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Papa Sam Alafia : Palm Wine Music

Name

Papa Sam Alafia

Ethnicity

Sierra Leone

Area

Levenshume

Researcher

Samuel Amusan

Comments

Introducing Papa Sam 

Samuel Maitland whose stage name is Papa Sam Alafia is a Sierra Leonian born folk guitarist who came to the UK in the 80s with a musical band called Savenoh which had been on a tour of Sierra Leone prior to the time. 

"When I first came to the UK in the 80s I was on tour and I came with a band from Sierra Leone. They (the band) picked me up from there. I was their percussionist and backing singer. It was a dance band called Sayenoh from London. When they came to Sierra Leone, I happened to jam with them in a live show in one of the top hotels there and that’s how I was snapped up because I contributed some things to their music that they did not have. When I came (to London) with them in 1986, and we did a couple of shows together and also ended up playing with other bands too. The band (Sayenoh) doesn’t exist again but I’m in touch with the leader. His name is Otis Thomson, a writer, and a very good musician. Even though I play guitar and sing, I also play percussion. You know if God gives you a talent you have to use it." 

Training: 

Papa Sam has been learning and playing music since he was 6 years old. He learned to play the guitar in the church where he had also received some vocal training. He later exposed to the music of S.E. Rogie (Rogers) who was a master folk guitarist in Sierra Leone. 

"I have played different kinds of music before, but what I’m trying to master at the moment is an art form that was handed to me by a man called S. E. Rogie (Rogers)": https://youtu.be/2Ox6gM3mO_E 

"It is a style of music called Palm Wine Music which is what is called Yambo or Highlife in Nigeria or Ghana. (The style involves) one man and his guitar will tell a story and move the whole stadium. Let me see if I and my baby can talk as I play something for you.... When I was 6 years old I was in the church and we had a good grounding. My cousin looked at me one day and said “come, let me take you so that you go and learn something. This will take you a long way”. So, I went with him and didn’t argue because he’s older than me. He took me to church and I was in total shock, what I saw. I saw men of all ages, boys to men basically. I was introduced as a novice, “he’s here to learn”. I was taught how to read music, and how to sing. When I started I was singing treble. Then I hit puberty and lost my voice and couldn’t find my range anymore. Everybody was then making jest of me that I have now become a man. The choirmaster said “we know you lost it but we’re going to retrain you. I was then put in a group of 5 strong tenor guys and we were doing music like Handel messiah, Mozart stuff, Mendelssohn, etc. So, I started from scratch again. Then I started to learn how to sing with those notes again. But tenor. I was then wavering between baritone and tenor. Sometimes I float up to alto. It was very frustrating but I had to laugh at myself. By the time I was getting to like 15, 20,….by then I was already playing the guitar ready. I learned the guitar in the church because they gave me the opportunity to learn, they gave me somebody to teach me. Then I would take the guitar home because I must play every Sunday and there’s no argument about that. I must play every Sunday in the church. That was the practice. We had the choice of instruments to learn, but for me, my love for the guitar has always been there. So I did everything possible. I started playing the guitar professionally from 12 because all the time I was learning. The day I picked up my guitar, my mother was sitting in the front row. When I started playing with the youth group my mother stood up and said: “that’s what I’m talking about, that’s my boy”. And it was a packed church. That’s where I gained my confidence and I never stopped since then. My songwriting, helping other people and I also learned one thing from another top guitarist, who is dead now, he died in the US by the name Morris Williams, fantastic guitarist. He played with one of the top bands then, The Afro National in Sierra Leone: https://youtu.be/YblECodspEs "He showed me a lot of tricks. He said to me I remember that “I’m not teaching you how to play the guitar, I’m teaching you the art of playing not just for yourself, but helping other people”. That is what he called complimenting art. He actually studied in Ghana. I benefited from his tutorship." 

Manchester Experience: 

"I’ve been in Manchester since 2003. But I’ve been to and fro. The quietness I have here is what I enjoy and the inspiration to write more. I get to hear things that I will never hear when I was in London. I hear chaos when I was in London. It's always go, go, go. Here I’m able to think, feel the breath, and let my heart speak. London was too noisy for me. and I came from a noisy country already. Before I moved up to Manchester I used to come around to play occasionally at the Band On The Wall. Then I thought maybe it's a good place to stay, which is why I ended up here. One good thing is before I came, I toured the whole of the United Kingdom and love Manchester for one reason because the people are different. People are very warm and very open. When you live in London where everybody is very very close. The people I met here are very very nice. But things are changing now because the London fever is coming over now. The people I met here then were very nice because they impacted my psyche. It is unbelievable the people I met here. Very helpful. I'm seeing a kind of generation now that is different. I’m just latching onto the things that happened in the past. Thank God for people like Paul Simon who opened the window, or the door of music to the world to see that African musicians are a different kind of people who are gifted. African musicians don’t like to talk, we do and that expression thing is a wonderful thing. Now, here they have industries tailored towards all kinds of rock genres. We don’t have that. There is no record company that could snatch up an African artiste no matter how good you are. So, if I'm not strong enough, I would have gone. I would just have given up music completely. Maybe I would do cleaning etc or do something else. But I hate for my art to die with me and not noticed." 

Music In Manchester: 

"Talking about collaboration with other artists, it is not easy to get musicians to play with here. Whereas in London, it's just a matter of a phone call and people will rally round and you would have to control the people you play with. The thing that has changed for me in Manchester that everybody wants to do computer stuff. Yes, the computer is there, but the difference they have not noticed is that you have to learn the instruments......I have been doing recordings to project my kind of music. I am currently working with Lingual Franca Music agency. She’s been helping me to get some decent gigs. I played at the Blue Dots Festival one of the renowned festivals here in the North West. These show that there are possibilities still, although slow. I remember when I played in a festival, people who don’t even know where Sierra Leone is were dancing. A policeman came to me and said, even at 4 o’clock in the morning, people are still dancing. For me, that was an assurance that they love my music."

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Papa Sam Alafia : Palm Wine Music

Name

Papa Sam Alafia

Ethnicity

Sierra Leone

Area

Levenshume

Researcher

Samuel Amusan