As I have often stated time and time again, I find myself reflecting back on the Africa I had expected to encounter and what I was I thought I was going to experience. For many who have never traveled to the continent, I am guessing that your would imagine lions, the vast savannah, monkeys and groups of tribal Africans colorfully dressed dancing to intricate drum beats. You are more than in correct in thinking about music when formulating your perception. Music is an important cultural identifier here in West Africa and is as essential as cassava and rice. I like to think that Africans evolved to dance or as they say “shake bodi.”
Sierra Leone has amplified many of my emotions since arriving in June. I have seen some images that have left my mind ablaze with scenes, people and places that will undoubtedly be remembered for a very long time. I think of myself as a visual person and often focus on capturing or creating visual images. But with such an emphasis on music and sound in Africa, I thought to myself, what do I hear when I hear Africa? What is Sierra Leone’s natural voice and what is it trying to convey to me? I sat on my porch in solidarity one night, bearing that question in mind, what do I actually hear?
First, I noticed the natural sounds. The rhythmic chattering of insects is a constant never escaping sound and over time you come not to notice it even exists. When the bug noise has lulled your mind into a dream, it starts to wander in search for a new exciting sound. It keys up small mice, chickens rustling in the tall grass behind my house or the obscurely croaking of frogs which reminds me of a sound a small brother would make by popping his finger out of his mouth to annoy his older sister. At times the monsoon rains comes and dampers all of these natural sounds superseding them with it’s thundering against the tin roofing of the all the houses in town. And the morning brings a chorus of unique song birds as a natural alarm clock which is not always welcomed ;-)
When the natural world is hushed human made noises tend to quickly break the silence. The loud but some what gentle purr of the Harford generator disturbs the night’s quiet so the girls are able to spend their limited free time studying. Other children are working the water pump with the metal repetitively clanking. Kids are always around making noise, laughing, crying, giggling or babbling with curiosity. A club not far from my house, pumps the modern African beats until the early morning hours. The songbirds tend not to be the only things disturbing sleep, the poda-podas are constantly revving their sometimes rust laden engines with the drivers hoping the vehicle will stay running to successfully complete the journey ahead. Traders are out early looking for buyers of their goods. I am often awoken by the two beat chant of “Africana Soap!”, “Boiled Corn!” or “ Cold Water De!”.
But as I sit on my porch with my eyes shut and my ears open, I have come to notice a sound that is hidden or more importantly, a sound that maybe does not exist. For Moyamba truly lacks sound of the globalization, the sounds of industry, of distractions. When you cut out all the industrial interference you are faced with the quiet. A refreshing quiet. With all the intrusions cut from my normal way of life, it’s time to listen what is being said in this quiet.
Thomas Bass said it best in the Voice of the Ear, “The African continent is shaped like a giant ear. I have often wondered if there is something to be learned from this geographical fact, a reminder, perhaps that Africa reveals its secrets only to those who listen.”