The Gambia’s popular artiste passed away in Dakar’s hospital Dantee on Sunday. A night before his sudden death, Musa Ngum and his son Yusupha performed in the Senegalese capital.
In what has become his last interview on earth, Ngum dispelled earlier widely spread rumour on the internet that he had died. “I’m still alive; people will say anything,” he told TFM.
Musa Ngum had earlier squashed similar rumours making the rounds. “I am in good shape, and as I am speaking to you I am on my way to the United Kingdom for a musical trip,” he told The Point, adding that he and son were busy working on a new album.
Ngum, a Mouride disciple, is reported to be buried in the holy city of Touba. Musa is gone to sleep but he will be remembered for his good works to bridge the colonial divide between Gambians and Senegalese. He vowed to wear different colours of shoes as long as the two countries did not unite.
Musa Ngum’s story has been perfectly told by Oko Drammeh in this February 2015 article published by the Daily Observer. Oko is a Gambian music promoter endowed with rich history of artistes in the country and beyond.
The Gold Ngalam Singer – An embodiment of Grace
By Oko Drammeh
Musa Ngum on stage is an explosive, dynamic singer and sparkling showman, and off stage he looks so simple and ordinary, when he holds the microphone in his hand to sing the spirit comes alive and takes over. His voice is hypnotizing, the osculation of the voice fabric has a drug effect that is addictive which can electrify your blood pulse flow straight to your heart and overcome your mind which is far beyond human control.
Born in Fatoto, Kantora District in The Gambia, Musa Afia Ngum became interested in music at a very young age. Because his father was a trader who had to travel often, he was taken care of by a caretaker who was fond of playing a one-stringed guitar instrument. The caretaker used to play this instrument for Musa until he fell asleep. Musa, even in his early years refused to go to bed unless and until the “mola” was played which, looking back, he deems quite mystic.
Musa the Mouride
The Mouride brotherhood (yoonu murit in Wolof, Aariqat al-Muridiyya or simply Muridiyya in Arabic) is a large Islamic Sufi order most prominent in Senegal and The Gambia, with headquarters in the holy city of Touba, Senegal. The followers are called Mourides, from the Arabic word murid (literally “one who desires”), a term used generally in Sufism to designate a disciple of a spiritual guide. The beliefs and practices of the Mourides constitute Mouridism.
The Mouride brotherhood was founded in 1883 in Senegal by Shaykh Amadu Bamba Mbakke, commonly known as Amadou Bamba (1850–1927). In Arabic he is known as Ahmad ibn Muhammad ibn Habib Allah, or Khadimu r-Rasul, “Servant of the Prophet”. In the Wolof language he is called Serin Tuubaa, “Holy Man of Touba”. He was born in the village of Mbacke in the Kingdom of Baol, the son of a marabout from the Qadiriyya brotherhood, the oldest of the Muslim brotherhoods in Senegal.
Amadou Bamba was a Muslim mystic and ascetic marabout, a spiritual leader who wrote tracts on meditation, rituals, work, and Qur’anic study. He is perhaps best known for his emphasis on work, and his disciples are known for their industriousness. Although he did not support the French conquest of West Africa he did not wage outright war on them, as several prominent Tijaan marabouts had done. He taught, instead, what he called the jihad al-‘akbar or “greater struggle,” which fought not through weapons but through learning and fear of God.
Bamba’s followers call him a “renewer” (mujaddid in Arabic) of Islam. Bamba’s fame spread through his followers, and people joined him to receive the salvation that he promised. Salvation, he said, comes through submission to the marabout and hard work, a departure from conventional Islamic teaching.
Musa Ngum in his youth became interested in “Kassak”, songs which are sung during circumcision ceremonies and periods. He became well known in “Kassak” circles because of his mastery of the songs and his melodious voice and in the event built quite a name for himself while developing his vocal abilities.
