Notes on the second Freetown Music Festival

The second edition of the Freetown Music Festival took place in the capital of Sierra Leone on 25 and 26 March. 

Yung Sal performed at the Freetown Music Festival. Photo: Freetown Uncut
Yung Sal performed at the Freetown Music Festival. Photo: Freetown Uncut

With entry ticket at 5 000 leones (60 US cents), the festival allowed low-income earners to experience one of Freetown's biggest performing arts events. As the festival is a not-for-profit arrangement, all of the money made at the gate is reinvested into the creative community.

The space

The festival was held at Lumley Beach, with the roads on either side of the beach blocked to prevent traffic from disturbing the performances, which took place on two stages built in parking lots. Buildings burnt in 2015 were turned into a cinema and food village, and an arts & crafts market was built on the shore.

Live music stages

The main stage, featuring popular and up-and-coming performers, was the core focus of the festival. All the artists attended rehearsals with Freetown Uncut, the band that backed every performance. This is due to the fact that most performers mime or use playback onstage. Festival organisers believe that in order to pursue international careers and be successful, artists had to perform with a live band at the festival.

The second stage was the playground for traditional musicians as well as reggae and jazz bands. Musicians from all over the country travelled to Freetown to showcase their music. They included The Jeliba’s, a band originally from Kabala in the north of Sierra Leone, The Dreams Traditional Band, a community-focussed reggae band that is active in Aberdeen, Freetown, and Loverboy, a soloist who plays his homemade wooden guitar. For the first time the festival hosted a band from Bo, the second largest city in Sierra Leone, with the Kakua Academy of Music sending its band to perform traditional Madingo songs.

Programme

This year, the festival featured upcoming artists who normally have trouble finding a suitable platform. For the main stage’s pre-programme, the festival collaborated with Worldwide Arts for Youth (WAYout), a non-profit organisation that aims to help promote Sierra Leonean music. The organisation works with former gang members, allowing them to record and release their music. Four WAYout members performed on the main stage after training and rehearsing with Freetown Uncut.

On Saturday, the festival gave the Bridge Project an opportunity to host a fashion flash mob. It was organised by young creative entrepreneurs – including fashion designers, models and makeup artists – who turned the festival space into a runway.

Fashion Mob at the 2017 FMF

On Sunday, Opin Yu Yi Human Rights Film Festival held a screening at the burnt buildings. They screened short films elaborating on human rights. Opin yu yi means ‘open your eyes’ in Krio, the English-based Creole language of Sierra Leone.

The festival also invested in showcasing dance with a contest and three performances. The dance contest consisted of six local crews that were preselected during auditions in the western and eastern parts of Freetown. They competed with their own dance compositions and finished with a dance-off. The first, second and third crew received a cash price and were picked by a jury that consisted of two Sierra Leonean choreographers and their Dutch colleague.  

As a guest performance, Dutch dance collective 155 (pronounced as één-vijf-vijf) performed at the festival’s main stage. They combined theatre and dance and had their vocalist perform with the live band. The third segment of dance was two performances by local dancers, also on the main stage. One was X-Factor, a Guinean-Sierra Leonean dance crew and the other was Med Pandem, a blind dancer who has also been featured in Sampha’s new music video ‘Process’, which was shot in Sierra Leone.

Conclusion

Spread over two days, the Freetown Music Festival hosted 31 live music performers and seven live bands for an audience of approximately 9 000 people. The festival had no major incidents and, apart from some technical issues, ran smoothly. In the next few weeks the festival organisers will go in search of musicians from upcountry, kicking off preparations for the 2018 Freetown Music Festival.

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