Following a string of freestyles, and his breakout hit ‘Frontline’, in January, Coventry artist Pa Salieu has continued his rise as the UK’s hottest new star. With a record deal signed, his single ‘Betty’ landing a spot as Radio 1’s record of the week, and a co-sign from Afroswing pioneer J Hus, it’s clear that for this breakthrough artist, the only way is up.
Pa Salieu’s debut album Send Them to Coventry takes the listener on a cinematic journey, through his life in ‘COV’, or ‘City of Violence’ as he describes it on ‘Informa’. For the duration of the album, Salieu switches seamlessly between gritty beats and melodious flows.
With influences of afro-swing, grime, and dancehall throughout the 15 diverse tracks, it’s easy to see that this is an artist who isn’t afraid to create and stay in his own lane. In his words, taken from ‘Block Boy’, he’s ‘happy on my own’.
Tracks like ‘T.T.M’ with its catchy motto ‘trap til morning’, give us an insight into the rapper’s life before music, and his determination to succeed by any means. Others such as ‘B***k’ adopt a timeless feel celebrating his culture, with the chorus stating ‘Yeah, di music Black Skin tone Black Di lifestyle Black’.
I spoke to Pa Salieu, covid-safely via Zoom, about his journey so far and the release of his debut album.
Sophie: I read online, that you lived in Gambia, did that help to inspire your music, and freedom to move across genres?
Pa Salieu: I wouldn’t say music, but in myself to move freely, to know my culture, my family, my past. Yeah, it inspired me a lot.
S: What Gambian artist(s) would you collab with?
P: ST [Gambian Dream] and Jizzle. They’re representing for Gambia.
S: What challenges do you feel UK artists face starting from outside of London?
P: It makes you work harder. Physically, I couldn’t get [to a] studio. I was going from London to Cov, to Stoke-On-Trent; it’s not at arms reach. You can’t find studios, there’s more opportunity in London. But that’s gonna stop soon. I feel like the UK is branching out, like how America has LA, Brooklyn, Chicago, [it has different] scenes. This is the route we can see the UK slowly taking, with Manchester, Birmingham, Coventry. I like how it is now there are opportunities.
S: What positives would you say there are to starting out in music outside of London?
P: You come as you, I say I’m an old soul, I like keeping myself to myself. And you can aim for the target.
S: What’s your personal favourite song from the album?
P: ‘Block Boy’ or ‘Energy’.
S: As many of the songs have a personal tone/story, were there any you found emotionally challenging to make?
P: All my songs are based on real-life scenarios. They all mean a lot to me, like memories and moments. They all have a meaning.
S: What’s your process of making a song?
P: Lyrics first. Actually, it depends on the day; I like to switch up and experiment. I’ve worked with AOD and Felix a lot. “Experimentation” (he chimes in a melodic voice) is our new word. No genre. We like to have fun in the studio.
S: What are your 3 studio must-haves?
P: Fire beats. That’s it. The studio isn’t about equipment and that, its about the energy, the work you put in, good vibes. When I started, I went to this house and saw a studio, but it was just audacity, not logic or anything like that, just audacity and some speakers. In my eyes it was everything! I was there for a week or two. The person was an international student and there was a language barrier, but I’m from Coventry, there’s hella nationalities, so I could sit and talk to him in a way. I ended up being good friends with him and still speak to him now. The studio is about the vibes… the energies. That’s it.
S: How was it doing your first official show as a live stream?
P: I enjoyed it! Remember everything is new to me. I got a little taste of the show life before the lockdown. I liked it but there was a lot I could learn. It’s an art I’ll master. I put a hundred [percent] into everything.
S: How do you hope to use this drive and your influence as an artist?
P: That’s the most important part of my journey. You don’t know who’s listening to my music. Maybe the future leaders of Gambia are. I wanna be part of the hands that are involved in uniting Africa as well. Music is power if you use it in a good way. I want to build infrastructure back home, build, build, build, and motive others to start using their voice cause its a new generation that is listening.
S: In terms of features, how do you find working with other artists and taking onboard their contributions to the song?
P: Organic. I love it. Mahalia, I’ve been a fan of hers. She’s sick, she works with the producers I work with a lot, so it was organic. Backroad Gee, that’s my brother, that’s my family. That was inevitable – the song – we made so fast. Millionz, my guy, we made the year of the real at the start of the year, the energies again [sic]. Then boyboy, found out about him four or five months ago, I had to get at him. I love the whole process – natural and organic, exactly how I saw it. I see it, I hear it, what I’m gonna do in my head. It came alive organically.
S: How does music help you express yourself in ways you wouldn’t be able to otherwise?
P: I’m addicted to isolating myself, not in a bad way or a good way. So music actually became a stress relief for me, and it is still, that’s why I’m not watching nothing [sic]. Okay, I can be seen as something else from the outside, but in my head, I’m just starting. Music is really serious to me. It’s new, it’s something I have a passion for. It’s still a stress relief for me. When I write, my stresses don’t go away, but [writing] eases it. It’s really helping, now it’s becoming a voice, now I have to pree this voice, and master what I’m doing. It’s hard to explain.
S: Like a form of therapy?
P: Yeah exactly.
S: Do you have a favorite saying or motto?
P: “Who Jah bless, no man can curse”.
“Send Them To Coventry” is out now on all streaming platforms.