Pa Salieu is the breakthrough star of 2020. The 23-year-old rapper, who’s formative years were spent between Gambia and Coventry, has taken the world by storm with his chameleonic approach to grime: He shuns convention in favour of raw introspection, his songs ripple with Gambian inflections, tempo shifts and whip smart bars; expounding the inner reverie of a young enigma memorializing his lineage with dreams of a better future.
His debut mixtape, ‘Send Them To Coventry’, a raw and ready parable of adolescent life in the Midlands, speaks to our collective imagination, in a time when uncertainty and conflict mar each passing day. It’s no surprise then, that Pa Salieu has become the voice of the Next Gen.
Having faced down bigotry, escaped poverty, using music as his tool. His story, his music, is one of 2020’s defining qualities. As he puts it: “This is bigger...”
“I’ve always been strong about who I am. You know how people used to hide away that they’re African? I was never that guy. I learnt who I am in Gambia, young age or not. No-one could take the piss. I went to secondary school at a time when Africans weren’t really the ones, innit. This is 2011, 2012. There were people stuck in an old school mindset, you’d rather get called ‘Yardie’. But me, I weren’t ever taking it. I went through school with them trying to say I’ve got anger problems … they tried testing me for ADHD. I felt like I ain’t gotta explain myself to them, so long as I know I’m doing right. I always knew why I would switch and deep down I knew that teachers knew too because trust me, it [the racism] was blatant. School was another lesson.”
Today Pa announced his debut UK headline tour for May 2021. Beginning in Bristol and culminating with a hometown show in Coventry, the tour also includes a very special London date at Village Underground on the 18th of May.
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Pa Salieu Headline Tour May 2021
- May 11th Bristol - Thekla
- May 12th Leeds - Belgrave Music Hall
- May 13th Manchester - Gorilla
- May 14th Brighton - The Great Escape
- May 17th Nottingham - Rescue Rooms
- May 18th London - Village Underground
- May 19th Birmingham - Institute 2
- May 21st Coventry - Kasbah
Priority Tickets for O2 Customers will be available here tomorrow 1st Dovember at 9:00am on pre-sale ahead of general release.
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Pa’s quiet voice becomes animated when he speaks of the isolation of Coventry in relation to the UK, and the deprivation of Hillfields (where he came up) in relation to the city itself. “London has the most cameras in this country. A lot goes on outside it. I could’ve died [last year Pa was shot in the head in Coventry city-centre] and no-one would’ve known, that’s how deep it is. ‘Send them to Coventry’ is an old saying that means completely cut somebody off. Coventry’s a small hood, and Hillfields is a jungle, the blocks are a concrete jungle. I feel like it’s been segregated … the whole set up is mad.”
When Pa Salieu reflects on his time spent living in Gambia with his grandparents as a child, the fondness of those memories is radiant. “Everyone’s one family, like one of those places where you’ll leave your doors open and expect an invite from your neighbours daily to come and eat. We had a mosque in our house. We got a little farm at the back, that kind of vibe … freedom,” sighs the 23 year old. “Even though we didn’t have much, we had space, we had food. That’s why I’m not so materialistic. I know what matters, I know the definition of rich. I know the power of space.”
Born in Slough, he eventually returned to the UK, to Coventry and was met by street-level bigotry and the institutional racism that allows such poison to flourish. “I came back when I was seven or eight. Throughout school it was hard. My first time in a primary school, I got kicked out. When I came from Gambia these kids were trying to bully me and I stood up on a table and started shouting!”
As the children of immigrants, our trajectory in life is so often informed by a desire to give back to our parents, for all they sacrificed to keep us afloat on this cold island. Pa’s journey reflects that, and much like his experience of the education system, structural prejudice played its part; being a young Black man who’d had contact with the law, he found his opportunities limited. “I was a quiet kid, my mum used to work a lot and I raised my siblings with her. I’ve put in work. When I was 17 a situation happened, I got arrested and got given a criminal record. I called jobs, I tried, I can say I tried. I didn’t get accepted to 95% of the jobs I applied for. I had like two warehouse jobs. Even Nando’s! I had like two months there fam, until I got fired! Come on man, I tried but I’m not that guy.”
Today, a career in music is allowing Pa to secure his family’s future. “There’s no plan B. This is a gateway. I can help my mumsy. I can make some generational wealth while I have the chance, doing something I love. The energy you put towards this world, in some way or form it’s gonna come back to you. If music is gonna make sure my mum’s calm, my descendants are calm, then it is what it is.”
Perhaps it was written that Pa would flourish as an artist; music is in his blood. “My auntie is a Gambian folk singer. She goes around the world, and she always used to come to my house every year. So I used to be around music, just not in it. I’ve always felt intrigued. I love what she does, I love the feeling she gave at naming ceremonies, weddings, I admire it.”
Read our full cover feature here.
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Pa Salieu's new mixtape 'Send Them To Coventry' is out now. Read more here.
Words: Robert Kazandjian
Fashion: Sabrina Soormally
Photography: Vicky Grout
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