Last July at Lovebox, Tiffany Calver brought Pa Salieu out, last minute, to perform live for the first time. “Shook” but unflinching, Salieu trusted Calver’s confidence in him and played an unreleased track to a crowd who, for the most part, didn’t yet know his name. Telford-born Calver has earned a reputation as PS one of the most respected tastemakers in music, with a sharp intuition for discovering emerging artists, spotlighting their talent and nurturing genuine relationships with them as they grow. With Salieu, she was on to something from the start, and when he released breakout track “Frontline” six months after her Lovebox plug, the world quickly started to catch on too.
An influx of co-signs and radio attention followed, including a freestyle session on Calver’s 1Xtra Rap Show. Everyone wanted a piece of Pa Salieu, and many have attempted to slot him into the scene with neat categorisations — from J Hus comparisons to ‘Coventry rapper’. But while the “Frontline” of Coventry is a clear influence on his lyrics, it makes up just one element of the story Salieu wants to tell. Sitting down with Calver almost a year to the day since that first performance, he reflects on his childhood in Gambia and the values his family instilled in him, and why his purpose will always be bigger than the music.
(LEFT) All clothing BURBERRY (RIGHT) Pa’s own t-shirt
All clothing BURBERRY Pa’s own t-shirt
TC: So when did you start making music then? PS: Should be two and a half years ago. Not that long…
TC: That’s crazy. PS: But properly, 2018.
TC: What was it that made you want to start? PS: I’m a person that deeps everything too much — good or bad, I deep everything — so I’m a very symbolic person like that. I’m deep with subliminals; I think of everything as a pattern… Me, from early, I just like writing my thoughts. There was a point where I wanted to do spoken word. PS I was bad in school, but English, art, anything productive… That trait of writing was always there.
TC: You’ve always been creative. PS: Just never wrote a tune. It’s a different feeling, especially when I’m at a studio the first time; it’s sick, it’s exciting, I’m hearing my voice on top of this beat. And with me I like to see, you know? What I write is my feelings, what I see around me, everything. Basically, I fell in love with music.
TC: When you were growing up, what were you listening to? Because your background’s West Mids, Coventry, but you’re also very proudly from Gambia. PS: The home of Jollof rice…
TC: If you say so, I’m not gonna dispute that… PS: Come on, let’s keep the politics for later… There was a phase I listened to Tupac; there was a phase that I listened to Vybz Kartel. Then keep in mind my auntie is a Gambian folk singer, so I would have been around that as well. And there used to be a tune I listened to though when my grandparents died, it’s called “Stay With Me” by DJ Ironik. Love that tune.
Jumper and bag by DIOR
Jumper and bag by DIOR
TC: DJ Ironik! Oh my god, I forgot about him. PS: Crazy. I want to do a tune to that sample as well.
TC: That would be great, you should. Do you know what I find so interesting — in London, people can’t relate to me when I talk about that garage or bassline stuff that I think was probably bigger where we grew up. All these little under-18 club nights and they can’t relate! I’m like, OK so no one wants to listen to MC Bonez? Alright, cool… PS:I get the same feeling with this tune called “Slow Down” by Bobby Valentino.
TC: I knew you were gonna say that! PS: The whole vibe. That’s gonna get people nostalgic when I sample that.
TC: So let’s talk about your auntie being a folk musician… PS: Chuche Njie, that’s her name. Beautiful heart, beautiful woman, beautiful every-thing. She looked after me in Gambia too. Every time she would leave the country I used to cry. I love this woman! She’s like a proper folk singer, and folk singing at home is like, your ancestors, know what I’m saying? Music is about your past; that’s what music is for where I’m from. When you hear folk singers — especially if they’re singing about you — you’re going to hear your ancestors, what they did, where you’re coming from… I admire her, man. She’s also a businesswoman. When she comes to England, bless her, when she goes to Poundland…
TC: What is it about Poundland?! My auntie is the same. They go Poundland and buy so much stuff, like sweets and supplies, and then they bring it back. PS: How mad is that? It’s the grind, it’s the real grind. That used to give me the feel-ing that she’s always coming here and going back, going America and going back, going Spain and going back. Even if it’s for the music as well, she’ll be get-ting stuff in bulk and selling it back. It’s always hit me like yo, see, it’s right in my face; my grandparents, everyone’s been doing it. The job is to grind and take back, grind and take back.
TC: Is that something you want to do? PS: That’s something I want to do… It’s the whole process of the whole family. Having grown up seeing motivation, that’s how I see it. Just hella woman working non-stop hard, it’s crazy.
TC: Yeah, you’ve got that drive from your family and again that’s part of your roots, which I think is your biggest driving force. Everything about you, everything that’s kind of made you… That’s your thing, that’s how you’re Pa. A lot of people will make themselves or they’ll create something or a persona. But with you, the thing that people really fall in love with [is] there’s pride in your music; there’s passion, there’s roots and there’s culture. I was having a conversation with a friend of mine in New York and a lot of the Gambian people over there, and her mates during BBQs, will be blasting like your music and be so proud. PS: Serious?
TC: Yeah! PS: That’s mad!
TC: Have you ever lived in Gambia? PS: Yeah, I went at two and came back when I was eight or nine.
TC: What was it like living there? PS: The whole vibe’s different, it’s genuinely a family vibe.
