Dead Men Don’t Smoke Marijuana

S.E. Rogie

Released 21 May 1994

  1. Kpindigbee (Morning, Noon And Night)
  2. A Time In My Life
  3. Nor Weigh Me Lek Dat (Woman To Woman)
  4. Jaimgba Tutu (The Joy Of Success)
  5. Koneh Pelawoe (Please Open Your Heart)
  6. Jojo Yalah Jo (I Lost My Wife)
  7. Nyalomei Luange (Love Me My Love)
  8. African Gospel
  9. Nyalimagotee (The Cornerstone Of My Heart)
  10. Dieman Noba Smoke Tafee (Dead Men Don't Smoke Marijuana)

Liner notes

Once the young S.E. Rogie, like Keith Richards, dreamed of being Jimmie Rodgers, The Yodelling Cowboy. Now he lives in Catford and insists that it’s what’s already inside you that brings happiness. He is a comfortable man. If you ask him what stimulates him in life, apart from music, he’ll lean back a little and state his preferences quite drily, cupping each word with a pause, to make them easier to swallow.

“Sex, Beauty. Soft melodious sounds,” he says.

This is Rogie’s 68th year. At seven he was on his own. “ I happened to find myself with an uncle, 100 miles from my home village, “he says of this crucial episode in his boyhood in Sierra Leone. “And thing’s didn’t go right, so I just jumped out and started fending for myself”. He put himself through school with a sequence of apprenticeships, first as a shoemaker, then as a carpenter, and finally, most tellingly, as a tailor. It was as a tailor that he first heard Palm Wine music. He heard it in his sleep. “I had gone to bed, and I heard this music late in the night and thought I had gone to heaven. When I woke up the next morning I found I was still on earth.”

Further exploration revealed that the music he’d half-heard, half-dreamed had floated to his recumbent ear from the bars of the city. It was a music of gentle conviviality, soaked in the confidential fluids of the small hours, and palm wine. “Palm Wine music is an expression of the day-to-day life of ordinary people, the music of their hearts,” explains Rogie patiently (for this is surely not the first time he has explicated the subtle pleasures of this subtle music). “It tells of their joys, their sorrow, their pleasures and their displeasures. Palm Wine is a milky white liquid tapped from the palm tree. It has two percent alcohol, it is cheap to buy, and it makes a mellow natural high. Now when many people are gathered together by the fire, telling of their lives, some are shy and bashful. But after they take a glass or two of palm wine, it brings them out.

Photo credit: Stephen Lovell-Davis

Sooliman Ernest was transfixed. He began to teach himself guitar after work. Furthermore, he discovered that he had inherited from his mother a singing voice of some plangency. And indeed, early success was such that for a while Rogie was known “The Jimmie Rogers of Sierra Leone”, with imitators and a mellow yodel all his own. But maturity will out, and by his middle twenties Rogie had evolved an individual take on Palm Wine subtle traditions: he introduced electric guitars to the basic acoustic guitar/ percussion Palm Wine configuration, and began to sell records beyond Sierra Leone’s borders in Liberia and Guinea. “My Lovely Elizabeth”, his signiture love ballad, was played on the radio in Britain, Germany and America, and was eventually picked up for distribution by EMI. “Emotions are the same all over the world,” he says now. “The differenceis in the way you express them.” This itchy insight has caused more than one pair of feet to walk.

Rogie duly upped sticks and hit the States in 1973, first to Philadelphia, then to San Francisco, where the ‘60s hippie bloom had wilted a little, but not sufficiently to exclude those of mellow stem. Here Rogie developed his taste for the blues- for John Lee Hooker, BB King, Bobby “Blue” Bland- and copped the irony that, after all, Jimmie Rodgers had only been imitating an album and revived an educational programme for schools he’d first devised in his homeland- the African Folk and Cultural Show. In 1984 he received a congressional award for his efforts.

Four years on, BBC Radio’s Andy Kershaw invited Rogie to Britain, where he rapidly made an impact in the kitchens of the sons and daughter of righteousness. His original intention was to stay for three months, but something clicked. He bought a house in North Finchley, settled to his new cult celebrity and to the conscientious activity of stimulating balmy vapours in a new market. “England is the place for me”, he says now. “I call England hallowed ground, because that’s where I make the most money.” He laughs like a drain.

Silhouetted against a rectangle of grey South Circular sky in his boiling Catford flat, Rogie is both inscrutable and open. He meditates on the subject of human emotion, lifting two fingers from his lap for occasional emphasis, his words crisp in the shade of his even, dark baritone. He despairs of human cruelty. “I have always had a tender, powerful, affectionate feeling towards humanity,” he says. “But people will put the cart before the horse: they will put greed before power and wealth before love for humanity.” By way of further elucidation he pulls out cuttings from the Freetown Daily Mail, which note his recent trip to his home country to play a series of benefit concerts for people displaced by Sierra Leone’s political strife. “My country is in distress. They called on me and I went. It is the greatest thing I have ever done. The politicians, they have all the money but they do nothing. A poor guitar man like me can do something. “His shoulders relax against the rectangle of sky.”This is what sustains me. It’s not because I eat a lot.”

He writes his songs in his head. They form there in the dark like crystals.

“I hear a catchy expression,” he says, “and I pass it on to my subconscious and say, ‘I want a song out of this’, I believe everything useful comes from there, the subconscious mind. It’s the creative power. It creates the song, passes it back to me and says, ‘hey you, take it out. Go use it!’

“This power inside, that’s what makes you a singer, a poet, an author. And it will never dry up. As long as you live.”He’s cooking now.” When you distrust it, when you don’t believe in it, that’s when it dries up. It is in you forever. It is you, it is your life. You can never use enough of it. There’s a huge well of it. When you are lying down and counting the rafters, looking up, and you can’t think what to do because you are so lost or in pain, that’s when the subconscious comes to you and brings you what you need. When you think everything is finished and you finally let go, that’s when it happens. You just have to tap and it will start to flow”.

Rogie spreads his palms slowly and smiles the smile of a sane man. Life’s enigma is to him acceptable because he is prepared to accept it.

Photo credit: Stephen Lovell-Davis


Further Listening

  • Babeti Soukous

    Tabu Ley Seigneur Rochereau

    Released 05 June 1989

    Featuring a selection of the best songs from his huge back catalogue, this recording by the Zairean soukous artist was made one cold night in January, with an audience of friends and invitees dancing and clapping in the minstrel gallery of Real World Studio's Wood Room.
  • Exile

    Geoffrey Oryema

    Released 09 September 1990

    Produced by Brian Eno, this album introduced the world to the struggles of singer-songwriter Geoffrey Oryema, who fled Uganda at a young age following the secret assassination of his father, a government minister. A wistful reflection on the Uganda of Oryema’s youth and the sadness of his exile.

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