Tuesday, December 5

Fula Gangstar & Stargirl: Genie out of the bottle

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By Talib Gibran

In 2009, I strolled to the Serekunda market intending to buy a pair of black tennis shoes as a requirement at Nusrat school and, if I could have some change, buy a few novels as well. I started that year reading at a pace never seen before in my life. The school syllabus novels were not enough, so I searched for good literature elsewhere. There used to be small shops that sold everything in Serekunda, including novels. The items would usually come in through a container from Europe and the store owner would cram everything outside for interested buyers. All you had to do was scour through the variety of items on display and pick your choice. If you needed a book, you would usually be in luck because the storekeeper would heap all the books in one place; fiction, memoir, science and comic. The danger for teenage readers at the time was that the shopkeeper wouldn’t even know the content of the books on sale. Nothing interested him more than just getting rid of the books as quickly and as cheaply as possible. When I reached there, I checked one shop which had about 20 books spread on a cement paper outside. I picked them one at a time and carefully read their titles and sometimes few lines in the first chapter just to see if the book would pique my interest. The difference now is that I don’t just pick any book and read it. I would usually be aware of the book and be interested before even trying to read it. Things were quite complicated at the time because the only books you would probably know about before reading them were those in your school syllabus. Having painstakingly raked through the pile of books as if I was searching for coded messages on a treasure hunt, I chose three books and the storekeeper gifted me a fourth. That was probably 300 pages originally but half of the pages were missing while the edges of some pages were visibly eaten by mice or termites, whichever ones were in the home of the original book owner in Europe. I almost returned it to him instantly but I thought it would be rude and, if I didn’t find it useful at all, I could just use it to lit fire and brew early morning attaya. I paid not more than D40 for all three books. Yeah, I know, it was a book wanterr. I grabbed the books, forced them into a small-sized plastic bag I went with and trekked back to Bundung as nightfall crept in. When I reached home, it was the first book I took out of the plastic bag and put the rest in my carton, which was essentially my bookshelf all throughout senior school. I wanted to make a quick decision on the naked book. Since most of the pages were missing, I randomly picked one chapter and started reading it while squatting over the carton. There was no cover or back picture. No prologue or epilogue. No foreword or acknowledgement. Whoever tore the pages out in Europe was brutal. It is Europe’s own Bakary Manneh, who leads the demolition squad knocking down stalls of people on the roads. In that moment, I didn’t even care about knowing the title of the book. I just wanted to quickly confirm that it was rubbish before throwing it in the bin or into the fire. You can call it confirmation bias. So, I started. After two paragraphs, it dawned on me that whatever I was reading had adult content. I had to make another quick decision; stop or continue. I was curious. I was intrigued. I stopped for a moment and checked the title. Luckily, despite the damage, the title was repeated on top of each page. That was quite ingenious of the author, so I thought. Title: Emmanuelle. It was a quick decision. I sat, leaned on the wall and restarted the chapter. The book, or whatever was left of it, contained a series of explicit erotic fantasies in which a bisexual married woman had intimate relations with several unknown men and women on her trip to Bangkok, Thailand. In one sitting, I read it twice and the rest of the times I would just skip to the parts I wanted to read again either to admire the flowery language or the thrills in the sexual content. Instead of making the book available to others like we used to do, I kept this one in my bag so I didn’t have to share the pleasure or the embarrassment if anyone found out. For months after, I walked into almost every bookstore I saw on the road just to look for Emmanuelle. I mean the full Emmanuelle with all the pages but I could not find it anywhere. It was my first real taste of erotic literature and I loved it to bits. What I am trying to say is that, yes, I stumbled on the book but reading it multiple times was a decision I made. I didn’t criticize the author for writing such an obscene book just because it ran contrary to my own weak morals. The morals, I must add, which were instilled in me using force.

In the spirit of erotic literature, like I did Emmanuelle more than ten years ago, I equally stumbled on a one-minute freestyle video of Fula Gangstar and a supposed dancehall queen I was hearing or seeing for the very first time: Stargirl, raitabon raitabon. A star indeed. This time, too, I watched the clip multiple times. It was Emmanuelle 2.0. There was nothing in the clip which I didn’t hear before. Except, of course, five or ten rounds. In Stargirl, Fula Gangstar has met a Jola Gangstar. Like the clip or not, there’s so much talent in the girl which should flourish rather than tamed. I have seen the outrage on social media with some demanding ban on Fula’s music or this specific one and that he’s getting out of hand. No, he is not. This is art. Sex is a mute experience, sort of. Singing about it is just making verbal sense of it. Music, like any other art, is littered with obscenities. I just mentioned Emmanuelle and there are worse books, even paintings, sculptures. Sex is somehow inextricably linked to art and like a brilliant writer put it so brilliantly, don’t be too stingy to flirt with your audience. Seduce them and, to some extent, turn them on. There are millions of individuals who cannot turn people on even if they touch them. I believe the musicians are only turning you on. Resist, if you are not ready.

Selective outrage, yes. That was all it is. We all listened to rappers from America and dancehall artists from Jamaica. Not only are their lyrics dirty, the dance is dirtier and we religiously follow and copy them. Music is haram, no? You still listen. So, don’t bother if the content is obscene or gospel. I encourage Fula Gangstar and Stargirl to sing as much obscene stuff as possible. We all agree that traditions and religions hinder artistic freedom. If your religion forbids you to do something and you still choose it as your profession, don’t have any breaks. Explore your talent. Imagine if someone picks the Karma Sutra and sings lines from it. The person would be condemned as if he’s on the path to hell but I can assure you almost every adult would grab the first chance to read the book. I can tell you for a fact that the first script I had written and wanted to publish was more explicit than this lyric. Imagine if I had published it a decade ago, you would have asked for my head to roll on the streets.

Fula Gangstar signalled this kind of music from the start. We all clapped and praised him. Now he has taken it to the next level. There’s no stopping it. Even if you manage to stop him, someone else will rise out of nowhere with filthier lyrics just like how Stargirl made Fula’s own songs PG-rated. But, if you can do ten rounds mate, you’re not Fula gangstar, you’re Fula pornstar.