Gambian music in the doldrums


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By D. A. Jawo

Nowadays, hardly a month goes by without one Senegalese musical group or the other going to perform in the Gambia, and invariably, all their shows are sold out. While some of us are complaining that these Senegalese musicians are raking up so much money from the country, including the open generosity often being shown to them by President Jammeh, apparently soliciting their songs in praise of him, but one would wonder how many of us have ever sat down to analyze why such a situation has arisen.

Once upon a time, Gambian musicians were in high demand in Senegal. Those of us old enough can remember how the Super Eagles used to be frequent visitors to such places like Kaolack , Dakar and St. Louis and their music was quite in high demand in those places.  For instance, Radio Syd was then even more popular across the border in Senegal than it was in the Gambia in the 1970s and early eighties.

It was also then quite the norm for young Senegalese musicians to come to the Gambia to get oriented by more experienced Gambian musicians. In fact many of them used their sojourn in the Gambia as a stepping stone to fame and success. We can, for instance, recall how a person like Ouza Diallo and his band spent most of their time in the 1970s in the Gambia, based mostly at the Bamboo Night Club in Serekunda.

Of course, with the socio-linguistic similarities of the two countries, it would not be easy to separate the people’s musical tastes, but at least we certainly never bargained for this sort of cultural eclipse we seem to be experiencing today from our neighbours. In fact the dominance is so obvious that in all the radio stations, including the GRTS, as well as in night clubs and other social events, one hears more Senegalese music than Gambian lyrics, apparently because a majority of the people prefer the more melodious Senegalese tunes to those songs in praise of President Yahya Jammeh, on which most Gambian musicians now seem to specialize.

Therefore, in view of the sorry state that Gambian music finds itself today, it is necessary to diagnose what actually went wrong which brought us to this state of affairs. No doubt due to the usual complacency of Gambians in almost everything we do, as well as so many other derivative factors, the more innovative Senegalese have not only completely dominated us but they now seem to outshine us in almost every aspect. With such a lackadaisical approach to everything by us Gambians, one would wonder how President Jammeh can transform this country into the ‘economic super-power of Africa’ that he is making so much noise about.

Of course it would be quite wrong for anyone to aver that this phenomenon of Senegalese dominance of the music scene only happened during the AFPRC/APRC administration, because the decline commenced well before that. We can recall how cabinet ministers of the PPP regime also used to frequently organize shows with prominent Senegalese musical groups like Super Etoile of Youssou Ndour and the Medina Sabach group, spending so much money in the process.

However, everyone would agree that the situation today is much worse than it had ever been.  Things have deteriorated so much that nowadays, hardly anyone takes Gambian musicians with the seriousness and respect that they deserve, apparently because some of them seem to have sold their souls for the crumbs they get from President Jammeh. Virtually all new songs being composed in the country today are in praise of President Jammeh’s virtues and benevolence as if he alone is responsible for whatever is good in this country.

It is however unfair for anyone to conclude that all those who compose songs in praise of President Jammeh are doing so in order to get money or sponsorship from him, there are other compelling factors which warrant such a situation. One such factor is the very fact that the GRTS TV being the sole television channel in the country, only those who compose songs in praise of President Jammeh stand any chance of being aired on TV or even invited to official functions. Therefore, as it is the aim of every musician to get featured on TV, some of them are compelled to toe the line in order to get their share of the limelight.

Therefore, as long as this unfair monopoly of the public media by President Jammeh and his small circle of sycophants persists, Gambian music as well as several other aspects of our development potentials will continue to remain in the doldrums.


Link to list of Gambian musicians: 

Editor’s note: And we ask where is the youth and cultural promotion President Jammeh is boasting about?


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