The purity of his adulthood after jumping the hurdle of manhood was absolute cultural awareness and consciousness. Musa sang songs of community belonging and values. His spiritual emblem in child upbringing and adulthood responsibility made him to write the song “Jarama”, meaning adornment, a classic Kassack song (a Njulie Song) from the Mbarr (House of Wisdom).
This Mbarr is a manhood training center where all ‘Ndongos’ are brought up. Things that you are bound to do for your community. Ndongos are the elite of the youth, they are street-wise and knowledgeable with sign languages and secret codes that only a Ndongo would know. These tricks were used during the enslavement of African as a tool of freedom and escape and it has been used in wars, civil disorder and under siege. The Mbarr (house of Ndongo Knowledge) is a no go area for impostors. Just the entry to the house was tricky: you are greeted with “Shebay fei Na La”.
You have to find a hidden mystery called Shebay, before you can join the Mbarr sitting. You are always welcome by a secret code that you must unravel or you can’t stay, or you face “lengeh” (mangrove plant sticks) in order to be a part of the sitting. This is just the entry point to the Ndongo circle of the wise men in the Mbarr. No one can talk in the Mbarr, all the talking is by singing or spelling out a secret code, there is no noise and no one dare interrupts the procession.
Ambitiously pursuing his music career, Musa joined a group called Sangamarr Band in the late 1960s. He became the group’s lead singer and played together at Sangamarr with the likes of Sam Jarju, Cheks, Pa Alieu Njie, Mbye Jasseh, Pa Ngum and Manka Susso, who was the group’s guitarist. The group specialised in playing famous traditional songs with western instruments. After a while with Sangamarr, Musa was asked by his bigger brother, Lie Ngum, who was then a member of a group called Gelewarr to be their lead singer.
Musa played together in the Gelewarr Band with the late Oussou Lion Njie, the late Njok Malick Njie, the late Adama Sallah, Musa Njie, and Koto Ngum among others. During his Gelewarr days, Musa Ngum recorded songs such as “Tesito”, “Bala Jigi Musa”, “Xaleli Ndakaru” and many more which gained cult status and made him a legend in the Senegambia region. Gelewarr toured The Gambia, Senegal, Mauritania and other West African countries.
Musa’s songs are mostly about the ancient Kingdoms of the Senegambia region in both landscape and cultural unity. He is indeed a musical hero. Musa left The Gambia in 1981 and moved to Senegal. He was assiduously courted by Super Diamono, one of the then premier Senegalese bands and he finally joined the group in 1985. He teamed up with Omar Pene, Maiga, Lamin Faye (Lemso) – the legendary Senegalese guitarist and they released “Borom Daaru” and “Partef” which became Senegambian classics. One of the biggest hits during Musa Ngum’s stint with Super Diamono is the combination song he did with Omar Pene which is popularly known as “Omaro, Bamba sa mam la”.
When Super Diamono disbanded three years later, Musa joined the short-lived group Ndaply and then went solo with his “Banjul Banjul” release and has since released a total of six cassette decks (Cds). He used only traditional Senegambian instruments. One feature a lot find it hard to believe is that the bass line is not an electric bass guitar but a traditional instrument known as the “Balafong”. He was awarded one of the highest honours in Senegal, Chevalier of the National Order of The Lion, by the then Senegalese President Abdou Diouf.
Musa was invited by the Gambian president to come back home in 1997 and he has since lived in the country. In a nutshell, Musa Ngum is a superstar, songwriter and producer who, to a large extent, ushered in the era of artist controlled close harmony in popular music.
Musa is very devoted and passionate about his singing. He was the hero of Super Diamano of Senegal. He was the main attraction and the crowd puller for the band but he was a threat for the band’s way of gaining reorganisation in the Senegalese class system.
Senegal has not been known as a Revolutionary African ideological country due to their own version of Africanism based on Negritude and subjecting World Festival of Negro Arts with the degrading term “Negro” for presenting Black Africans. They were threatened with the songs and lyrics of Musa and the band sidelined him while he was their main crowd-puller and a neck-to-neck challenge and concurrent to Youssou Ndour in the Dakar music scene.
