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World Music Features

Abdul Bockarie

By Matt Scheiner
Published August 2, 2007

While Bockarie had always been influenced by the message and lyrics of reggae, he didn’t start singing it until he went to Jamaica, and up until then his only musical experience was singing karaoke in Africa. But he believes the link between Africa and Jamaica is unbreakable. 

The story of Abdul Bockarie, a/k/a Rising Moses, begins in the West African country of Sierra Leone, where he was born. Bordered by Guinea, Liberia and hugged by the Atlantic Ocean, Sierra Leone was the epicenter of the transatlantic slave trade in the 1700s and the site of a terrible civil war between 1991-2000 that not only left tens of thousands of people dead, but also displaced more than 2 million. In 1996 Bockarie, an independent reggae singer, fled the Kono district of Sierra Leone and went to Jamaica, where he began formal vocal training, enrolling in Kingston’s Edna Manley College of Visual and Performing Arts.

“I actually went to school to be a political science student [in Africa], growing up thinking I would be a politician,” Bockarie recalls. “But when I really looked at it I realized that it is through music that you can really express yourself, you know, free the people through truth and righteousness. And I found reggae because of the pain and sufferation in Africa.”

While Bockarie had always been influenced by the message and lyrics of reggae, he didn’t start singing it until he went to Jamaica, and up until then his only musical experience was singing karaoke in Africa. But he believes the link between Africa and Jamaica is unbreakable, and his music is a direct reflection of his experiences and the struggle his people endured. “Reggae was stolen from Africa and brought to the Caribbean to work in the plantation and it became lost,” says Bockarie. “Over time it was found again, and used to express ourselves using melodies and African rhythms.”

After his stint in Jamaica, Bockarie came to the U.S. to begin spreading his message, and self-produced an album, The Ruthless World, with the help of Sly & Robbie. Bockarie, who now lives in Columbus, OH, says that he knows he could have been a successful reggae singer in Africa—but he didn’t want to limit himself and his music to the continent. “I want my music to be versatile, to be spread all over the world. Plus I feel like if you conquer the American market you conquer the world,” he says.

He also knows how hard it is being an independent musician in a competitive world. But Bockarie believes that everything takes a struggle and time, and is unwilling to give up. Although he is not currently signed, Bockarie put out a second album, Duplicate Me and recently compiled Discover Rising Moses, another self-produced collection of hits. He has also joined the online community sonicbids.com, to try and make connections with promoters. “It is very hard to meet people in the music business in the U.S., especially when you are not as popular here, but I am not going to give up because I know I will reach that peak one day,” says Bockarie.

Although it is taking time for his music to catch on, Bockarie has dedicated himself to perfecting his Jamaican persona. His flow is at times sluggish, but for the most part on point, and his roots music and lyrics are very conscious. His tune “Duplicate Me” begins with the verse: “Everyone wants to be a Jamaican, but I am the real duplicate Jamaican.” Bockarie says that when he lived in Jamaica he was treated like the way he was back home. “In Jamaica I saw all of the same people that were in Africa, same movements, same characteristics. The way I see it, we are all the same black people. Jamaica was like a second home to me and I wrote ‘Duplicate Me’ to show people that I can talk and act like a Jamaican—most people in the U.S. think I am Jamaican anyway.”

Bockarie’s music is an unrefined combination of dancehall, Caribbean and roots music. Tunes like “Independent Woman,” “Africa Rise Babylon Fallen,” and “Tribute to Culture” are stamped with Bockarie’s raw style, but for someone with limited singing experience he definitely has potential. And his story may be as appealing as his music. “We Africans need to fix our problems and start helping