TC: You’ve even got a smile talking about it… PS: It’s sick man, it’s sick. My grandad built a mosque in our yard that just started from us, me and my cousins, like four of us. And now there’s over 500, 1000 I think students coming every day. At meals or dinner time we’d invite all our neighbours to come down because we got space, you know? Even if we ain’t got much, we had space and that’s what we need, freedom. The whole energy is different. Here there’s no compassion, and trust me man, it’s shocking here init… It’s a feeling; it’s home. I can be somewhere and don’t have to look around and someone’s giving me a dirty look thinking I might steal some-thing. It’s sick.
TC: Tell me some of the differences between your time in Gambia and your experiences growing up in a place like Coventry? PS: Coventry is when I started seeing every-thing for what it is, you know? Gambia as a country is more healthy, but here is where I saw what life is. I didn’t experience racism in Gambia, I didn’t know what racism was. Here it’s a totally different story I think. Here is the lessons.
TC: What kind of lessons?
(LEFT) PA’s own t-shirt (RIGHT) All clothing by FILA
PA’s own t-shirt All clothing by FILA
PS: Stuff like getting shot at, getting shot… Somehow I had to be sent to Gambia to know my culture, to always know where I’m from. That’s another pillar there to make me stronger. I got culture and discipline; because of where I’m coming from I’ve never let no order brainwash me or anything… I think there’s big differences, it’s just a different chapter isn’t it? What’s mad exciting about this as well is like, what kid is looking at my story or looking at this right now? Is it the future president of Gambia? I hope so. I’m gonna write a book about this one day, about me, about the whole journey. TC: Let’s fast forward a bit now to your first ever performance, the first time you ever performed live.
PS: Music-wise, my first proper, proper performance I did was when you brought me out… TC: At Lovebox last year? Do you remember what that was like?
PS: Oh my days, I remember how it felt: ‘What the hell?!’ I was like this ain’t gonna work, what the fuck am I doing here? How am I here? It was a last minute thing. TC: It was like, the day before…
PS: I was gassed man, I was shook performing like that. I think it was you that told me after you do this it will be easier. I’m telling you, that day pushed me. After that day, it’s like I can see it in the horizon like you can see the sun rising. TC: You performed “Dem A Lie” and it hadn’t even been released yet… Now you have a fan base, and when you perform you have people who can rap your lyrics back to you or are real, genuine fans in the space of a year, literally two days ago last year. What does it feel like having that recognition now? PS: Honestly speaking, I ain’t a vain person, I’m not an oblivious person or anything but I guess I’m around positivity now, you know? I don’t feel like I’ve done nothing yet. I’m still writing a lot more, I’m in the studio in and out. I don’t see nothing’s changed. I don’t really check my phone like that.
PA’s own t-shirt All clothing by FILA
TC: I know! But this stuff doesn’t phase you? When “Frontline” did super, super well — and it’s still doing very well, to the point where I’m in Paris at fashion week and every DJ pretty much is playing that song… PS: No, not at all.
TC: You’re just a very humble guy, you take everything in your stride. I remember seeing Virgil posting you — were you wearing Louis Vuitton? PS: Yeah, I didn’t know about him ’til then though.
TC: That’s sick though! I love that stuff. PS: That’s what I’m saying, I didn’t know him ‘til then and from there, that’s love. Big love, man, something I can’t forget. That’s like what you’ve done as well for me. That’s real shit.
TC: So from everything we’ve spoken about, all of these different things that have made you who you are — when you’re now making new music, who is Pa Salieu? PS: Right now Pa Salieu’s a statement, I’m a statement. You need to know your past to know who you are, [and] this mixtape’s gonna be all about what I’ve been through, what I’ve done. Going towards my album I’m focusing everything on my growth — I wanna be Pa the teacher now, you know what I’m saying? Pa’s done with being a statement. I am growing, Pa’s growing.
TC: What would you say Pa Salieu stands for? PS: I’m a king, I’m proud. I’m African and the world is my oyster and… Are you ready for this? I see nothing but greatness. I feel like I’m chasing that Pa, me. I believe I’m here to change something. I’m a strong believer my words can affect the future, they might. I’m trying to achieve something different, man. That’s why I believe nothing’s phasing me right now… We’re all kings, you know? We’re all kings and queens man, and I believe I’m gonna be a teacher.
TC: What would you say you’re passionate about? PS: I want to make it easy for people like me — not like me, everyone’s like me — but people who come from where I come from, and just make shit easier. Right now me and the mandem’s going halves on a unit, so we’re gonna place a studio there. Anyone who’s Cov they can come through, record. That’s not a lot but OK, this can be the first part.
TC: What’s the future for Pa Salieu looking like? PS: Very soon I want to be able to start building infrastructure in music back home. I’m starting a vocational [school] by next year, hopefully — I was gonna say a primary school, but I was just realistic with it. I’m gonna get a building in Gambia and start building it, hire some tutors to teach skills like construction, carpentry, just basic skills that a father can pass on. You don’t know what you spark with them things there, I’m telling you. A student could go back and teach his kids; one day the kids can be the owners of the biggest construction company in Africa. You never know.
TC: Yeah, it’s all about building an opportunity. PS: For real, that’s wealth. And I’m blessed with parents that think the same way, we ain’t had much but think the same way, so I can’t be sidetracked. I can talk all I want but I know I won’t be sidetracked, no one can come between what I’m planning.
TC: So It’s bigger than music then? PS: It’s bigger than music. Infrastructure, man. It’s bigger than music.