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Pa Salieu: the crowning glory of Coventry
© Rosie Matheson

Pa Salieu: the crowning glory of Coventry

From his first forays into freestyling, his hit ‘Frontlines’ written in twenty minutes, close shaves with death and being in the studio with FKA Twigs...with Send Them to Coventry, Pa Salieu comes through with all that was promised with his wild debut. From now on the new English rap scene is his. Let’s meet him.

England is used to young kings. Armed with his first project Send Them to Coventry, ‘King’ Pa  Salieu – with just twenty-three years on the clock – is comfortably settling into the throne of UK rap. The young driller has already crossed swords in the studio with FKA Twigs, is in touch with Jorja Smith, and models for Burberry. Though it only took a handful of minutes to write, his hit “Frontline” has gone viral everywhere and has been rocketing up the English charts since its release at the beginning of the year.

With one foot in the studio where he ‘continues to study music’, Pa Salieu still hangs out on the streets of Coventry. Death is on his heels: in 2018, his best friend, the rapper AP, died, stabbed. Last year, it was Pa Salieu who was the victim of an assassination attempt, shot at in front of a pub in Coventry. The result? Pa took a bullet in the head but survived. ‘Shot me in my head and I’m still breathing’ he explains a few months later on the track “Hit The Block”.

Forty years after The Specials came together in Coventry, this rapper with Gambian roots is determined to put the city back on the UK music map once more. His first move? The release at the end of this year of Send Them to Coventry, his first incendiary mixtape with fifteen drill, dancehall and afro swing tracks. Let’s meet him.

Pa, well done for Send Them to Coventry, such a well received debut album!

Thanks man. But for me it’s really my first mixtape, a first step.

A first step to bringing the public into the heart of your home town of Coventry?

Coventry could be any other city – every city has its own madness, their good and bad sides. But Coventry is my city, my life, my world. This mixtape is an invitation to the heart of it all! It’s just the beginning of my story man, it’s the beginning of my journey. A journey that has only just begun, but that starts here, in this neighbourhood. Welcome to Coventry!

Pa Salieu © Will Robson-Scott

Ever since Royalist troops captured during the English civil war were imprisoned there, Coventry has had a reputation as a city of relegation and of exclusion, to the point that one speaks of being ‘sent to Coventry’. One might therefore think that the title of your project has a double meaning: an invitation, and also a message to your rivals, a threat of being “sent to Coventry”?

In the past, Coventry received many prisoners of war and the expression remains – to be ‘sent to Coventry’ is to be excommunicated, it is to be banished from society, it is to be discriminated against, ostracised. But honestly that’s not my state of mind at all. I don’t believe in competition man, I believe in music. Coventry is my story, my voice, my music!

You started producing music two years ago, is that right?

Yes, two and a half years in fact. I was freestyling in my neighborhood. Back then I would throw everything online, on social networks. Every time I made sure to click on the Instagram promo button, giving it all the money I had in my pocket, even if it was only a fiver! It was these little freestyles, made in a trap vibe, that earned me my first gigs!

Is that the moment when you wrote the hit Frontline, which, according to legend, only took you a couple of minutes?

Yep, 20 minutes exactly man! Strangely, I’ve never felt very comfortable with that track, like I’ve never owned it. I had to grow up with that one, until it found its place in my first project. I’m building my career and I love making music but I’m still learning how to do it. I’m in the studying phase. From a musical point of view I think that I still need to be pushed and motivated to boost my self confidence.

Pa Salieu © Rosie Matheson

At that time, which artists were influencing you the most?

Loads of rappers. As a kid I stole my cousin’s MP3 player and he had loads of Vybz Kartel on his playlists. And dancehall. That’s hot, I’ve been listening to that music forever, its seriously heavy! They don’t call him Di Teacha for nothing.

I hear that you’re also a fan of the French artist Singuila. How did you discover them?

I’d just left school and some French mates recommended his music to me. I loved it. A track like “Le Misérable” reminds me of Akon’s “Mr Lonely”. It was inevitable that I’d listen to Singuila given my pretty varied inspirations. I grew up in Gambia and I’m really attached to West African culture. French music is a big inspiration – I’d love to collaborate with artists on this scene!

French rappers too?

Absolutely! I can rap a few lines in French even if I don’t understand all the words. I love  Gazo, Niska and Kaaris. Those are the rappers I see myself working with.

For collaborations, as well as live on stage?

As soon as possible yes! Moving around, travelling, going on tour – as soon as the situation allows it! And not forgetting going back to the studio man. Continuing to work with in the vibe of a studio, continuing to learn the creative process, honing the creation which changes every time…that’s the story for 2021!

The album Send Them to Coventry comes out on 13th November on Atlantic/Warner UK.

Listen to Pa Salieu on our Pan African Rap playlist on Spotify and Deezer.