History of Gambia Music

by 09/11/2012 11:45:00 0 comments 1039 Views

The Gambia is a West African country closely linked musically with its neighbor, Senegal. Griots, (also known as Jelis), a kind of hereditary praise-singer, are common throughout the region, a legacy of the ancient Mande Empire. Gambian Griots often play the kora, a 21 string harp.


Modern ethnic Mande in The Gambia are called the Mandinka, and they make up around 36 per cent of the country's population. The region of Brikama has produced some very famous musicians, including Amadou Bansang Jobarteh and Foday Musa Suso. The latter founded the Mandingo Griot Society in New York City in the 1970s, bringing Mande music to the New York avant-garde scene and collaborating with Bill Laswell, Philip Glass and the Kronos Quartet.

Gambian popular music began in the 1960s, when The Super Eagles and Guelewar formed while hip bands were playing American, British and Cuban music. The Super Eagles went to London in 1977, appearing on Mike Raven's Band Call. They played merengue and other pop genres with an African flourish, including Wolof lyrics and minor stylistic elements. After the performance, the band began jamming out some traditional tunes and an unknown man heard, told the group that that was the style they should be playing. This inspired the group to return to their country's musical roots, and they spent two years travelling around The Gambia and studying traditional music. The reformed band was called Ifang Bondi, and their style was Afro-Manding blues.

Gambian Laba Sosseh was a significant presence in the African and New York salsa scene. Sosseh, who relocated to Dakar, Senegal as a teenager, spent his entire career outside of the Gambia.

Civil unrest caused Ifang Bondi and most Gambian musicians to emigrate to countries like the Netherlands, decimating the nascent music industry. Today, Jaliba Kuyateh and his Kumareh band is the most popular exponent of Gambian Mandinka music. There is also a thriving Gambian hip hop scene.

Former Ifang Bondi musician Juldeh Camara has been working with Justin Adams since 2007 and has been touring all over the world.

Also from Ifang Bondi, Musa Mboob and Ousman Beyai have started a new group XamXam which started with a project in The Gambia to produce new music by taking six musicians based in the UK to The Gambia to work with top musicians from four different tribal backgrounds. Ousman Beyai moved to the UK where he worked with Musa Mboob to set up the live band XamXam.

Modern Cultural Fusions

Bafila, which literally mean "Two Rivers Flowing as One" is a band composed of griots maestros Amadu Diabarte, Jali Bakary Konteh and a Canadian Greig Jatoo. Bafila is representative of a new breed of Gambian music which fuses various cultural influences and rhythms to create a modern acoustic masterpiece.