Kondi Band is a collaboration between LA-based producer Chief Boima, London’s Will LV and Sorie Kondi, a blind musical genius living in Freetown, Sierra Leone, playing a custom-made 15-pin thumb piano, the kondi.
The band’s story involves a serendipitous series of coincidences and is testament to the power of the internet. Sorie was born blind in Freetown and never receiving a formal education. His life was uprooted further in 1991 when a complex and brutal civil war took over Sierra Leone. Despite the ongoing hostilities, he began recording his first album in 1998 and finished it after 4 months. However, on January 6th, 1999, rebels staged a brutal assault on Freetown called Operation No Living Thing. Almost all of the city’s residents fled to the bush and Sorie was abandoned, forced to hide inside his house for 5 days while much of the city was looted and burned down. When the dust settled, the master tapes for his album had been lost, the Ghanaian producer behind the recordings had fled to Ghana and Sorie’s career plans had been derailed. Having lost his chance to commercially release a cassette, he began to build a name for himself as a street musician, travelling to local villages and adopting the name of his instrument in the process.
By chance, an American recording engineer named Luke Wassermann spotted Sorie playing his kondi in the town of Lungi, near Sierra Leone's international airport, and was immediately impressed by his skill and his rich voice. Together, they recorded his first studio album and Without Money, No Family was released in July 2007 by the Cassette Seller's Association of Sierra Leone and, later, on the EarthCDs label in the United States.
Several years later, Chief Boima happened upon an online video of the track. “My work with Sorie began when I spotted the video for ‘Without Money, No Family’ on YouTube and I was really struck by his beautiful vocals and socially conscious lyrics. These incredible melodies he was playing on his thumb piano (the kondi) sealed the deal: I immediately decided to remix it.” The resulting bootleg remix started appearing in DJ playlists and led to coverage by The Fader magazine. As a result, Sorie’s manager in Freetown reached out to Boima and, after a successful Kickstarter campaign, Sorie travelled to America for the first time for a 5-date tour in 2012. During the trip, he and Boima worked on new recordings which would form the nucleus of the debut Kondi Band album, Salone, released on Strut in 2016. Boima also released Sorie’s existing sophomore album Thogolobea on Dutty Artz during the same year, a collaboration with Fadie Conteh of LP Studio in Freetown.
The creation of Kondi Band was the culmination of several years’ work by Boima producing and promoting original new music for groups such as Afro-Panamanian rap duo Los Rakas and his working with DJ Oro11 Banana Clipz, along with producing official remixes for Afrikan Boy, Sinkane and El Guincho among others. As a DJ, he has played worldwide, performing at events including The Red Bull Music Academy New York, The Lincoln Center Outdoors and SXSW. He has also delivered lectures on youth culture and politics at Harvard, the EMP and Yale and has started his own culture platform INTL BLK. He founded the label and DJ collective Dutty Artz and the blog Africa Is A Country.
For Boima, Sorie’s music was a natural fit with contemporary styles. “’Salone’ forged a direct link between techno born in the black cities of the American Mid-West, where I grew up, and roots African music,” Boima explains. “Sorie Kondi may be playing an acoustic folk instrument from Sierra Leone, but he thinks about music as if he were a techno producer. The dance-friendly pulse of his cajon drum, the spiraling melody lines from the thumb piano and his incredible vocals hold it all together.”
Sorie’s lyrics are personal, immediate, and often uncompromising. On Salone, ‘Titi Dem Too Service’ warned against the guile of young girls for older men; ‘Belle Wahalla’, was a song using belly pain as a metaphor for poverty, hunger, and lack of financial opportunity, ‘Thank You Mama’ was a tribute to his mother for loving him even though he was born unsighted and the anthem ‘Without Money, No Family’ was about how having a family should still be considered a privilege. The opening track of the album, a yearning ode to a girl called Yeanoh, became an enduring Kondi Band anthem, later remixed by Cervo as one of the early releases on Banana Hill.
Touring the project across Europe during 2017, Boima introduced London producer Will Horrocks (from respected electronic production duo LV) into the live line-up, adding percussion, keyboards and effects. Inbetween dates in Belgium, Holland, Sweden and the UK, the trio began forming new tracks with Sorie during downtime and steadily worked these up over the following years to create the new We Famous album, now being released in Autumn 2021 on Strut. Stretching out their sonic net to embrace wider dance styles, the album takes in Afro-pop on the lead single, ‘She Doesn’t Love You’ featuring Sierra Leonian singer-songwriter Mariama Jalloh, dub effects on ‘The Sweetness Is Gone’ and heavy funk basslines on the infectious ‘It’s God’s World (So Don’t Do Bad’) featuring L.A. beat scene leader Sweatson Klank. The band that started from a chance coincidence has developed into one of the most forward-thinking and expansive Afro-electronic projects of recent years, a simple and very effective collaboration between two generations of exceptional Sierra Leonian talent.