By Yusef Taylor and Patience Loum
The Pan African Network for Artistic Freedom (PANAF) launched its Gambia Chapter on 18th June 2022 at Blaque Magique located in Senegambia. The initiative spearheaded by Selam and Team Gom Sa Bopa “seeks to create a Pan-African inclusive voice for organisations, artists and culture producers defending artistic freedom in the music and film sectors”.
The event featured Live Band musical performances from Killa “Ali Cham” Ace and Mariama Cham, two-panel discussions followed by a dinner networking event. Amongst some of the keynote speakers at the event were the Selam Regional Director Lucy Ilado, National Centre for Arts and Culture (NCAC) Director Hassoum Ceesay and Officer Matty Jobe and the President of the Gambia Music Union Pa Modou Sarre and Cultural Lawyer Sanna Jawara.
Some of the most influential delegates in attendance include the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) Chairperson Emmanuel Joof, Civil Society Advocate Madi Jobarteh, the President of the Gambia Press Union Muhammed MS Bah, National Centre for Arts Director Hassoum Ceesay, and Priscilla Yagu of Women Association for Victims’ Empowerment to name a few.
The PANAF initiative has most recently been launched in Rwanda, Kenya, Zambia, Uganda, and Ethiopia to name a few. This highlights the continental scale of the PANAF movement. The initiative will seek to “share experiences, providing capacity development opportunities, developing and implementing campaigns and other outreach activities”.
During her opening speech, Selam Regional Director, Lucy Ilado told the audience that “the Arts are an enormous asset that provides chances to develop the economy and develop jobs, as a result, we must guarantee that the environment is suitable for creatives to work in and earn. This can only happen if they are able to freely engage in cultural life”.
Ms Illado revealed that the plan is for the PANAF “platform to be used to lobby and dialogue with key government agencies and key influential stakeholders which other members can use to collaborate and utilise opportunities from different creative spaces”. She added that some of the areas in which the project will venture into will include “research, monitoring and documentation of violations and dialogue with government agencies”.
One of the activities will include lobbying for “policy actions for creative expression at National and Regional levels”.
According to the former Arts Journalist, some government officials have already committed to supporting freedom of expression but nobody is there to keep them to account and there’s no follow-up, so there is hope to progress that with the PANAF Gambia Platform.
She spoke about the need for artists to have the proper structures to develop their economic independence and by extension introduce progressive copyright laws and their enforcement.
In her concluding remarks, she posed a question to the audience when she said “the question many grapple with is whether freedom of expression is meant to be complete, allowing for full liberties without boundaries or should it be contained inside a framework with limitations and appropriate codes of conduct? Is the state justified in limiting artistic freedom, we believe that answer differs depending on the society’s social, political and religious environment”.
Speaking to the audience before his performance, Killa Ace thanked all the delegates who attended the event. He then took centre stage with Mariama Cham backing him up and performed Ku Boka Chi Geta Gi and I’m a Victim. Ku Boka Chi Geta Gi was a song which went viral in the Gambia and resulted in his exile to Senegal. The song was banned on the radio and a DJ known as Alhagie Mamut Ceesay was even incarcerated for playing it on the radio. Mariama Cham also performed two songs after the first-panel discussion.
The President of the Gambia Music Union, Pa Modou Sarr spoke on the first panel which focused on Artistic Freedom in the Gambia. Mr Sarr explained how the different artistic associations are formed and how they come together to form the collecting society of the Gambia.
According to Mr Sarr, “what we’re talking about [at the event] has a lot to do with the Collecting Society of the Gambia. Now to be able to have all these artistic associations come together and also to look at an administration that will look at creating a secretariat to collect royalties, intellectual property rights etc”.
NCAC Director Mr Hassoum Ceesay urged artists to make their issue a human rights issue. “I think we the artists what we have been missing is that we have not been as good as the journalists in making our case a human rights case”. This will give artists the base to urge the government to act he said.