Singing to Stop the Fighting in Sierra Leone





On a gray and rainy Saturday, five young men are gathered at the Body Guard music studio in Freetown, Sierra Leone's capital. The modest one-story building has only two rooms and no sign out front. Inside, the walls are lined with a velveteen fabric, the floor is covered in shag carpeting and there's minimal sound equipment — just a dated computer, two keyboards, a microphone and a mixing desk. The men are recording a track called "One Love," as King Fisher, the studio's founder and father figure to all the musicians who pass through it, sits at the computer. The vocalist sings, "Somebody help me/ Somebody tell me/ Why we keep on fighting?" When the chorus comes along, the whole group joins in, dancing around the small room and singing a tune of peace, development and change.

Just a few years ago, five young men in a room in Sierra Leone would have meant trouble. It was men in their teens and their 20s — but also, tragically, children even younger — who made up the Revolutionary United Front, a ragtag armed militia supported by Liberia's President Charles Taylor (now on trial for war crimes at the Hague) that devastated the country during an 11-year civil war that ended in 2002. Everywhere they went they left a calling card of chopped-off limbs, raped women and senseless bloodshed. Tens of thousands were killed and a third of Sierra Leone's 6 million people were displaced...

...Now a handful of artists are utilizing music's important social role to sing about postwar reconciliation. Songs of peace regularly drift out of Body Guard Studio and are sometimes heard on the radio. Musicians often also spread their message to the countryside through a United Nations development program called Peace Tours, which takes groups of artists and singers to rural areas to talk about peacemaking...

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