Throughout the history of Mankind, music has been an integral part of our deals; sort of a therapy. In times of happiness and sorrow, people have always turned to music for consolation and in some cases ‘avenge’ their hurt (diss tracks?) and show grievances when they have little means to undo their circumstances. In the time of the Pharoah, Moses (through God) and the believers went to the Pharoah to demand that the oppressed subjects be let loose. These Israelites were said to have sang ‘Let my people go!’ At the time perhaps, ‘Dictatorship’ might not have been coined but oppression, tyranny and slavery were at their heights.
During Slavery, the Africans that were packed like sardines and shipped to the Americas in chains (hello Kunta Kinteh) and forced to work on plantations among other things, devalued and stripped off their human dignity, attempted to run away from their misery by all means including committing suicide. For those who were not able to escape that bondage, had everything taken away from them but their voices. Thus, they used their voices to ‘sing their troubles away’. Without instruments, in beautifully rhythmic music, they composed impromptu songs that all would find ‘solace’ in. They had that Universal language in music that despite the evident language barriers, they communicated on those fields. Try listen to ‘Hoe Emma Hoe’. And while at it, do see the role of music and artists in the Civil Rights struggle in the United States. The fight against segregation and all vices that came with it were not just in the courts. The ‘strugglers’ had no weapons but they had voices so loud and piercing as spears.
Fast forward to as recently as in the 70s and 80s, the South African Zulus showed the world that there is strength in words so they sang the best hymns and songs that would rattle the most heartless of all. We all watched ‘Sarafina’ and saw how the students got gunned down in the streets armed with nothing but tough hearts and songs, in what became known as the Sharpeville Massacre. The rest is history.
So to man, music has not only been a source of entertainment but a subtle yet powerful instrument for political leaders to firm their grip on power. Music has been a thing that oppressive leaders use as propaganda tool, to oil their machinery in an attempt to mask the ills of society that are a result of their ineptitude. It has been their bait for the naïve and the unconcerned. That is why we have seen Dictators like our very own Dr. President Jammeh, showering artists and entertainers with exorbitant amount of cash in foreign currencies while the ferries are stuck in the waters with endangered Gambian lives, hospital structures with no medications forcing patients to be flown out of the country and the unfortunate ones die of curable sicknesses while him and his family enjoy the luxury of first class medical treatments in the world’s finest hospitals. We might think he’s been generous but it is far from it. He calculatedly knows that his gains far outweigh the cost for him personally. While the nation ails, deprived of the needed cash or resources inducements in critical sectors, the president is paying for his image to be cleansed OUTSIDE the country and in some cases inside. Call Sizzla, Erykah Badu, Thione Seck to play for a weekend in Banjul and have the few thousand youths be happy, then on Monday night knock down their doors and snatch their parents before them to be tortured or never be seen again? Do the math to see if that weekend of ‘fun’ and entertainment is worth it. This is the reason concerned Gambians who see through this trajectory, are refusing to allow these artists play the ‘ignorant ball’ and claim ‘we are not familiar with their political landscape’. From Beyonce, 50 Cent, J-Lo to Mariah Careh, that’s what they all claim.