They substituted him to Omar Pene and Maiga because of his African Revolutionary principles, political awareness and spiritual lyrics. The band decided to make him a substitute and reduced his role to one or two songs in every concert. Musa said that we have been made indifferent by colonialism and we have lost our cultural unity to the French and the English until we are sometimes engaged in mud throwing at each other. He once said that he will not wear the same colour of socks with his shoes until Senegambia is unified again as a symbol of defiance.
He has his relatives in Afdie (Halfdie) the southern side of Banjul. Afdie settlement was like Soweto in South Africa. In the past, one policeman alone does not patrol in Banjul South. If one does, the ndongos will seize you, disarm you and take away your gear for their own use against the police in strikes, bogus arrest and functions of discontent.
The colonial laws were directed to intimidate Afdie residents (Gambians) in trying to turn them into colonial inferior subjects and to throw away our culture, language and religion and adapt western culture. These laws were to dehumanize and to demoralize the especially Gambians but Afdie challenged these laws and became the fortress and the bedrock of the Gambia-Pan African Revolution until Gambia gained her Independence from Great Britain in 1965.
The Afdie Ndongo and other spread out Ndongo youth groups were antiestablishment and anti-British and it extended to anti colonialism and imperialism in Africa. They also recognised and spotted the collaborators with the establishment and disallowed collaborators into ndongo circles. They all passed the test of manhood and have jumped the hurdle of adulthood. They encountered during initiation and to graduate to become a ndongo is torturous and fierce and to learn the codes and signs is like joining the illuminate.
The Ndongos were the first Gambians to travel abroad through stowaway in European Commercial and merchant ships and well do trader families. They lived mainly in England around Hampstead, Brixton, Manchester, London East End & West End and everywhere they go they ruled.
A Ndongo boy is always a well-dressed gentleman, in suites and flying ties, a walking stick and felt-hat. A Ndongo will win and gain victory by any means necessary for his community and will never present to his colleagues what is not his. A ndongo never betray a fellow ndongo and ease drop .Whatever they think is rightly theirs they will take it from the rich and give it to the poor including widows, orphans and the disable.
Musa Ngum is a ndongo, a professional musician and one of the world’s best singers musically. Musa is not a materialist and do not have a Manson or a fancy car to prove his point but he has soul and he is modest. The sick concept of possession do not bother him or attract his attention, it has no place in his spiritual world.
He could have been singing Reggae and Soul working as a night club singer but he refrain from that and want to become an icon and a legend in promoting Gambia’s original music and striving for a national cultural identity through music. He is a visionary preserving and promoting Gambia’s golden heritage.
Blessed with an exceptionally wide range that encompassed three distinct vocal styles, a piercing falsetto, a smooth mid-range tenor, and a deep Griot growl, Musa combined great technical prowess with rare musical individuality. Rebellious by nature, he turned the tables on Gelewarr Band hierarchy by becoming his own producer for “SAMA YAI DEM NA NDARR” the most significant work of his career. A suite of Madina Sabac influenced songs on the nature of Africa’s political and social woes, this concept album still a novel format in this time painted a poignant landscape of Gambia’s Wollof urban neighbourhoods.
Musa also displayed dazzling virtuosity by overdubbing (building sound track by track onto a single cassette tape) his own voice three or four times to provide his own rich harmony, a technique he would employ for the rest of his career. “ARTIST DU DANU” was a critical and commercial sensation in spite of the fact that Musa feared his political discontent (and his stand against the Negligence of Gambian Musicians. Other major artists most importantly Omar Pene, Momodou Maiga and Ismail Lo followed Musa’s lead and acted as producer of their own efforts.
Musa gave his spirit, his life, his thoughts, aspiration and the purpose of existence by being a force in our country. We as a people cannot let our inventors and great thinkers forge a life for themselves. When they are alive, we act as if they are not important but when they die we state to celebrating them.