By Ousainou Mbenga
The role that music plays in the African liberation struggle against exploitation and oppression has suffered a relative set back in recent years. But the set up for a revolutionary come back is evident in the message of the Democratic Union of Gambian Activists – DUGA’S anthem (Notange) by “Djiexi Production and Against Impunity by Djilly Bagdad, Xuman and co. denouncing Jammeh’s tyranny. We are in the process of cultivating the grounds to bring forth revolutionary insights in the creation of music that sings about our social conditions as oppose to praise singing individuals whose actions clearly retard the national consciousness of our society. The entire society must resist against sycophancy but the artists in particular must not allow themselves to stoop so low that, “praise singing” becomes their trademark. The great artist – historian –kora lyricist, Lalo Kebba Drammeh said it best: “Keeyaa, Ni balanta Kuu mina, Ebang Wulenke (A person must stick to his/her principles to the end).
Every resistance movement in Africa, the black community in the U.S and all over the Caribbean use music as a weapon to fight back and to express our disgust against the wretched social conditions we live under.
It is for these wretched social conditions in the Gambia that we criticized the artists like Mutabaruka, Erykah Badu and Sizzla for participating in the “Rootless” 11th annual Roots Homecoming Festival.
From the Nigerian front, the indomitable and uncompromising Fela Anikulapo Kuti inspired oppressed people all over the world with his melodic Afro Beat. His classic “Buy Africa” will forever be the best tribute to mother Africa. Fela’s caustic denunciation of the brutish ignorance of the Nigerian military and the elite it defends made him one of the greatest musicians of his time and into the future of protest music.
Emerging from the Ghanaian front, the Ramblers Jazz Band uplifted our spirit and desire to celebrate the union of Ghana, Guinea and Mali, the prelude to continental unity. Bembeya Jazz National stormed the Guinean front with anti – colonial songs still etched in the memory of that generation. The great Salif Keita and others emerged from the Malian front fusing traditional and modern music to international acclaim.
From the Sene-Gambian front; Super Eagles Band, which later became Ifangbondi Band,Jelewar band, Ouza in Senegal and countless traditional singers championed the cultural unity of African people through music, song and dance. In the Gambia, the Jawara regime – Peoples Progressive Party made “Asiko” music an effective propaganda weapon against its adversaries. Although confined to the “politics of insults” against opponents, the ingenious rhythms of “Asiko” music kept many villages and towns dancing late into the night.
As a pupil teacher at Sinchu Njabo Primary School in the North Bank, I can attest to one of the best, if not the best “Asiko” group in the Gambia at that time. The Bantabaa at Sara Kunda was the center for these late into the night jam sessions which brought crowds from the neighboring villages of Kani Kunda, Pallen and the small Njabo village. My memory is failing me with the last names of the two lead male singers named (Momodou), but I remember one Alhagie Kolley as drummer, one Fatou Kolley and Sallie Bana as chorus singers. Indeed, one of Gambia’s greatest percussionist and drummer, the late Malang Gassama (Malando), who also became an international performer, got his beginnings from playing “Asiko.
I also heard Kukoi Samba sanyang said he played the “siko” in his youth at P.P.P rallies. Unfortunately, brother Kukoi is no longer with us (RIP). It may have been that Kukoi would have liked to play a role in the rebirth of “Asiko” but this time around with a revolutionary trajectory.
Here is the opportunity for the likes of “sering dara” Badou Jobe and Kunun Jarjuteh (Senemi), the Ngum brothers and son and all the surviving pioneers to offer their wisdom and experience in this process of starting a new beginning in revolutionary music and the arts.
From the Congolese front emerged the pulsating rhythm of OK Jazz, Dr. Nico and Joseph Kabassele – Le Grande Kalle. His classic song “Independence Cha Cha” became the national anthem of the pre – independence movement in the Congo but reverberated throughout the continent and beyond. Just across the colonial divide in Congo Brazaville, Franklin Boukaka sings the pain of mother Africa in his eternal song “Aye Africa”. Still within the heart of Africa, Manu Dibango and countless others left their indelible marks on the role of music in the African liberation struggle. The Northern front was equally aflame in protest music, even though expressed in Arabic.
From the frontline states (Angola, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Namibia and Azania (South Africa) –
With Guinea – Bissau included, protest music lived in the streets and battlefields against the colonial settlers. Battle cry songs inspired and motivated our combatants during those horrifying years of Apartheid, Portuguese and German aggression. The legendary Hugh Masekela, Mariam Makeba, and countless others became a thorn on the side of apartheid. The legendary “Osibisa”, a composition of band members from Ghana, Trinidad, Grenada, Antigua and Nigeria impressed Kwame Nkrumah, who bid them farewell on one of their world tour with these word: “don’t let them split you , boys”.
Across the waters from the mother land, Africans in that small island of Jamaica hit planet earth with the greatest musical invention of the 20th century called Reggae music, also characterized as REBEL MUSIC! Musical giants sprouted all over the island into admirable icons of resistance against colonial and imperialist aggression. From the Wailers (Peter, Bob and Bunny) to Jimmy Cliff; from the Up setters to Steel Pulse; from Linton Kwesi Johnson (LKJ) to Mutabaruka, Reggae music inspired and increased our fighting capacity against our oppressive living conditions.
But before the advent of Reggae music, Calypso music was the trail blazer of protest music in the Caribbean against the colonial conditions of Africans and other oppressed people trapped under the colonial yolk. The Mighty Sparrow, Lord Kitchener and many more upheld the genius of calypso music.
Still across the waters, the black community in the U.S has historically been a reservoir and a hot bed of inspirational music against oppression. Fighting the power became the anthem of the black community until the resurgence of Hip – Hop music. A list of the musical giants that spear headed this protest music will stretch from the shores of James Town, Virginia to the banks of the river Gambia. But suffice to say, the giants of Rhythm and Blues, Jazz and Soul music laid the foundation of international protest music. A classic in case was “say it Loud am black and am proud” by the unforgettable James Brown.
Since the attainment of “flag independence”, about half a century ago, African liberation music has been undermined by commercial and unscrupulous- for – profit music that hardly benefits the artists. The existence of the neocolonial state makes matters worst for artists in particular and the general creative power of the nation. In fact the neocolonial state is responsible for blunting the edges of our revolutionary aspirations for meaningful change and prosperity in the arts and science.
A CALL TO MOBILIZE AND INSPIRE!
This is the clarion call to all Gambian artists, particularly the musicians, traditional and “modern” to join the movement to heighten our national consciousness through revolutionary music. The young and coming artists like:
Sulayman Jammeh (Daddy Bostin)
Gibou Balla Gaye
Pa Madateh Mboob
To all of the above rappers, traditional groups and those I am not aware of, a new beginning is in the making in our beloved Gambia, we are cultivating the grounds for your skills to flourish, don’t sit on the sidelines and let it pass you by.
We also call on former artists such as Alhagie Mustapha Faye, a founding member of the former “Lebidor Band”, promoters like Oko Drammeh, Tata Nding Nding, Pepper House Crew and Buba Jammeh to rekindle their musical talents in the direction of the revolutionary path of resistance music and arts. Our one and only Jalibaa Kuyateh can also join the musical resistance movement to preserve the historical significance of the “Kora” instrument into eternity.
CREATE RESISTANCE MUSIC! NOT PRAISE SINGING!