The young Salia therefore went in search of his father whom he finally found at Boajibu in the Sembaru Chiefdom. He expressed his desire for education and his father promised that he would indeed “send him to school.” He then proceeded to give young Salia an accordion and said, “This is your school.”
Salia embarked on his musical career at the behest of his father who was also an accordionist. In lieu of the British-style education offered by the country’s colonial government, Koroma studied music under the guidance of a number of his father’s apprentices.
He struck out on his own in his early twenties, moving from town to town under the patronage of a succession of Mende chiefs. Implicit in such relationships was the creation of praise songs to honor the patron, but Koroma also performed traditional Mende folk music and other songs he composed based on his observations of life.
Always searching for knowledge and true to the spirit of minstrels, Salia was constantly on the move. He eventually ended up in Freetown where he joined the Sierra Leone Police Force until the outbreak of the Second World War. Up to this day, Salia remembers distinctly that his number in the police force was 377.
Gradually, Salia’s reputation began to spread, first in Mendeland and later all over Sierra Leone. He travelled from place to place entertaining chiefs and people with his stories and songs. After serving several chiefs, he moved to Rotifunk where he was court entertainer to Chief Albert Caulker for some time. After his stay in Rotifunk, he moved to Moyamba to work for the famous Chief Julius Gulama.
Koroma rose to national prominence in the 1950s when, in an effort to expand its library of indigenous music, the Sierra Leone Broadcasting Service invited him to the capital, Freetown, to record some of his songs for broadcast. Copies of the tapes fell surreptitiously into the hands of a transplanted Nigerian named Jonathan Adenuga who had just opened a recording studio in Freetown. Adenuga issued the songs as 78 RPM discs on his Nugatone label, thus earning Koroma a second payday for the same work. Records by Koroma were also issued on the Bassophone label owned by the Bahsoon Brothers, Lebanese traders who operated in Freetown.
Salia was bitterly disappointed at first, but on the insistence of his father he settled down to playing the accordion “to the warriors and not for Europeans.” From then on, Salia took his “education” seriously. Through hard work, determination and an innate poetic talent, he taught himself to play the accordion. Although his father was a renowned accordionist himself, Salia learnt by his own experience. He spoilt many accordions in the process but his father always bought him a new one.
“Let Me Fish for Our Father!”: During one of these absences the uncles, charged to look after him and his mother while his father was away plying his trade, refused to enrol young Salia at one of the many mission schools that were sprouting all over Mendeland whilst registering their own sons (and enrolment would’ve been mainly male in those days). Salia felt the unfairness deeply and, believing that his father would remedy the situation once he was made aware of it, he upped sticks and went in search of his father. Yes, such was the thirst for knowledge in Salia even as a boy! Even as a boy, he was already on the move! (Another retelling has the father coming to remove the son from school.)
How could he have anticipated the deception awaiting him in Kpoijebu where he found his father? When Salia put his request to his father, Boboi decided to satisfy his son’s desire for learning and knowledge by simply thrusting an accordion into the boy’s hands and telling him to get on with it. His boy was going to become, like himself, a minstrel to the “warriors of Mendeland.”