British-Gambian rapper Pa Salieu has quickly become one of the most important voices in the UK, and it's thanks to his visceral lyrics that portray life in England as it truly is. Releasing his debut single, Frontline, in January 2020, he quickly became known for his portrayal of Britain's streets, and the goings-on that people don't often pay attention to - especially when they're not from the area.
He works with producers that provide sparse, chilling beats for him to rap over - and the end result is bone-chilling bars that show the realities of life as a young, black male in England.
Pa recently won BBC's Music Sound of 2021, an award previously won by the likes of Adele and Ellie Goulding. It's recognition that he's one of the UK's most exciting musical talents, and comes after his debut mixtape, Send Them To Coventry, turned heads for the way it spoke about the realities of life in England.
Speaking about the win, Pa told BBC Radio 1's Annie Mac that he was just happy to be nominated. "I was grateful even being in part of the top 10. There were some crazy talented people." He's recently worked with FKA Twigs in the studio, so hopefully we see the results of that collaboration in the near future.
Born in Slough, but growing up in The Gambia and Coventry, Pa sees the world differently to what certain people might tell you. Talking to NME, he reflects on his experiences of growing up in The Gambia and Coventry, saying that in The Gambia, you were always looked after.
Pa says, “If you’re hungry there, you don’t even need to ask. They’ll see and they’ll come and give you food. Everyone shares. We used to call the neighbours down and eat with us on these big plates. At least there’s freedom back home. If you ain’t got no money [in the UK], no one wants to love you. The world is different here.”
His time in The Gambia taught him who he was - and it was here he learnt about his ancestors. Speaking to the BBC, he says he's learnt a lot living in both England and The Gambia. "Gambia is sick. I was born in England but my first language is technically Wolof. In Gambia, I learned who I am and what I am. My history, my culture. In England, I learned what life is. This is real life. Two different kinds of lessons. I feel like I'm lucky."
After seeing his friends get killed, Pa decided to get serious about music, and tell the stories of people that couldn't do that for themselves. "I'm going to be the voice of that as much as I can. That's my intention. Hood representative. No-one can understand what we've been through.
"But I know a lot of people who've been through what I've been through, or coming from where I'm coming from, can relate to that. That's their voices. So many voices can't be heard. It's so sad. I am the voice."
Remarkably, he's achieved all this after recovering from a near-fatal gunshot wound in 2019.
Talking to NME, Pa says he's got a grand vision, and he's looking to invest in the future of The Gambia - but his plans don't stop there. He's looking to create history. “Gambia is my top priority. I love this country, but I’ve got too much to do.
"I’m not gonna be dying in this country. I can’t be in the UK doing this music ting and forget about my home. Colonisation deleted my history, but I’m going to create my own. Music has a big hand in the unity of Africa.” The future is bright for Pa, and he's determined to make sure his influence stretches far beyond just music.