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Meet The Lone Sierra Leonean Artist on Youtube’s Africa Day Stage in Lagos

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Introducing Drizilik Sierra Leone’s King of New School Music, Award-Winning Hip-Hop and Afrobeats Artist 

With over two million streams, an award winning debut album, and sold out concerts, Drizilik is Sierra Leone’s breakout star. His undeniable talent and clever use of Krio metaphors on his 2018 Shukubly album has taken him to international stages including Youtube’s 2022 Africa Day Concert in Lagos,  the Sierra Leone & Gambia Music Festival in Banjul, and Hull City’s Freedom Festival in the UK. Drizilik’s ability to wax poetic on hip hop and Afrobeats with equal mastery has earned him the moniker Sierra Leone’s king of new school music

 

Benjamin Menelik George was born in 1994 to a Krio family in Freetown. For the first ten years of his life, the city experienced coup d’état, bombings,  and saw an influx of internally displaced people fleeing Sierra Leone’s  conflict. His family tried to protect him from the dangers on the street but he and his band of Wellington Street friends found solace in each other. During holidays they played video games and checked for the latest music hits on MTV Base. When he discovered hip hop in high school, he realized that music could be an outlet. He filled his notebooks with verses about the highs, and lows of growing up in the Shukubly—centuries-old Krio basket —and his nickname for Freetown. 

 

The Early Years

When Drake released Thank Me Later in 2010, he was inspired to write music. He admired Drake’s versatility; he could sing, rap and use simple lyrics to convey double entendres. But most of all he drew inspiration from Drake’s personal story. He didn’t have to be from the hood or put on a gangster persona to be a hiphop artist. 

 

Amongst his friends on Wellington Street Benjamin was “the soft one”. His grandparents were strict and he wasn’t one to break their rules. 

 

“We used to play football on the street. Our parents didn’t like it. While my friends could disobey, I wouldn’t dare. So they would tease me for being soft. As soon as my Grandpa John would stand on our veranda and yell my name: “Benjamin!” That’s it. I’m going in.”

 

His friends started to call him “Driz”, a nickname for Drake. He put Driz and his middle name Menelik together and Drizilik was born.

 

He was so passionate about music his Grandma Laura noticed. She wanted Drizilik to follow a more traditional path but her grandson had other plans. 

 

To produce his first mixtape he had no money to hire a producer or book studio time. Drizilik turned to the world’s DIY free university—YouTube. As luck would have it, a friend got a laptop. Drizilik spent weeks watching how-to-videos about recording and publishing music. Five months later, he had written, recorded, and released Two Fingers Up Vol. 1 & 2, his first mixtape.

 

That same year, DJ Rampage, a triple-threat Instrumentalist, producer, and disc jockey, saw him perform live at an amateur night at Alafia Point. Rampage was with Ballanta Academy of Music’s bandleader and convinced him to invite Drizilik to perform at their annual Christmas Festival. The academy is the foundation of the city’s modern music scene. Drizilik practiced with other emerging talents like Block Jones, Rozzy, Solos Beats, and the instrumentalists who would later form The Freetown Uncut Band. 

 

“The band played mostly reggae and Afrobeats. So to create room for myself I had to evolve. I learned to fuse hiphop which was my comfort zone with their style. It made me a better artist.

 

Joining Ballanta came with other rewards. Grandma Laura gave her blessings for Drizilik to pursue a career in music. She thought he was formerly studying music at the Academy’s school. He wasn’t. Drizilik was on stage practicing perfect showmanship. 

 

Breaking Out On His Own

 

Over the next three years, Drizilik released four mixtapes including the Best Flow Possible. Performing songs on that mixtapes brought new opportunities. He appeared on the Kalleone Radio Rap Cypher and performed at the annual Deflosacs Fashion Show. 

 

Drizilik got another big break when British investor Tom Cairnes founded the Freetown Uncut Band with artist friends from Ballanta. While he was no longer performing at the academy and not a band member, they gave him room to grow. Drizilik experimented with Bubu, Milo Jazz, and Afrobeats with the band. For the first time in his career, he had an environment where he could practice live music and record in a studio. In the year he was a resident artist with the Freetown Uncut Band, Drizilik emerged as a true frontman. 

 

In 2016 he released his fifth mixtape, Ben Ten Over Ten. Drizilik was eager for a hit, and he knew the only way to breakthrough was to take the music to the streets. He and Block Jones, who had just released the song Chinese, took their songs on CDs to the annual Tangains Festival at the national stadium. For three straight days, they stopped at every bar and kiosk with a speaker. At each spot, they bought a drink, and wherever they drank, they left their song. When he returned to the stadium a week later, his efforts had not been in vain. The bars played the same three songs; Prodigy’s Azam Ba, Yung Sal’s Kam Join Wi Bo, and Drizilik’s Pop Collar. 

 

“I knew I hadn’t made it yet but when I returned to those bars and heard my song I was like finally! I was standing right there, people were listening to my song and they didn’t know who I was.” 

 

The New School Crowns A King

After Pop Collar the next single Di Mami Im Money For Komot shot on the gritty streets of Kroo Town Road Market was a bonafide hit. Released in March 2017, it made Drizilik a household name and won best hip hop song at Sierra Leone Elite DJ Union (SLeDu) Awards.

With multiple hits, music videos, five mixtapes and collaborations with other emerging artists under his belt Drizilik had arrived. 

 

In December 2018, he released his ten-track debut album Shukubly incorporating his culture into his personal style. In the place of a blinged out Jesus piece—his chosen fashion accessory was two small shukubly baskets on a string—an ode to his Krio heritage. 

