How music shaped my journey as an advocate for women’s rights

This blog was written by Abdulai Tunkara, a Field Officer on our Business Brains programme in Sierra Leone.

Abdulai meets a group of women at a community group.

I am someone who advocates for children, young people, and women through my music and drama skills. I have recorded advocacy songs about the rights and safety of children and women, and have contributed to changing the narrative about women through my lyrics.

I’m Abdulai Tunkara, but I’m popularly known by my stage name – Tunksman. I was born in Yamandu – Bo District. I attended the Ahmadiyya Muslim Senior Secondary School in Bo City – where I developed my love for music and earned the name Akon, I was called Akon because most of my friends at the time said I sing like him.

Young Abdulai, A.K.A Akon, learning his craft.

After high school, I volunteered with Restless Development in Sami Town, Kambia District, which is in the Northern part of the country. I lived and worked in the community for eight months, and at the end of my placement period, I was recognised as the most outstanding volunteer’ in Kambia District. In 2009, I later served as an Outreach Intern for Restless Development in the Makeni regional office for six months; where we – a team of four, embarked on street sensitisation on burning issues such as HIV/AIDS, early marriage, teenage pregnancy, drug abuse, and gender-based violence.

In December that same year, I was again contracted by Restless Development to re-volunteer in Bumbuna – a community where the organisation was ignored by community stakeholders because of the attitude of the volunteers who had worked there before. Just like in Sami Town, my work in Bumbuna was excellent, and restored the great work and reputation of Restless Development once again in the community. And so, the community started accepting Restless Development volunteers again. As the saying goes “once a volunteer, always a volunteer”. I was called upon again to volunteer, which was my third time of volunteering with Restless Development in Kamiyandor Placement where I served for another six months. 

Abdulai getting the message out over the radio

It was then, in 2011 that I was living with my friend Faj Bee, who is an artist. He, along with his fellow member of his music group (Future Guys Entertainment), Deno P, featured me in one of their songs, ‘Husler’. My lyrics in the song captured the ears of many music producers and engineers in Makeni, and I became one of Makeni’s upcoming rappers. After that song, I later recorded two songs on my own, titled ‘Ar must make am’ (I will make it) and ‘Super Star’, where I featured top Makeni musicians like Faj Bee, King Melody, Edlee Shine, and Soba Wizzy. 

Abdulai and Eye Scope perform at an awards ceremony

In 2014, I teamed up with Eye Scope, my present team member –  who currently is one of the best R&B singers we have in the north and on the 16th April 2016, Eye Scope and I released our first album titled ‘Reach the unreached’ with twelve songs of different flavours and messages. The album became the most talked about with its major songs like ‘Woman Noto Bata’ (Youtube), meaning women are not punching bags in Krio, and ‘Message to My Ex’ (Youtube/Soundcloud). We have released several other songs after the launching which captured the attention of many Sierra Leoneans.

Woman No Bata, Tunksman and Eye Scope

In 2018, my music group, Tunksman and Eye Scope, was nominated for ‘Best Music Group’ of the year, and for our song ‘Jiwor’ (Soundcloud), which means ‘young lady’ in the local language Fullah, was nominated for the ‘Indigenous Music of the Year’ award at the Faces of the North Entertainment Awards (FaNEA 2017/2018). We were only awarded for the ‘Best Music Group’ of the year, and this year again we were nominated for the same award. We are excited for the awards ceremony again in December, as it shows that our contribution to the entertainment industry in the country is significant, positive, and is appreciated by our fans and people who listen to our music. These awards are also the first standard award ceremony that has been organised in the north of Sierra Leone that can be compared to other trophies in the sub regions. Winning one of these awards is a major success in the life of every entertainer; it shows your legacy and inspires you to do more.

I am also currently working as a Field Officer with Restless Development on the Business Brains programme, and I’m responsible for the programme in Koinadugu District. The Business Brains programme is funded by One Girl, and aims to develop entrepreneurship skills of vulnerable girls in rural communities, by training Girls Groups on business skills, sexual reproductive health, and menstrual hygiene management. You can read this blog from one of our former volunteers to learn more about the project.

Abdulai speaks to children about GBV at a school.

I also previously worked for Marie Stopes in Sierra Leone as a Behaviour Change and Communications Assistant, and volunteered with Voluntary Services Overseas (VSO) as a National Volunteer on the International Citizen Service programme; where I was leading a school sensitisation tour on the importance of education in Bo. I did this until the Ebola outbreak which forced the project to end.

I formed the ‘Tunksman Children’s Foundation’ on my birthday last year. Through the foundation, I have been supporting underprivileged orphaned children using my income from my entertainment work. This has been successful so far; as I now have four children who are well taken care of by the foundation. I am a stand-up comedian, an Event Mic Controller and someone who has mentored others and served as an inspiration to many young people both inside and outside of the entertainment industry.

Abdulai practicing music as activism

I am also a vibrant and committed member of the Network of Youth for Development Sierra Leone (NYD-SL). This a non-political, not-for-profit volunteer youth organisation which originated from experienced young leaders (former volunteers), who were trained and supported by Restless Development. This year, I am contesting for the National Presidency of the Network in a General Alumni Assembly (GAA) scheduled for November this year.

If I become president, my first priority would be to update our database and ensure that we track every alumni member in all of the districts in the country. I want to reconnect with alumni from all over, especially those who served as community volunteers and have less contact with their district headquarter towns. I want to create a department in the network that will work with line ministries and partners to promote employment for network members. I would work with donors and strategic partners to source funds for projects, which will create job opportunities for our members.

To follow the progress of the Network of Youth for Development Sierra Leone (NYD-SL) and the upcoming elections, you can follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

To read more about Restless Development’s work in Sierra Leone, you can follow our work there on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

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How music shaped my journey as an advocate for women’s rights

by wearerestless Reading time: 5 min