Telem Uncommon Sounds is pioneering a new wave of Afrocentric jazz fusion in Sierra Leone.” - Silkroad Project, Global Musicians Workshop


About Telem Uncommon Sounds

A platform for experimental music in Sierra Leone

Telem Uncommon Sounds artists are pioneering a new wave of fresh sounds in Sierra Leone.  With a revolutionary and unconventional style, Telem artists are blending existing genres like Bubu, Gumbe, and Milo jazz with experimental new techniques.  Influences include Jazz, Blues, Neo-Soul, Bossa-Nova, Afro-Jazz, and Funk – and the music is blended with odd sounds,  frequency manipulations, polyphony, recordings and just about whatever else we can imagine.  Unbounded by the rules, Telem artists are a collective of creatives expressing a side of Sierra Leone that the world has not seen before.

Check out the all new "Telem Strong" album, released February 2024.

Check out this Music Time in Africa / Voice of America studio recording and interview with Telem Uncommon Sounds (Released 18 August 2023). 

How it all began

“Telem” means “safe space” in Sierra Leone.  When children play tag, the people being chased are safe if they get into a circle drawn on the ground and yell, “Telem!”  As long as they are in the Telem, they cannot be touched.  

This was the core idea when Telem Uncommon Sounds was founded in 2021: a safe space for creative experimentation, in a context where Sierra Leonean musicians are often encouraged and incentivized to make music that sounds like it comes from Ghana or Nigeria or South Africa.  Since its founding, Telem has offered workshops and retreats in songwriting and music production, it has staged various performances featuring original work by new artists in Freetown, and it has built capacity in the local music ecosystem to ensure that more Sierra Leonean musicians are on global stages and channels.

Telem Goes Global

In May 2023, Telem musicians were accepted into the Global Musicians Workshop, and traveled to the United States in August 2023 for a week-long artist exchange with talented musicians from all over the world.  World-famous cellist Yo-Yo Ma conceived Silkroad in 1998 as both a touring ensemble, comprised of world-class musicians from all over the globe, and a social impact organization working to make a positive impact across borders through the arts.  

Telem is the first ever team to join GMW from Sierra Leone. In addition to the workshop, Telem artists were featured in public community engagement performances in Boston, New York, and the Washington, DC area.

Read more about what we did and what we learned in this report (released 29 August 2023)

Upon return to Sierra Leone, Telem leadership was determined to reinvest our experiences and relationships back into the Salone music ecosystem, so we designed and launched “Telem Week 2023,” a 7-day songwriting retreat and 2-day performance festival in November 2023, modeled on our experiences with GWM and adapted to our goals and environment in Sierra Leone. We were privileged to host three musicians from Jamaica, who traveled specifically to participate in Telem Week activities, opening a new channel of musical exchange between Africa and the Caribbean.

Read more about what we did, what we learned, and what's next in this report (released 29 November 2023).

What's Next

Telem's first-ever album came out of that songwriting retreat.  Called "Telem Strong", this album hit all global platforms in February 2024.

In 2024, Telem will continue to offer the training,  capacity building, and performance opportunities in Sierra Leone that have yielded such incredible artistry.  The group plans to tour the album on the African continent and abroad, working to put Sierra Leone on world-class stages and global platforms. 

“Telem Uncommon Sounds is dedicated to promoting and preserving the rich musical heritage of Sierra Leone....  By supporting the participation of Telem Uncommon Sounds members, Sierra Leone is showcasing its commitment to promoting cultural diversity and artistic excellence.”  Edward K. Yankson, Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Tourism and Cultural Affairs