Pa Salieu Wins BBC Sound of 2021: ‘All I can do is look forward’

Pa Salieu, a Coventry based rapper, was announced as the winner of BBC Music’s Sound of 2021.

The award is judged annually through a poll of music critics, artists, and other industry figures. The prize aims to find and promote the most promising new talent in music, and Pa Salieu will be joining the likes of Adele, Kaiser Chiefs, Michael Kiwanuka, and Frank Ocean, who comprise the impressive record of past winners and runners-up.  

Salieu’s debut mixtape, Send Them to Coventry, was released in November 2020 to glowing reviews, being hailed as ‘fresh and inventive’ by the Guardian’s Alexis Petridis.  

The title plays on the expression “to send someone to Coventry” (meaning to cast someone out or cut them off from something), drawing on Salieu’s experience of growing up in both Gambia and Coventry, and the contrasts the two places present.

The 23-year-old writes raw and powerful lyrics, depicting the often-brutal reality of life in ‘the gutter’  of his area in Coventry, which he not so fondly calls “C-O-V, hashtag city of violence” on his song ‘Informa’.  Only last year, Salieu was one of two men shot outside of a pub in Coventry, and muses in a BBC interview on the fact that he ‘didn’t see crackheads or crack-fiends […] in Gambia’ like he did in Coventry. 

Around 160 “tastemakers” took part in the poll to decide the winner, including the likes of Stormzy, Billie Eilish, AJ Tracey, and Charli XCX.  The longlist of ten was announced in December 2020, and featured artists such as Griff, Girl in Red, and 21-year-old Holly Humberstone from Lincolnshire, who came second in the list.  

Talking of his future in music, Salieu says that ‘All I can do is look forward, as always’, musing on the lack of opportunities for musicians in Coventry. 

Words by Maebh Howell.

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