This is why I was shocked to have heard one of the brightest talents in the Gambian music industry call us names and our efforts a BS, when some of us took to twitter to inform Erykah Badu of what prevails in the country. Gibou (Gee) Balla-Gaye undoubtedly is one of the biggest acts in Banjul. I was in the Gambia when he launched his album ‘That Feeling’. I capped five copies of it. I met him at the Village in Senegambia, congratulated him and told him how I am a fan of his. And I meant it. In a piece published my Whats-On Gambia captioned “Gee goes nuts on political activists in the Diaspora…and Erykah Badu’s manager writes to What’s On-Gambia”, Gee was quoted to have said “Fight your politics with whatever, but not our music industry… Going through my tweets and this BS about Erykah Badu not to come to Gambia is pissing me off. Only people saying issh are either on exile or did something here and can’t come back.’ Basically it was the same thing he’s told me when I engaged him on twitter a couple of nights ago. Granted, Gee like any of us, have a right to his opinion and/or political beliefs. He could support any political party of his choice. However, I was disappointed with his line of reasoning and his retorts after I’d told him that Erykah and these artists are exploiting Africans through our awful leadership by using our dictators as Cash Cows. Here is some of that twitter exchange:
Our brother Gee is looking at this ‘waste of time’ as denying him and the fans an opportunity to see their stars, and that artists ‘have bills to pay’’. I put it to him that artists have responsibility to the people and society and only because one needs to eat does not mean that the source of that money shouldn’t matter. I wouldn’t murder or rob an innocent man in the name of paying my bills. In the Gambia, we are brought up to know better. Artists have serious responsibility to use that mic and stage to impact positively and not be conveyors, entrenchers of oppression. Legacies get stained or tarnished. Gee and I wrapped up our conversation on this note:
There is one thing that most of us engaging these artists are interested in. Contrary to the belief that we are denying Gambians the chance to have fun, we have no problem with Independent, Private promoters inviting International Artists to the Gambia. Far from it! For decades, artists have been coming to the Gambia and some of us did attend those shows. Our issue has been with Artists being invited by the President or Government agencies on outrages bills, used as political propaganda to promote the bartered image of a president holding one of the most embarrassing human rights records at the expense of our citizens. These artists who from the airport, go to some luxurious Hotel, to the performance venue, audience with the president never get to see or know You and I’s Gambia. They rake in thousands of dollars that they normally wouldn’t have earned in a year, would fly back and start promoting as if the Gambia is a paradise when ordinary Gambians would look over their shoulders any time they want to cough. A life of fear and intimidation all Gambians live is been sold to the world in gold-coated cases through some washed up artists. The ROOTS HOMECOMING as we knew it has been politicized thus defeating its essence. Kunta Kinta who hailed from Juffureh in the Nuimis, has absolutely NOTHING to do with Jammeh and Kanilai. If it weren’t for politics, how did Kanilai win the bid to have the Homecoming snatched from Juffureh?
The Gambian youth have to understand that we are on the same side with them. We have a shared purpose. We want a better Gambia. We are seeing beyond the surface of things to stick our necks out there for the country we all love dearly. Contrary to charges alleged my Gee, a good number of voices of dissent are not asylees and have no personal issues with the President or his government. We see the Gambia and her anomalies and understand that the repressive political environment would not allow Gambians on the ground to raise their voices against barbarity, disappearances and corruption. Already, we have heard excuses from the Gambia youth saying” I am Not a politician and Not in to Politics” forgetting that EVERYTHING around them today is as political as it gets. Politicians are making decisions for you and in your name, and the laws that they promulgate determine how much of your freedom gets garnished. If, understandably our youth are not able to say or do anything, we please ask that they do not turn against their brothers and sisters, to fall for the regime’s rhetoric charges that we are enemies of the country. That is what they want you to believe. We are not the ones picking you up in the middle of the night. We are not the ones not creating employment opportunities. We are not the ones grabbing your lands and pushing you out of your small businesses. From outside the borders of the Gambia, our ‘struggle’ has not only been cyber warring to make noises, we aim to impact and move the Gambia forward. Something President Jammeh and his regime are not able to do after two decades. Certainly someday, when this fight is over, we’d get to appreciate that we’ve all contributed in laying a brick in the ushering in of a free, democratic Gambia that’d be free of terror and injustice. All efforts are valuable.
Until then, we unashamedly and unapologetically remain defiant to allow Jammeh ruin Gambian lives and waste our resources on frivolous things. In this tech age, we are determined to use all necessary tools available especially social media, in reaching out to all concern to highlight the plight of the Gambians.
For The Gambia Our Homeland!