“In Sierra Leone we needed to peel off a new skin”: Drizilik Q&A

Meet the Sierra Leonean hit-maker taking over Freetown’s dancefloors

This month, vocalist and lyricist Benjamin Menelik George – better known as Drizilik – will have Sierra Leone bopping and swaying as his Shukubly tour hits the road. Blending hip hop, afrobeat, dancehall and indigenous sounds, he’s earned a NEXTE Young Entertainer award and won Album of the Year at the National Entertainment Awards of Sierra Leone for 2018 offering Shukubly. Ahead of his cross-country tour – and with his anticipated new record Ashobi dropping in September – the star a tells us what banging beats can mean to a nation’s identity.

“There is a big market for music in Freetown but no music industry infrastructure. It was hard for me to tell my parents that I wanted to be a musician instead of going to college. They didn’t like it one bit, but I went ahead and did it anyway.”

“I started performing in 2012, doing covers with local backing band Freetown Uncut. I did mixtapes on the side and release d my breakthrough hit Pop Collar in 2015. That was when I was introduced to the industry properly and started getting bookings, radio interviews and press.”

“I’m not signed to a label. In Freetown, the industry is quite small so there aren’t many big labels. I’ve recorded all my mixtapes at my home studio. My little setup keeps improving. I keep buying new instruments and now it’s at the point where I can record and produce everything at my place.”

“Pop Collar was a party song, a club banger. It was released in December at festival time and got big in just a few days. It came along at a time when a few musicians of the same age were releasing songs. We were instantly classified as the ‘new school’. Knowing that our sounds complemented each other’s, we said – this is our opportunity to change the face
of music in Freetown.”

“We changed Freetown’s sound. Other countries were finding new sounds and discovering themselves, and in Sierra Leone we felt like we needed to peel off a new skin. Between us, we re leased around nine songs at the end of 2015. Sonically, we made the production simpler and slowed down the tempo. Lyrically, we seamlessly mixed Creole and English, which hadn’t been done before.”

“Now, we have a buzzing music scene in Freetown with lots of new musicians, including afrobeats acts like Rap Gee and Rozzay, who’s the top female musician right now. We have new live music and open mic venues, where artists freestyle. Sierra Leoneans are paying attention to Sierra Leonean music, because of what we’re doing.”

“Sierra Leoneans are tired of celebrating other nations’ success and grassroots content creates a chain reaction – it actually affects our economy. Without the infrastructure, it’s still hard to make money in the music industry, but this is going to improve.”

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