Meet Bai Kamara JR.: A Sierra Leonean singer and the only African nominated in this year’s US Blues Blast Music Award

Sierra Leonean Blues singer, songwriter, guitarist, producer, performer, and activist, Bai Kamara JR. was born December 2, 1966, in Bo Town, Sierra Leone. Born to Sierra Leonean parents, His mother was one of Sierra Leone’s longest-serving Ambassadors in Guinea.

Growing up in Africa country, with harsh realities of African politics, social injustices, corruption, abuse of power inspired most of his music today as he uses his talents to expose ills and advocate for the voices.

Bai Kamara attended the International School where he completed his primary school, He later attended the Princes of wales and Christ the King College CKC, Bo where he completed his secondary and senior secondary school education. Upon conclusion, at age of 15, Bai moved to England to continue his schooling, living in Bath and Manchester, later Maryland, He studied Business Study in Cannaught College, Bath, Fielden Park College, and the University of Maryland (Brussels Division)

During his university, Bai Kamara found interest in playing Guitar and blues music, He embarks on a music career after his education. His first band in Brussels, ‘Odex Protocol’ was a multi-national band with members from Africa, Belgium, Albania, England, and America. Odex fused soul, jazz, rock & afro, and released one EP ‘Lay your Body Down’ in 1994, and a full-length album ‘Delivery Day’ in 1996.

In 2001, He released his first solo album “Living Room/Intrinsic Equilibrium”. The album was recorded over several weeks living in a friend’s house and recording in the living room. Songs such as “Go on Press” and “The Powers That Govern Us” showed a cutting social awareness, while the anthem “Downtown St. Jose” (penned about the neighborhood of Brussels Bai was living in) brought widespread media exposure in Belgium, and remains a favorite of fans today. 

Despite his music Career, Bai Kamara has engaged in several advocacy works and worked international organization has had a close relationship with UNHCR, working on their Building Bridges project that was released in 1998. In December 2007 he returned to Sierra Leone with a UN film crew for their documentary on Sierra Leone 10 years after the war. He is an active member of Amnesty International and regularly performs for charity events organized by them and other aid organizations.

During the Ebola crisis in Sierra Leone, He did several benefit concerts in Brussels in collaboration with Medicines Sans Frontières (MSF) and EMERGENCY.

Salone Messenger had an online Interview with him after his album ‘’Salone’’ has been nominated in the Best Acoustic Blues Album category at the Blues Blast Music Award ceremony to be held in December.

The 15-track album was named ‘Album of the Month’ in February by the French-speaking Blues Radios Collective (CRB), ‘Salone’ has enjoyed frequent airplay on radio shows in Europe, Australia, Canada, and the USA. Rolling Stone Magazine in France invited Kamara to perform a live session for their ‘In My Room‘video series in May during the lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The 2019 Blues Blast Music Awards ceremonies were held at The Tebala Event Canter in Rockford, Illinois last September with the participation of Blues music industry professionals, journalists, music critics, music venue managers, festival promoters, producers and musicians.

The Blues Blast Music Awards on its 13th edition is presented by the US-based Blues Blast Magazine, the largest free weekly internet Blues magazine with subscribers located in more than 90 countries. Blues fans from all over the world vote to honor the Best in contemporary Blues music.

Who/What inspired you to do music?

‘’My greatest source of inspiration was my guitar. That’s what drove me to do music. The guitar was there as my partner, it was a way of writing my story. Also, moving to Belgium and Manchester inspired my direction to music because when I moved there, I met a lot of musicians, and a lot of bands too, so I started writing songs. This was the place I said, ok I can give this music a try ’’

How would you best describe your music?

‘’The type of music I am doing now is ‘blues’. Straight-up blues with all the sorts of influences, it is a mixture from my experience in Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Mali. It is the route from the type of music I was doing before, which is soul, riddim blues music. So, it is like me going back to the route of where my journey started. Blues is what I am doing now. I write and compose it.’’

 What would you be doing right now, if it wasn’t for your music career?

