Abdul Tee-Jay hails from Sierra Leone although his parents and hence his full name, Tejan-Jalloh, come from Fouta Jalloh in Guinea. At a very young age Abdul learnt to play guitar. At that time there was music coming into the port of Freetown from many different regions such as soukous and high-life, traditional and popular as well as local musicians: Abdul was influenced by all of these sounds and joined local bands. He grew up in an academic environment and in 1974 he went to Virginia USA to study. While there he took the opportunities to learn more guitar, use better instruments, joined a band called Spice and learnt to play the dulcimer.
In 1979 Abdul came to Britain to work in banking but met other musicians and started to play music again. In the beginning, he played in several reggae bands. Later, he and some other Sierra Leonians and Ghanaians formed the band African Connection. The group released 2 EPs with Abdul for Oval Records, but before the 3rd EP was released he left the group because he no longer felt comfortable with the musical direction of the band.
♫ Audio: 1989 – African Connection – Tiembelema – 4:01
While the other band members were going more disco and funk side, Abdul became more interested in a pure African sound. This led to the formation of African Culture in 1982. With African Culture Abdul was looking for a pan-African guitar sound with Zairean, Kenyan and South African influences. Although this worked for a while the sense of direction was eventually lacking. Finally, Abdul decided to go back to his roots and modernize Sierra Leone’s local music – called milo jazz.
In his own words: “That’s it. I’ve got it, and started writing Sierra Leone songs using old folk songs and developing them. So that’s the base of it. I can’t ignore soukous, I can’t ignore highlife, but everything I play should be based on Sierra Leonean music. That was the turning point”.
When he changed the style of music he played, he also changed the name of the band in Rokoto to make it sound more Sierra Leonian. Apart from sounding simple and nice, Rokoto was in those days the place to be in Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone. With it’s market place, bars and a lively nightlife, Rokoto was the nickname for that place. After the formation of Rokoto, the late 1980s saw the most successful period in his musical career. Abdul Tee-Jay and Rokoto, a seven-piece band, brought out 3 albums, Kanka Kuru (1989), Fire-Dombolo (1992) and E’Go Lef Pan You (1997).
ROKOTO on the album Kanka Kuru
Abdul Tee-Jay – lead & rhythm guitars, vocals, keyboards, percussion, drum programming, bass.
‘Zozo’ Shuaibu – bass, vocals.
‘Katos’ Sidik – drums, percussion, vocals.
Sam Maitland – rhythm guitar, percussion, vocals.
David ‘Olo’ Oladunni – percussion, congas.
Colin Graham – trumpet, flugelhorn
Andy Heywood – alto & baritone sax
Whereas Rokoto was primarily an electrically amplified guitar band, from the late 1990s onwards Abdul’s music developed more and more in the direction of traditional accoustic “Palm-Wine” music. This led to the album “Palm Wine A Go-Go” in 2003. In the group with the same name he sings and plays acoustic guitar and has just one or two other musicians on stage with kongoma (bass thumb piano), kondi (thumb piano) and drums.
After Palm Wine A Go-Go, Abdul Tee Jay unfortunately did not release any new albums. However, he still performs with some regularity.