Sometimes the word you need doesn’t exist and you just have to invent it. 23 years old and hailing from Coventry, emergent rapper Pa Salieu has been distinguished for his idiosyncratic style of delivery and total disregard for the musical boundaries imposed by genre, adopting elements of UK drill, afrobeat, grime and dancehall.
In addition to being remixed by Yussef Dayes, arguably the UK’s most innovative young drummer and producer, Pa’s single ‘Frontline’ is currently the most played UK track on Radio 1Xtra in 2020 and he has just released his debut mixtape ‘Send Them To Coventry’.
Discovering sound and owning your voice
After being born in Slough and then spending much of his early childhood in Gambia, he returned at the age of 10 to the UK in Hillfields, Coventry; one of the most deprived areas of the country. He tells me his earliest memory of music comes from his auntie’s folk-singing but when asked how and why he got into music, he replied, ‘Stress relief. I used to just write what I feel. I’m coming from a place where my voice never mattered. When I used to go [to] school, I used to get excluded because I would fight for my skin tone, where I’m from, my culture. Africa wasn’t really cool back then. I nearly lost my mind. So many friends lost their heads, so many friends turned crackhead, so many friends died, so many friends were doing time I knew they didn’t deserve but in the eyes of the law they were criminals. All these voices don’t give a fuck about you so I’m gonna try and be a voice too. Not the voice but a voice, there’s so many voices that need to be heard.’
From Coventry ; discovering the roots of “warrior” mentality
This is exactly what Pa has been doing: making unapologetic, streetwise music that embodies the warrior mentality he says originates from his Gambian heritage. I also understood Pa’s frustration at the whitewashed version of history we are subjected to at school. ‘I come from warriors. I’ve learnt about so many different cultures but where I was confused was [that] no one ever told me about the beauty of my culture. Imagine that. I never heard it in primary school or in secondary school. I just always found that confusing [because] I come from golden histories not horrible histories. It’s not as horrid as people think. This is where this sense of pride comes from as well. The way I see it I’m King Salieu but you know everyone’s royalty out here. You can’t fit the energy if you don’t believe you’re royalty.’
Pa’s afro-centrism finds a voice in his single ‘B***K’ where synthesized bass hits and woodwind samples weave around heavily syncopated percussion as he defiantly states, ‘the music black, skin tone black, lifestyle black but they fear that fact.’
He also tells me to watch the TV series Roots, a 1977 show that portrays the capture, trafficking and enslavement of Gambian warrior Kunta Kinte and stresses what he sees as the significance of his music to inspiring a younger generation. ‘You don’t know who’s listening to my music, the next leader of Gambia, [or] prime minister here. Our voices count, especially as the new generation.’
After confessing that he’s an ‘old soul’, Pa reveals he’s always wanted to collaborate with Paul McCartney and cites the classic ‘Yesterday’ as one his favourite songs alongside music from Stevie Wonder, fellow Coventry native NI Santora as well as the likes of Backroad G, Vybz Kartel, Protoje and M1llionz. He makes it clear that his music is an expression of everything he’s been through, ‘Coventry is a city of violence, city of culture, city of fiends, city of money … It’s not cunch, don’t think people are out here dying for no reason. The problem with the system everywhere is exactly the same in Coventry …. I just want to give an insight into what life’s like here.’
Achieving this and so much more, Pa’s debut mixtape ‘Send Them To Coventry’ is sure to stake his claim as one of the biggest new names in the UK rap scene.
Discover more at pasalieu.com for tour information and the latest video content.