A couple weeks ago i was riding along in my car when i heard a radio interview with Gibril Wilson discussing his plans with AWOL and Zain to organize an Independence concert with Senegalese-American musician AKon as the lead act. He talked about why Akon’s concert would be really important for Sierra Leone as it would let the world know that Sierra Leone is safe and ready for tourism and business. Akon is a very popular artist among salone youth and i’m sure they imagine him to be a source of inspiration, as a son of the African soil who has excelled in the american pop music industry. Akon represents their aspirations and dreams for a better life…if he can do it, why not anyone of them?
While i will sing along to an Akon song or two I cant say that I am a fan, and so maybe thats why i am neither enthusiastic nor looking forward to the concert. In fact, I think i am probably one of a few who are actually disappointed by the scale of the event, the idea that Akon’s concert will do anything in re-branding Sierra Leone’s image internationally is a joke. At the risk of being stoned publicly, having my house ransacked, and receiving bad eyes, and mammy curses, I must say that this concert is a waste and that while it will be a merry day for the fans lets not lie to ourselves that it will accomplish anything more than entertainment.
At the press conference for the event one of the managers pressed on about the difficulties of hosting celebrities like Akon, that besides costing a lot of money, Akon and posse enjoy their Moet, Dom Perignon, and other luxuries that he felt were lacking in Sierra Leone. The idea that the availability of Dom Perignon is a marker for development is quite troubling when many Sierra Leoneans live in meager circumstances, struggling to find their daily rice and cassava leaves.
Sierra Leone is among many countries who will be celebrating bi-centennial independence anniversaries in the next couple years and the promoters of the event claim that Akon’s visit is a preamble to next year’s celebration. Akon celebrated Senegal’s 50th anniversary earlier this month when he joined President Koroma, Rev Jesse Jackson and other dignitaries at the inauguration of President Wade’s $27 million dollar “African Renaissance” monument. The controversial monument is taller than the Statue of Liberty, and took the North Koreans almost 3yrs to complete.
The estimated costs for the Akon 49th Independence Concert are about $300,000 (Le1.2 billion leones). An amount I believe is being covered by mobile telecom Zain and NFL free agent Gibril Wilson (recently released from a $27m contract with the Maimi Dolphins after a disappointing first season). The tickets to the concert range from $5-$75 (le. 20,000-le.300,000). And while this is less than was charged for comium telco’s Brick & Lace concert at C. Lodge last year the prices are still significantly out of the reach of the majority of Akon’s fanbase. But it is not the price of the ticket that bothers me, rather it is the idea that Salone people will spend so much money for something so little and on the grand scale of things insignificant. Ask major companies in Sierra Leone like London Mining and Addax Bioenergy why they invested in Sierra Leone and i doubt they will hint at the Beckham visit a couple years ago. Atleast Beckham came for free at the request of UNICEF to give publicity to infant mortality rates in Sierra Leone. Similarly, I would have expected our African brother Akon to hold a free concert in postconflict salone instead of charging us such a hefty price. After all its about African unity and africans helping each other out, no to so?
Tourists and investors do not come because a nation holds a concert, unless its to support Nelson Mandel :-). Instead, they come because you have developed your infrastructure, and you have an experience to offer. If Akon had gotten together a group of his konvict record label homies like T-Pain and they were vacationing in Salone then you might have had a story, press will only be generated from the concert if things go wrong and people get hurt. I hate to be that morbid but it is the reality. If kids can die at Intersec sports because of Freetown City Council and SL Police not being up to the task of crowd control then what of an Akon concert? Besides Akon is hardly the darling of the American press.
If this concert is about promoting Salone then i can make a long list of celebrities we ought to consider before we think Akon. Salone should look for someone the media follows, someone other hiphoppers or entertainers see as an icon, entertainers that make big things happen. If we really want to use hiphop (which i doubt) to assert ourselves in the media then we need to start thinking BIG. Can you imagine this headline: P-Diddy (worth est. $358m) holds infamous white party on Sierra Leone’s No. 2 Beach? Or Will Smith (est. worth $200) gives Charity Concert in Sierra Leone to boosts the nation’s profile or my ultimate favorite PhatFarm CEO Russell Simmons (worth est. $340m) traces DNA to Sierra Leone, Opens a Factory, Employs 5,000 youth. Diddy and Russell are both mogul entrepreneurs with respect in the hiphop world, while Will Smith is a media darling, generally believed to be a good guy. I could make a long list of alternate celebrities we could use to promote the Salone brand (whenever we decide what that brand is) but Akon is a no no. Before you can re-brand anything you must first decide what the brand is and what you are changing it to. If ever there was a bastardized phrase in this country “re-branding Salone” is certainly up there.
To some this might be a useless rant and I do not expect anyone to agree with me. We need to be honest with ourselves and stop labeling everything as a developmental effort. Akon’s concert in Sierra Leone is simply that, a concert, it wont change anything but it will entertain the masses and that in its self has value.
Young Salone folks need to enjoy themselves just like everyone else, being poor does not mean that you lose your right to have a good time. So bring Akon, pay him, and let the people enjoy themselves after all this is Swit Salone, we spend now ask questions later, sell our birthrite for cocoebeh.Suffer Suffer for World Enjoy for Heaven, Oga day chop am Nyafu Nyafu. But whatever you do please don’t tell me that bringing Akon will bring tourists and investors to Salone, na lie noh moh u day u day lie pan wi
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