Cover Feature Standing On The Shoulders Of Giants: Pa Salieu
Pa Salieu has overcome almost unfathomable hurdles to become one of UK rap’s brightest new stars. Channelling the legacy of his Gambian history, he’s on a mission to change the world.
In October 2019, Pa Salieu was still figuring it out. Two months prior he’d dropped his underrated third single ‘Dem A Lie’, a track brimming with a poise and grittiness that had seldom been heard on British shores. Music didn’t come naturally to him, more a hobby that took off and had his name buzzing around his hometown of Coventry. Then, it was nearly gone, for in October of that year he was shot 20 times in the head in the city where he grew up. But he wasn’t supposed to die that night. His purpose was greater, and he knew it. “Do you think anyone would’ve heard of me if I died that night?” he asks. “Would anyone love me? No. It would’ve been a wrap. But my parents came [to the UK] for a reason, to better themselves and, because of that, I know my purpose. Self improvement. I know the bigger picture. No box can hold me. I cannot die normally.”
Just over a year and a half after that fateful night, things are different now. The sun is setting on the plush London skyline as DIY meets Pa in an abandoned warehouse nestled in the heart of Shoreditch. It’s the day after his live set at the Love Saves The Day festival, a madness in which he also showed out for collaborators and friends Ghetts and slowthai during their performances. You would think the 118 mile journey from the festival’s Bristol location back to London would wear on his body, but he’s restless and active as he shoots today’s cover, clad head to toe in a lime green top and trouser set, complimented by a purple designer puffer jacket and a black durag, while he banters with the photographers and stylists. He is present, taking nothing for granted. The whole ‘being an artist’ thing is still new to him; he admits to having nerves before he descended upon the LSTD crowd, one of his first major live sets since the pandemic confined us all to our homes last year. Pa is naturally reserved and quiet in real life, and the prospect of performing is a hill he’s still working to climb over. “I’m a mute,” he admits. “I’m not that person that’s a big speaker; I’ll be at the back in a shubz [party], so [performing] is out of my comfort zone regardless. But I’m learning to be more open, man, I’m learning.”
Despite that, however, Pa is immensely friendly and chatty - a trait levelled only by the considerable weight of his words. Descending onto a nearby garden patch to begin, instantly he is reminded of home, Gambia, where he spent seven years of life before his return to London aged nine, and where his heart remains. “My grandfather used to grow corn in a garden like this,” he begins, as his fondest memories come flooding to the surface. Home is a recurring theme in today’s near one-hour conversation, which is part historical voyage, part stream of consciousness as Pa assesses his 24 years of life, detouring to a brief history of the griots - the West African historians, polymaths and intellectual authorities active since the height of the honourable Mansa Musa’s Mali Empire in the 14th century.