When Demba Conta, the Gambia’s reggae music star, left his homeland in the 70s he had no idea what future holds for him or where his destiny lies. But one thing he never forgets was his Why. Why did he leave his country and her sweet culture and way of life.
Born in Niani Yona in Central River Region, Demba felt the need to search for his dreams of catering for his mother and siblings elsewhere. He took the perilous Europe journey on foot. Nothing would stand on his way. Not even homelessness and hunger because he had his Why buried in his chest. Demba’s beliefs in religion and culture which both encourage hard work, sharing and caring overshadowed him. It has won him countless friends and admirers in countries where he was the lone Mandinka speaker. His jailing on flimsy reasons in the Bahamas turned into blessings for him. Every inmate wanted to share jail with the first African they had set eyes on. All of them, including murderers on life sentence, bowed down to Demba and cried when he was leaving the jail.
Demba saw salvation in music, drawing passion from his childhood days when he would dodge to attend siko [Mandinka drumming riddled with classic parables]. First, he grabbed the opportunity to learn and write English before embarking on disk jockeying in Swedish night clubs. He became a household name.
Demba later travelled to Jamaica to learn the secrets of reggae music. He drank with the same cup with renowned Jamaican reggae stars who helped him produce his sensational United States of Africa album. This album exposed the Gambia to the world.
Many Gambians have travelled abroad but lost touch with their culture and country. Fortunately, Demba is not one of them. He came to the Gambia to showcase his music talents and to promote his roots after many years. Conta played in Mccarthy (now Jan Jan Bureh), Bansang and Soma to raise funds for sports and youth development. And in one of his Bansang shows, the crowd became so large that Demba Conta asked gates to be wide open. Demba brings music culture into his Camara Conta family of royal origin. His wife Susan and children – Edi, Sunjatta and Iman – have become musicians.
Demba’s good intentions for his country would not be realised in a dictatorship that killed the goose that lays the golden egg. Like most Gambians, he too got his share of the dictator’s wrath. Demba also used his influence and resources in the fight to dislodge Yahya Jammeh from power. The reggae star’s new goal is to focus his children’s attention on the Gambia, which is he arrived home with his entire family on Tuesday.
“This trip centers around Iman who has exceptional music skills and achievement. We have 10 of her types with Gambian origin in Sweden whose attention need to be focused on the Gambia. I cannot imagine the benefits these people can bring into the Gambia,” Demba tells Kairo Radio.
Gambians in their thousands welcomed the Conta family home with drumming and dancing, singing “Demba Conta came to make us happy.” This is the type of welcome our Stars deserve. The Contas deserve what they have tirelessly worked for. The trip is essential for Iman who wants to visit the woods where her father had crush with leopards during his childhood days in Yona.