The album was a creative collaboration with DJ Rampage and various members of the Freetown Uncut Band. It had hits like the title track Shukubly, Yu Fil Se Na Fulish, Kɔna Yai, Posin, Aw fo Du, and This Is Sierra Leone, a cover of Childish Gambino’s This Is America. Shukubly was a major success. He won Album of the Year, Best Afro Hip Hop Artiste of The Year, Male Artist of the Year, and Best Live Performer at the 2019 National Entertainment awards. He also won the artist of the year award from All Works of Life (AWOL). 

 

New Music on The Horizon

Drizilik’s sophomore album is Ashobi(aso-ebi)—a Krio word with Yoruba origins that means to wear the same clothes in unity. The 14-song album which is set for a July 2022 release date is about life beyond the Shukubly, a fusion of Sierra Leonean percussions, goombay, and bubu with afrobeats and baile funk. For this international West African community celebration, Drizilik worked with an all-star cast of producers including Altra Nova in Accra, Nigerian hitmaker Masterkraft in Lagos, DJ Rampage and other Sierra Leonean producers in Freetown.  The title track Ashobi which samples the signature accordion tune of the legendary Salia Koroma and Dr. Oloh’s mouth organ also features Hollywood leading man, producer, and international DJ, Idris Elba. 

 

“I’ve come a long way from scrounging for data to stream how-to-videos on YouTube. I’ve gotten acclaim at home and my family is proud. My dream is to use music to uplift and celebrate Sierra Leone’s culture on a global stage. We have been through a lot; it’s our time to shine.”

Author: Vickie Remoe (@vickieremoe )

Image: Sama Kai Sundifu (@officialsamakai)

 

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Today, Meta announced that it has built and open sourced ‘No Language Left Behind’ NLLB-200, a single AI model that is the first to translate across 200 different languages, including 55 African languages with state-of-the-art results. Meta is using the modelling techniques and learnings from the project to improve and extend translations on Facebook, Instagram, and Wikipedia.

 

In an effort to develop high-quality machine translation capabilities for most of the world’s low-resource languages, this single AI model was designed with a focus on African languages. They are challenging from a machine translation perspective. AI models require lots and lots of data to help them learn, and there’s not a lot of human translated training data for these languages. For example, there’s more than 20M people who speak and write in Luganda but examples of this written language are extremely difficult to find on the internet.

 

We worked with professional translators for each of these languages to develop a reliable benchmark which can automatically assess translation quality for many low-resource languages. We also work with professional translators to do human evaluation too, meaning people who speak the languages natively evaluate what the AI produced. The reality is that a handful of languages dominate the web, so only a fraction of the world can access content and contribute to the web in their own language. We want to change this by creating more inclusive machine translations systems – ones that unlock access to the web for the more than 4B people around the world that are currently excluded because they do not speak one of the few languages content is available in.

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“It’s impressive how much AI is improving all of our services. We just open-sourced an AI model we built that can translate across 200 different languages — many of which aren’t supported by current translation systems. We call this project No Language Left Behind, and the AI modelling techniques we used are helping make high quality translations for languages spoken by billions of people around the world. To give a sense of the scale, the 200-language model has over 50 billion parameters, and we trained it using our new Research SuperCluster, which is one of the world’s fastest AI supercomputers. The advances here will enable more than 25 billion translations every day across our apps. Communicating across languages is one superpower that AI provides, but as we keep advancing our AI work it’s improving everything we do — from showing the most interesting content on Facebook and Instagram, to recommending more relevant ads, to keeping our services safe for everyone,” said Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg in a post on his Facebook profile.

 

Language is our culture, identity, and lifeline to the world. However, as high-quality translation tools don’t exist for hundreds of languages, billions of people today can’t access digital content or participate fully in conversations and communities online in their preferred or native languages. This is especially true for hundreds of millions of people who speak the many languages of Africa.

 

“Africa is a continent with very high linguistic diversity, and language barriers exist day to day. We are pleased to announce that 55 African languages will be included in this machine translation research, making it a major breakthrough for our continent,” Balkissa Ide Siddo, Public Policy Director for Africa said while speaking about the launch of the AI model. “In the future, imagine visiting your favourite Facebook group, coming across a post in Igbo or Luganda, and being able to understand it in your own language with just a click of a button – that’s where we hope research like this leads us. Highly accurate translations in more languages could also help to spot harmful content and misinformation, protect election integrity, and curb instances of online sexual exploitation and human trafficking.”

 

While commenting on accessibility and inclusion in the pursuit of building an equitable metaverse, Ide Siddo added “At Meta, we are working today to ensure that as many people as possible will be able to access the new educational, social and economic opportunities that the next evolution of the internet will bring to future technology and an everyday living experience tomorrow.”

 

To confirm that the translations are high quality, Meta also created a new evaluation dataset, FLORES-200, and measured NLLB-200’s performance in each language. Results revealed that NLLB-200 exceeds the previous state of the art by an average of 44 percent.

 

Meta is also open-sourcing the NLLB-200 model and publishing a slew of research tools to enable other researchers to extend this work to more languages and build more inclusive technologies. Meta AI is also providing up to $200,000 of grants to non-profit organizations for real world applications for NLLB-200.

 

There are versions of Wikipedia in more than 300 languages, but most have far fewer articles than the 6+ million available in English. Following Meta’s partnership with the Wikimedia Foundation, the non-profit organization that hosts Wikipedia and other free knowledge projects, modelling  techniques and learnings from the NLLB research are now also being applied to translation systems used by Wikipedia editors. Using the Wikimedia Foundation’s Content Translation Tool, articles can now be easily translated in more than 20 low-resource languages (those that don’t have extensive datasets to train AI systems), including 10 that previously were not supported by any machine translation tools on the platform.

 

To explore a demo of NLLB-200 showing how the model can translate stories from around the world, visit here. You can also read the research paper here.

 

 

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