Celebrating Sierra Leone’s resilience


Esther Kamara, the Dutch-Sierra Leonean artist management of the first Freetown Music Festival, tells Hannah MacInnes what the event is all about

Tell us more about the festival?
It is a celebration of Sierra Leonean resilience and culture, especially music. Our aim is to showcase the country’s talent and finally display its positive side to the world. We also wanted to do something fun for the community – it has been a rough few years. There will be live music, dance, fashion, food and cold drinks. That is – if the generators work! The genres will include Afropop, Hip-hop, gospel, jazz, reggae and traditional. Entrance is only 5000 leones (less than a dollar), making the festival accessible to everyone.

Why did you decide to come to Sierra Leone to do this?
Well, I came to Sierra Leone in January for a family holiday. I then met Tom Cairnes, the big brain behind the festival and he asked me to come and help him. I thought he was a little nuts, trying to set up a music festival in two months. But I was ready for the challenge. It also came at the right time; I felt that I needed to spend more time in my father’s country. Also, I really believe that the arts can lift spirits in an extremely positive way. That is my payment.

Are you all volunteering?
Yes. Three of us came from Europe to help Tom. Lucie Massey came from the UK and Arjan Qhutbulla came from Holland, just like me. We are all working hard to make this happen. A bunch of others are arriving in Freetown now to help. We also work with a lot of locals who have been volunteering as well.

How has it been up to now?
Challenging and fun. I get to work with artists who are very popular at the moment. It’s inspiring to be around musicians all day. Everybody is extremely motivated and dedicated to their cause.

Is it a one-off event?
No, we are aiming to make this an annual event, maybe even doing smaller events throughout the year. A future goal is to export the festival to other countries, too – have a Freetown Music Festival London, for example. We have thus far only had positive reactions, both national and international, so it’s quite possible it will happen. We can combine the lovely Sierra Leone with the quick-paced West and create an interesting fusion.

What do you love about Sierra Leone?
The people. Sierra Leoneans are extremely friendly, good humoured, positive and expressive. There are also plenty of hidden gems to explore: the Bureh Beach Surf Club, Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary, Banana Island, Bunce Island, Mount Bintumani, the Turtle Islands and Outamba-Kilimi National Park. If you love nature and eating rice every day, Sierra Leone will satisfy you 100 percent!

The Freetown Music Festival takes place on 23rd and 24th April in Freetown, Sierra Leone.