September 23, 2016 By Osman Benk Sankoh
It was a Saturday night. Production for the Monday edition was completed. Senior editors, Abubakarr Talib Jalloh and Sulaiman Momodu, were eager to plan ahead. A mini-editorial meeting was hurriedly held. It was over bottles of Coca Cola and Fanta (since none of us had the need for the dark substance brewed or bottled by Sierra Leone Brewery Limited bottle). And the decision was reached to visit Paradise Studio, owned by Jimmy Bangura, a.k.a. Jimmy B.
In 2000, after the sounds of guns and bombs had given way to peace; after our first democratic and somewhat violence-free Presidential and General elections had been held; and after we had cast aside the shadows of the 1997 Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC) interregnum; Jimmy, who had plied his musical skills in the United States and later sang ‘Jika Jika’ in South Africa, decided to return home.
Instead of the cacophony of the AK47 which young people had been accustomed to, Jimmy dreamed of changing that to sweet sounds of music made and produced in Sierra Leone. With his coming, a lot of young men and women who had allowed their minds to be a den for the devil’s workshop saw something positive to do. They wanted to sing and dance to local songs done in Krio, Themne or Limba. Paradise Studio was there and these budding artistes ran in droves for Jimmy to sign them up.
Jimmy’s Paradise was the talk of the town and Talib, Sulaiman and I wanted to know more about it. We boarded a Poda-Poda [public minibus] and alighted at the Wilkinson Road, Quarry Junction.
On a pot-riddled and dark street corner, we snaked our way through curves and a steep hill to a gated compound – the home of Paradise Studio. Without telling, you could notice the ambiance of hope and determination from young people who, just few years back could have been child soldiers, rebel commanders or victims of the civil war.
No one was clinging to an AK 47 or carrying an RPG. They were not in dirty military fatigues. Instead, they were clad in big baggy trousers, some with dark shades even though it was at night, bandanas hanging on the back pockets of some of the jeans, over-sized T-shirts and men as well as women where in Aaliyah-like braids or MC Hammer-like haircuts.
This was the spectacle that welcomed us to Paradise. In every available space, young men and women were waiting for their turn to enter the studio and play some beats. Yet, Jimmy had time to grant us an exclusive interview and afterwards, bade us farewell with few CDs of the Paradise Records Volume 1 compilation.
It was my first interaction with Jimmy and over the years, even from a distance, we have seen how he has changed the entertainment landscape in Sierra Leone. We witnessed how he used music as an outlet to provide opportunities to young and talented musicians. We have also seen him in his high and low moments. What kept him going? Believing in God’s promise “that he will never let me suffer beyond what I can bare but when I do, he’ll find a way for me to rise above them.”
Notwithstanding, and with a career spanning well over two decades, Jimmy Yeanie Bangura continues to carry his head held high. Like a spider with many claws, he continues to showcase his skills not only in singing but being an actor, a producer and in directing movies.
Recently, in the UK, Jimmy received an international award for his contribution towards the growth of Sierra Leone’s entertainment industry. It was from the United Artistes, in celebration of their 20th anniversary. Afterwards, the icon, who has been described as the godfather of modern day music in Sierra Leone (though he says he does not go around with a big head describing himself as such, but appreciative of the accolades) had some quiet moment to reflect on all that has happened to him .
Jimmy was not born with a silver spoon nor gold nuggets in his mouth. He grew up the hard way. In his words; “I came from a very humble and disadvantaged background. Life was tough especially after my father’s death. I was only 11. Since then, I have lived on my own. “
It was focus and determination and knowing that by God’s grace he will amount to something, even though the odds were stacked against him, that kept him going. And though he is a proud recipient of the “Order of the Rokel,” he still recognises that the organisers of his recent award which he was honored to receive, “may have acknowledged the positive role I, like many others, have played toward the development of our country’s entertainment.”
Like a boxer who wants to continue to fight on in the ring, the latest award was what Jimmy considered to be the energiser to box on: “It means my efforts haven’t been in vain, that I’m appreciated and I am inspired to keep on keeping on.”
With his own fair share of setbacks, Jimmy maintains a positive outlook in life – It is a beautiful journey and after all is said and done, he feels fulfilled. With grace, he thinks his greatest achievement is yet to come but for now, he wants to continue to positively impact the lives of others.
Though Jimmy still produces music, but with a concentration more on movies, he still has something to say about the current state of the industry at home. “Because of the infighting, indiscipline and the ‘everybody want for be top-dog syndrome,’ the industry took a nosedive but I believe that trend is now going the opposite direction and I’m optimistic.”
To show his sense of optimism, Jimmy now does an online and radio broadcast programme called the ‘Jimmy B Show’ to help rebrand the local entertainment industry, showcase the country’s talent and “project a positive image of Mama Salone.” The Africell sponsored programme comes on every Sunday from 8:00pm to 10:00pm
He may have had his moment in the spotlight and yes, if he is to rewind the hands of time, then “as strange as it may sound, I really don’t think I would do things differently. I am who I am because of each and everything I went through.” Jimmy believes nothing happens by chance – everything happens for a reason.
For about 27 years, we have sang along and danced to his songs – Khadija Khadija, Make Em Bounce, Come Back Home and Beautiful, to name a few. We have also watched him on screen acting in movies like Genesis, Aminata 1 &2 and For the Love of Money, but what next for Jimmy? His love for country once again came out during the fight against the deadly Ebola virus. Together with others, he added his face and voice in conveying sensitisation messages on the scourge and preventative means of the virus. However, politics is not something he wants to talk about for now. Instead, he invokes religion and like a preacher man in the pulpit, he said,” Let God’s will be done.”
Well, until then, all hail the living legend Jimmy the musician, the actor, and who knows, if it had been scripted by God, the Politician.
Editor’s Note: Osman Benk Sankoh was an editor at Concord Times but now works with the UN