The emergent Sierra Leonean rap scene is uncovered in George Daniell’s new short film

Director George Daniell delves into the unique rap scene coming out of Sierra Leone with his short film Freetown New School. Made in association with Nowness and Dazed, the film shows how music is building community in a country previously marred by civil war while developing a medium that is powerful, dynamic and truly homegrown.

Londoner Daniell paid his first visit to Sierra Leone while working for the charity Street Child. “I found Freetown to be an extremely intense city to be in, intense but friendly,” he recalls. While on the trip, he met the young musician Rap Son and filmed a music video for one of his tracks. This experience immersed him into the addictive multicultural chaos of this coastal capital, compelling him to continue to document what he found.

“I’m trying to reach a wider audience with a message that Sierra Leone isn’t aligned with war and poverty but with hope and a vibrant music scene,” Daniell says. The country’s painful history has dominated its discourse but now it’s time to hear about its youth culture, creativity and those making positive change. “I’ve made this film for many reasons, but I’ve mostly made it for Rap Son. I wanted to help build a future he could be successful in,” Daniell adds.

“I’m trying to reach a wider audience with a message that Sierra Leone is aligned with hope and a vibrant music scene”

Over the course of a month, he established strong relationships with a group of aspiring musicians who are developing their own genre called New School. The film sees Rap Son alongside more established artists Young Sal and Drizilik whose open and honest reflections are set against beautifully hazy scenes of the beach at sunset as well as shaky footage speeding through Freetown’s sprawling streets, which gives the viewer a feeling of being along for the ride. “I was sitting on the back of a motorbike, 8mm film in hand, with near death experiences at every turn, red soil stains on my jeans and music booming,” Daniell recalls.

His hosts guide us through their journey of forging an authentic, underground sound that is as stylish as it is serious. Originally inspired by 90s US hip hop, they have developed their music into something richer with an African identity all of its own. They rap with lyrical prowess about relatable issues concerning society and discuss the importance of showing their generation that it’s possible to make an impact as an artist. Freetown New School lets it be known that this is a scene and a country on the rise and these artists are taking ownership of it. As Drizilik remarks: “There is a lot of talent out here man, and the door is opening. Sierra Leone is next.”

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Published on 20/02/2019