The Importance of Music and Travel: Choir Songs In Sierra Leone

By , November 11th, 2014

Every step of the way through the West African region, music is pressed through your ears and into your mind. You can’t escape it. I’d been in Freetown for a week, and as much as I love music, it was beginning to drive me crazy. I had rented an apartment four floors up from the busiest street in the center of town.

Freetown: Oppressed by Noise

View from my apartment in Freetown
Photo by Brandon Van Son

Throughout the day people selling CDs blasted the worst hits from the 80s and 90s through their massive speakers. The music began at 8 am and didn’t end until well after midnight. And it wasn’t that it was the cool rhythmic vibes of Baba Salah, Tiken Jah or any other West African musician. No, it was Vanilla Ice, MC Hammer and, worst of all, Celine Dion. When I made my escape from Freetown, I was looking forward to some peace and quiet in the countryside.

Escaping Freetown

Escaping to the countryside
Photo by Brandon Van Son

Whether it’s Bolivia and their pan flutes, or France and their shrill accordions, there have always been people using buses as their mobile music venues. In this case, a pastor making collections for his church began belting out choir songs. His voice was so terrible I quickly raced to put on my headphones. But, before the buds could reach my ears, a quiet melody rang out throughout the bus. I looked around in amazement as each and every person on the bus started to sing along in perfect tune; organic and spontaneous, it was one of the most beautiful sounds I’ve ever heard.

Feeling the Vibe

A bird's-eye view of the street music

It’s no secret that I’m not a religious man, but there’s something about the soul of choir music sung by people that believe. The bus turned off the main highway, and I fully expected for the song to end and the pastor to leave with it. We were headed well off into the countryside of Sierra Leone. But after his song ended, the pastor didn’t bail on us. Instead, he sang along for some 2 hours before moving on. After reflecting on all those other bus rides with intolerable pan flutes or accordions, I can’t think of a better way to spend two hours on a bumpy bus than by listening to the sounds of choir songs flowing through the air.

Has music ever played a big part in your travels?


*feature image by United Methodist News Service CC BY