Sierra Leone Journal
Dispatches from Pre-War Freetown and Beyond

 


S.E. Rogers "Rogie"


Rogie, S.E. (Rogers, Sooliman Ernest), Sierra Leonean singer, song writer, and guitarist; b. Fornikoh, Sierra Leone, April 10, 1926; d. London, July 4, 1994.

Rogie earned his renown as one of the leading makers of West African palm wine music, a folksy blend of guitar and voice reciting stories of everyday life. Largely self-educated, Rogie completed little more than two years of primary school while living with various relatives. By age ten he had moved in with an elder brother in Sierra Leone’s capital, Freetown, where he became an apprentice tailor.

Rogie learned the rudiments of guitar from a musician who patronized the tailor shop and then taught himself the rest. His developing style was influenced in part by American country artist Jimmie Rodgers, whose records were popular in Freetown. As his guitar-playing and tailoring improved, he began to travel the country, fashioning clothes by day and songs by night. With his warm, smooth baritone, Rogie sang in English, Krio, Mende, and Temne, charming audiences with songs like “Please Go Easy With Me,” and “Advice to Schoolgirls,” while picking a nimble accompaniment.

As S.E. Rogers—Rogie was his nickname—he made his first records around 1956 at a local studio run by a transplanted Nigerian named Jonathan Adenuga. Records and live performances increased his popularity to the point that he quit tailoring, purchased recording equipment, and launched his own Rogie and Rogiphone labels. “My Lovely Elizabeth” from 1962 brought him international recognition when EMI picked up the record for worldwide distribution. Around 1965 he formed the Morningstars, a band that added electric guitar to his acoustic sound, and produced perhaps the best work of his career, including “Baby Lef Marah” (baby, quit fooling around) and “Man Stupid Being.”

Womanizing and alcohol led to a personal and career decline at the end of the sixties. Rogie credited a spiritual awakening for his eventual renewal. He moved to the San Francisco area in 1973 where he began to use Rogie in place of Rogers because “it sounded more African.” Despite several recordings and a steady schedule of live performances in clubs and schools around the Bay Area, he was unable to generate the kind of popularity he had enjoyed at home.

Rogie’s prospects improved in 1986 with the release of an album of old hits, The 60s’ Sounds of S.E. Rogie. Copies found their way to London where radio airplay led to offers for concerts and recording. Once in the U.K. and faced with as much work as he could handle, Rogie decided to stay. Cooking Vinyl reissued The 60s’ Sounds as Palm Wine Guitar Music, and Rogie made new recordings—recycled versions of his old songs for the most part—for Workers Playtime and Real World. He performed regularly in clubs and at music festivals around the U.K. and Europe, including several stints with the prestigious WOMAD tour.

Rogie returned to Sierra Leone for the first time in twenty years for a series of New Year 1994 concerts to benefit the victims of the country’s civil war. Back in London he underwent heart bypass surgery in February 1994. He died later in the year of complications following a stroke suffered while on tour with WOMAD in eastern Europe. He left two daughters and a son, who were born in Sierra Leone, and a wife whom he had married in the U.K. shortly before his death.

Rogie was Sierra Leone’s best known musician. He rose twice from obscurity to capture an international following. Bands from Dakar to Dar es Salaam covered “My Lovely Elizabeth” while new generations discovered his rich baritone and gentle guitar picking during his resurrection in the U.K. While few Sierra Leonean musicians adopted his palm wine style, his enormous popularity gave hope to others who dreamed of careers in the music business.

DISCOGRAPHY

The 60s’ Sounds of S.E. Rogie (Rogiphone R2) reissue 1986; The New Sounds of S.E. Rogie (Workers Playtime PLAY CD18) 1991; Dead Men Don’t Smoke Marijuana (Real World/Caroline CAROL 2344-2) 1994.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

V. Wilmer, “S.E. Rogers’ Life Story,” Rogie International Song Book (Freetown, 1970); S. Coxson, “The Song of Sooliman,” Folk Roots (London, May 1988); G. Stewart, Breakout: Profiles in African Rhythm (Chicago, 1992).

This article was written for an encyclopedia of world music that got lost in the shuffle of various publishing industry mergers and was never completed. Copyright © 2000 by Gary Stewart


 
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