Sierra Leone: a name that resonates in people’s minds with the painful images of the movie Blood Diamond. Let’s move away from these clichés and open our minds to the real Sierra Leone. To give you a better picture, Sierra Leone is located on the coast of West Africa where its white sandy beaches offer romantic sunsets over the Atlantic Ocean.
Desmond Dhad Tucker, a jack of all trades, who lives in Adelaide shares the unique history of his country and the hidden beauty of Sierra Leone and its people.
It was in 1462 when the Portuguese explorer Pedro da Cintra named the country Serra Lyoa meaning ‘Lion Mountain’ because the hills and mountains resembled the feline animal. Just like many other West African coastal countries, Sierra Leone was one of the hubs for the transatlantic slave trade. “Indigenous Sierra Leoneans were taken away to the Americas to work in plantations as slaves. My forefathers were among the slaves and returned back to Freetown, capital city, after the abolition of slavery in the United States”, he explains.
The name Freetown raises many questions on how Freetown became the town of the free. Similar to Liberia’s history, a philanthropic organisation called the Sierra Leone Company was formed by British abolitionists to found the city of Freetown, a home for former slaves freed from the British Empire. “To this day, there is a cotton tree in the centre of Freetown marking where freed slaves rested when they first arrived back from the Americas. This tree is very important to our country”, says Desmond.
It was later in 1961 that Sierra Leone became independent from Great Britain.
Sweet years of great memories
It’s in this new breath of national freedom that Desmond was born and he shares his happy childhood years in Sierra Leone.
Desmond never mentioned to me his tribal background as he insisted “I want to think of myself as a Sierra Leonean, not from a particular ethnic group”. His family’s pride in the country’s roots and their contribution to Sierra Leone’s development makes him a good ambassador of his country in Australia. His family originates from all over the country; his maternal family comes from Freetown and the northern province of Port Loko and his paternal side from the southern province of Pujehun. “My dad knew so much about the history of Sierra Leone so he will drive us around the country, show us places, and tell us stories about the past. He would name rivers as we passed them. My mum loved culture so she would take us to cultural performances. She was also a dress maker so she would always sew us nice cultural outfits”.
His father contributed to the economic development of Sierra Leonean communities through his work at the United States Agency for Development (USAID). At her end, his mother ran her own restaurant and a day care and play centre for children. He proudly describes his parents as “very ambitious, productive and creative. They have their own charity organisation, Jomar Tucker Foundation”.
Interestingly, Desmond comes from a particular family lineage of chiefs in the Kpenga Krime chiefdom of Pujehun District in south Sierra Leone.
There is no doubt that anyone growing up in Sierra Leone in a such loving and caring family would make you proud of Sierra Leone, rich in nature, culture and history.
Secret for a Strong Sierra Leone
Sierra Leone is a land of 16 different ethnic groups and a peaceful place were Christians and Muslims live side by side. People are united in culture as there are many similarities between ethnic groups. They are also unified around the Krio language; a blend of English and native words. It is a country where people are warm and friendly, and music gives rhythm to life.
“Culture is a way of life, we all adapt to the natural settings we reside in”.
Living in respect of nature, to the rhythm of music and in harmony with people is the image that Desmond portrays of his country. “At night in harvest time, we all play drums and women sing. The voice is the most common instrument in Africa”. The importance of music and rhythm is such in Sierra Leone that Desmond says “we sing our talk, babies dance before they walk and sing before they talk”.
The ‘aunties’ and ‘uncles’ of the community play a crucial role in the upbringing of the youngest. Desmond stresses the benefits of mentoring for youth development in Sierra Leone. Mentoring is practiced to guide youth into a positive future.
“Mentoring is a major part of Sierra Leone culture, it’s the checks and balances of our lives”.
The bottomless hat of ideas
In April 1992, “soldiers who had been sent to the South-East of the country to fight rebel groups to protect our borders came back to Freetown and this time turned their weapons onto the government”, recalls Desmond. In 1993, Desmond left Sierra Leone for England where he studied widely at university and adult education institutions in music technology, soccer coaching, building maintenance and interior design, and sound engineering.
Not only did he “educate himself” as he says, but he performed music around Europe, worked with youth ad adults, and mentored ethnic minorities.
After collaborating with an Australian artist on music recording in 2010, he decided move to Australia in 2012 and travelled back and forth to the UK to work and see his family. “Since the day I arrived [in Australia], I started work. I have worked with people of all ages and from diverse cultural backgrounds out here in Australia. I have mentored and coached soccer in many colleges and primary schools of Adelaide’s suburbs, and I have worked with the Indigenous people of South Australia”.
Extremely versatile, Desmond wears multiple hats going from teaching music technology to fixing cars as a mechanic, house builder and decorator, landscape designer, clothes tailor, song writer, soccer coach and many more. He has produced 5 short films, 10 music videos, 3 albums and employed 20 young adults for his building and decoration business, Rasta Style, and his music production business, Dhad Production. Desmond is passionate, inspired by his children and grabs new opportunities. “I am always sincere in what I do”, he says.
Desmond has plans to return to Sierra Leone with the aim to enhance development and raise awareness on Sierra Leonean arts and culture. “I am teaming up with a Sierra Leonean brother to recover and preserve Sierra Leonean culture and form an orchestra of Indigenous Sierra Leonean instruments”. With the spread of social media, Sierra Leoneans have become more open and informed. “We have a very good ingredient for development: people. Sierra Leoneans are willing, hardworking, respectful, happy and humble people”.
Has Desmond changed your perception of Sierra Leone?
Watch this video that showcases Desmond’s drumming talent. His most recent music and video productions are available here.