost half Sierra Leone's teachers he's a "UU" or "Unqualified Untrained" teacher. The village pays him what it can, so he is also "Usually Underpaid" or even "Unpaid".


Hassan has been waiting three years to take up a training place
There is little incentive for Hassan to train as a teacher. There are just not enough well-paid jobs, although the government is reviewing teachers' pay.

Hassan was accepted onto a training programme three years ago, but he is still waiting for confirmation of funding.

Next, Sorie heads to Mateboi with Mohamed, a motorbike taxi driver and former student of one of the oldest schools in Sierra Leone.

It has an impressive list of former pupils, including some public figures, and has recently seen a huge increase in its pupil intake.

There are now 425 students - but only five teachers and three classrooms. Many lessons are held under mango trees. When the rain comes, the children pile into the school buildings bringing the entire school to a halt.

"If you could see them," Foday tells Sorie, "you would see that the children have no desks and have to put the books on their laps."

Continue reading the main story

Start Quote

If you could see them, you would see that the children have no desks and have to put the books on their laps”

Foday
Sorie's minder
"So, no benches then?" Sorie asks.

"They do have benches to sit on but they haven't got anything to write on.

Sorie turns to the headmaster: "Mr Headmaster, these people in high place, what have they done to help the school?"

"These people have not made any effort to move us from under the mango tree," he headmaster replied.

"Forget the government, it's up to local people to move these children into classrooms. I had a better education than them because we had the facilities in school. In those days, we had enough desks to write on. These days, children use their lap to write on. That doesn't help their writing skills."

Pregnant schoolgirls
Sixteen-year-old Mammy Musa, her mother and stepfather, need a lift back to their village. Foday asks Mammy Musa how many cases of pregnancy had she heard of since she started school.

"Many," she replied. "More than 40 - more than 50."

"Are these cases you really know? I don't want you to lie," says Foday.

"It's not a lie," Mammy Musa says.

In Kenema, the country's diamond-trading centre in eastern Sierra Leone, Sorie and Foday meet Juliette, a primary school teacher, volunteer radio journalist, and single mother. She runs a youth programme and opens the phone lines every Saturday morning.


This girl got pregnant while she was still at school
"Most questions that used to come to our studio, whenever I'm presenting this programme, people say the teenagers themselves are responsible for the problems they face," she says.

"They want to live big, they want to live with all opportunities. So most of the time they choose to go to the street and just live their own life. I'll blame the parents, the guidance, I'll blame the teenagers, themselves. Then I'll blame also the schools that these teenagers are attending."

These are not comfortable messages for the father of a 14-year-old girl.

And there is more to come from a boatman transferring tourists to Tiwai Island, Sierra Leone's river island wildlife sanctuary.

He has spent a lot of money on his daughter's secondary education. As a result, her "belly business", or pregnancy, has been a disappointment - particularly as she says it involved her teacher.

"I was going to school and I suddenly get pregnant," his daughter tells Sorie and Foday. "I was in love with my teacher a long time. Since I was in Form One. He helped me pass my exams and paid for my practical fees and other things. When I told him that I was pregnant, he said, 'Don't tell me that.'

"He said if I was willing, he had the money, I could have an abortion. I said, 'No', because some friends have died because of abortion."

Back in Freetown, Sorie reflects on his recent experiences.

"Zeinab's my child, but she has a mind of her own," he says. "Even though I really hope she finishes her studies, it's up to her. I am praying to God that she finishes her education because I believe it will be good for her. If I get money I will send her to college. I believe God will provide."

The MDGs are meant to be measurable and, on some counts, countries like Sierra Leone are making progress.

But our 21st Century troubadour has returned home with an old bluesman's message: "That life is messier, and more troublesome, and money alone won't always fix things." - BBC News


Discography

-THOGOLOBEA, LP Studio Production, available worldwide soon
-MUSIC OF SIERRA LEONE: VOLUME 3, EarthCDs MOSL-CD3 (available worldwide)
-WITHOUT MONEY, NO FAMILY, Hot Plate Studio Production, (Distributed by EarthCDs worldwide, available on iTunes, last.fm, and other online music retailers)
-VIDEO SINGLE (Without Money, No Family). http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EhxXgX-wA-w
-VIDEO SINGLE (Thogolobea). http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-T66xnb5VUg
-LIVE VIDEO. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ele-7f6NbcQ
-VICKIE REMOE SHOW. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t-H3N8Wo0nM
-SORIE KONDI and the MDGs. BBC World Service, 2011.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RjhDn0TAEpQ

Photos

Bio

"My people left me in town, they all went to hide in the bush. I wanted to follow them but I didn't know the way to go." translation of lyrics from "Lo We Come Together" from the CD "Without Money, No Family"

Sorie Kondi was born in the village of Mangiloko, near the city of Makeni in Sierra Leone, West Africa around the year 1968. His actual birthdate is not certain because there is no official record of his birth. His country ranks as one of the three poorest countries in the world in terms of infant mortality, life expectancy, per capita income, health care, and infrastructure. He never went to school but began to play the kondi, a traditional instrument of Sierra Leone as a teenager. It was apparent early on that he had a special talent for music, and by 1984 he started earning some small money by playing at ceremonies and travelling to nearby villages.
Being born blind in such a poor country and never receiving any formal education would seem like enough hardship by itself. But then his life was uprooted in 1996 when civil war forced him to leave his home and seek refuge in Freetown. Despite the ongoing war, he began recording his first album there in 1998, and finished it after 4 months. But on January 6, 1999, the rebels staged a brutal assault on Freetown called Operation No Living Thing. Almost all the city’s residents fled to the bush. Sorie was abandoned, forced to hide inside his house for 5 days while much of the city was looted and burned down. When the dust settled, the master tapes had been lost and his career plans derailed. He decided to remain in the capital city, in a neighborhood called Fourah Bay, renting a one-room shack perched on a dangerously steep hill (dangerous, that is, even for a sighted person).
Having lost his chance to commercially release a cassette, Sorie Kondi made a name for himself (literally, he adopted the name of his instrument as his surname) as a street musician. Unfortunately, this profession doesn’t bring in much money in a country where almost everybody is living in poverty. But a trip in 2006 to the Lungi region, across the bay from Freetown would provide Mr. Kondi with a golden opportunity to put his career back on track.
By chance, an American recording engineer named Luke Wassermann, spotted him playing his kondi, and was immediately impressed. The next day Mr. Wassermann asked to include him in the anthology of Sierra Leonean music he was working on, and they arranged to record a live performance near the chief's compound in Tintafor. The next step was to record a studio album. "Without Money, No Family" was released in July 2007 by the Cassette Seller's Association of Sierra Leone. Both of these recordings were eventually released on the EarthCDs record label.

Since then, Sorie Kondi has slowly garnered international recognition and acclaim, while building his fan base in Sierra Leone through music videos, and appearing on local television programs like the Vickie Remoe show. He's been featured on Music Time in Africa on Voice of America, LinkTV, and in July 2011 the BBC World Service aired a documentary about him and the state of development in Sierra Leone.

Sorie Kondi is a musical genius and a cultural treasure, able to sing in four different languages (Loko, his mother tongue, Temne, Krio, and English). He is also an innovator; he taught himself how to play a little-known traditional instrument at
the age of 15, later electrified it, and developed a unique style of playing it. But lamentably, it seems that fate has been particularly cruel to him. Hopefully with this second chance at a recording career, he will finally earn the recognition and support he deserves.