‘’This is a very good question. Well, I guess I would have been working in the corporate world since I went to Business school. But knowing the way it evolved, I think maybe I would have been working for an NGO or humanitarian organization, this is where I feel comfortable in doing humanitarian work. This is what I like doing. I guess that is what I would have been doing’’.

Where have you performed?

‘’Well, I have performed in so many places, so many countries, some I could not remember. But definitely, I have performed in Morocco, Senegal, UK, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and… yeah, I have performed in so many places. That is one thing about music, it has taken me into so many countries and I have seen different cultures, I have performed in Hungary as well in a festival. These are some of the places I have performed that I can remember’’

 Which is your favorite song you have sung?

‘’It always changes. I don’t think I have a favorite song. I have certain songs which in certain periods were my favorite. I think right now, my favorite song is “Homecoming” from my recent Album SALONE. It talks about my memories of me growing up in Sierra Leone. It is a song I like so much for now.’’

Your album “Salone” has been nominated in the Best Acoustic Blues Album category at the Blues Blast Music Awards 2020, to be held September. Tell us about the album and how you feel been nominated in the blues blast music award?

‘’The album “Salone” is my first blues record. I titled it “Salone” for many reasons, one of the reasons is because Salone in Krio means Sierra Leone, and it is my place of birth. It is like going back to my route. I did the Album alone; which means I played all the instruments, did all the vocal, played the guitar, the bass, everything was done by me alone. It’s a 15 songs album. This album is very personal to me, in the sense that I talked about my life in Europe but also the life of my friends too. I am a family type of person, for example, one of my songs “Can’t Wait Here Too Long” is all about me deciding what direction to go, what path I want to take in my music career, and I thought going down to the blues was a good direction because you are never too old or too young for the blues. The blues is something you can grow old with it, it is a lifestyle. So for me, style never goes out of fashion. About the nomination, it came to us as a surprise that we were nominated. The album was released in January, and we had some good reviews from Germany, the USA, and France. But we were surprised that we were been nominated from the USA because there are a lot of blues musicians out there. So, for this album to be nominated was a big surprise to us. Also, I am the only artist outside from the USA that was nominated, I am the only non-American nominated, and so we are very honored and at the same time very humbled. Again, it’s not a competition. So now that we have been nominated, we need to bring the award home, and we need to vote to bring it home. The awards are going to be in September’’

What message do you have for the Sierra Leoneans?

‘’We are one family, we are a small country, we should just have less division or no division at all. we have been through a lot as people and I believe in the potential of my country and the youth, you are the future of our country, we need to invest in you, you are the future of our country, so let us take care of them. So less division or no division at all’’

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Sallu Kamuskay is an activist, storyteller, and blogger. He was born in Sierra Leone but later relocated to Guinea as a refugee because of the war in his country. He uses his phone to engage on social media, under the name ‘’Salone Messenger’. He Co-Founded the Salone Messenger platform after his experience of the war, Ebola, and injustices to tell the Sierra Leonean stories and bring together passionate young Sierra Leoneans to embark on this journey of celebrating individuals, organizations, and expose injustices in the country. According to him, silence was the root cause of war, and of many social injustices, we continue to face as a nation. In 2013, during the Ebola crisis, Sallu took the risk and volunteered to fight Ebola. He spent some months in both safe and unsafe places; helping the victims and telling their sad stories. The election in 2018, left a divided country with communities fighting on tribal lines. This inspired Sallu to serve as the coordinator of the United Sierra Leone peace concert, which was organized in 4 major parts in the country, targeting violent communities and troubled youth. Sallu led a group of entertainers, activists, and organizations across the country on a peace tour, a program supported by the European Union, United Sierra Leone, Africa Union, ECOWAS, and the Messeh Leone Trust. Sallu has also served as a staff writer for the Hidden Voices Magazine. He is currently the coordinator of the United Sierra Leone safe space geared towards making communities where vulnerable children live safe and peaceful by providing safe space, caring adults, and fun activities for children living in vulnerable communities across the beachess.

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