By Talib Gibran
I used to love music and my love affair with it started in mid to late nineties as a kid in Guinea Bissau. I danced the Balanta music in dusty open spaces in the outskirts of Mansaba. I still vividly remember popular songs like Toka Toka. I arrived back to The Gambia in 1998 and taught a few of my colleagues how to dance Toka Toka. I realised some Bissau Guinean songs were popular especially in Foñi, chiefly because of its proximity to Casamance which is also close to Bissau. I listened and danced to lots of Fula songs too. I not only spoke fluent Fula but look exactly like one, at least based on the general features. That’s why for years since my return, Gambia immigration officers never missed the opportunity to stop me to prove my citizenship. I cannot explain how I eventually lost speaking the language but I will get it back for my paternal grandma’s sake. I enjoyed Fula music and, until today, I believe Fulas make the best songs, especially love songs. Those were old and good times. That’s how and where it all started with music.
During those formative years of my life, I didn’t care about the lyrics of songs, didactive or obscene. I didn’t even understand them. I just danced and wrongly lip-synched. One fateful morning, I heard Jaliba Kuyateh’s song Tereto, season of harvest, on the radio. Interestingly, my dad used to tune in to Radio Gambia while we were in Guinea Bissau. I don’t know what happened to that radio now. Tereto was my initiation into Gambian music and, as young as I was, I got it. I got what Jaliba was singing because it made sense. Since I couldn’t decide what was played on Radio Gambia, I just kept listening to whatever I heard. That is how I got to know about Sankung na safuno, which always intrigued me how a soap bar could clean something without scrubbing. I used to sing the chorus all the time; kurrla nibeh koileh nyiningna, Sankung na safuno yela fengolu koi, ema fet fet…
When I returned to The Gambia, I found zouk music religiously loved in Foñi and the dance, oh god, zouk is the deal. You do not need to be a good dancer. Like Eric Omondi said, just move. What a genius piece of music genre. I just slotted right into my new setting because, to some extent, zouk was popular in rural Bissau and Casamance. I danced zouk in Foñi as if it was required by law. Later on, I realised that music was much more in The Gambia than just dancing zouk in open places. I got introduced to The Born Africans, a group I really loved and Masla Bi, equally talented stars. A standout feature is that every artist in that generation was talented in their own right. My all-time favourite Gambian artist is Hard Breaka, who broke my heart when he vanished from the face of the earth. Mamut Jeng, where are you? That dude had the potential of Eminem and the voice of Chris Brown but could not go beyond Big Faa’s level, which is anything, anything. I still remember the line-up on the Smiling Coast Riddim. It is still the best collection of songs ever in the country and Hard Breaka’s bit was not the icing on the cake; it was both the cake and the ice, forget about Jalex. SITTING IN THE DARK was the best song on the riddim and until today, I listen to it on YouTube to reminisce. If I die tomorrow, play that song at my 40th day charity and I will move in my grave. That riddim could have been the launchpad to the greatest of heights for Gam music but we blew it. There was peace in the industry but things have changed since a few short musicians entered the fray. ST, Gee, T Smallz, Attack, Jizzle, and others have successfully poured a political liquid on the music scene since their emergence thanks largely to their fans. It is now a typical martial art scenario. The rival fans create a virtual bout between artists. Gam music is no different from Gam politics. ST vs Jizzle is exactly like Barrow vs Darboe. The two sets of fans would insult, curse and mock the artists. It is a cut-throat affair now. But with all the hype, none of them is even a better singer than me. This generation of artists don’t know how to sing; their songs don’t go beyond money, girls and imaginary enemies. Some of them even the shopkeeper in their corner doesn’t know them but would still drop one single and go on ranting about haters and evil eyes.
Truth be told, Jizzle is smooth. Each time he releases a song, I feel like I heard the song before. The only downside is he looks like Camavinga, which means he is not generously endowed in the looks but compensates it with 6 packs. If you’re famous, rich and have 6 packs, then you will have heaven in the world. He reminds me of Peter Andre. Jizzle is the deal. Gee, hands down was my favorite rapper. I don’t think there is anyone who raps so immaculately like him but since Shyngle made him single, the muse disappeared quicker than five seconds. He, like me, has now become an enigma on Twitter badmouthing religion. He is apparently a former musician now. He artistically fell from grace! Attack attacks but doesn’t score. He is the Nicolas Jackson of Gambian music. He is cute though and unapologetic but living in past prestige. Artist of the Year is in the past. Attack, you need to attack and stop getting on the stage with a severed goat head. Do you know how useful that head is as breakfast? I have no idea what Killa Ace actually aced. I cannot remember even a single song he did before the 2016 activism which midwifed Team Gom Sa Bopa. But that is on me, not on him. He, too, is a former artist in my book. The difference between him and Gee is the dreadlock.
The truth is, I don’t follow music anymore. Ignore whatever I said as a passing comment of a hater. What I love now is football. The only thing I don’t do in football now is play it. Every other thing about football is my obsession. I do not only watch it; I follow it. Following it gave me chance to see Burna Boy perform at CL final ceremony. I watched Davido perform at the World Cup final ceremony. I watched Rema perform at the recent rigged Ballon d’Or ceremony. I felt sad watching Rema perform. That could have been Hard Breaka. It could not have been T Smallz or ST. In fact, their names should have been S Smallz and T Smallz to match their diminutive sizes; the two smalls. These two emerged almost at the same time with energy and vibrance. T Smallz was a Lil Wayne clone in size and voice. ST came up with something different that people loved. We thought that was the end of an era when Smallz went quiet until recently. Let it go, folks. Gambian artists so desperately want to be the GOAT and, except Jaliba, none of them comes even close. If I hear anyone say he is the goat, I will eat you. And since you cannot sing without mentioning haters, well, you all have a common hater now: Me. You probably expected me to pick a side like Africell did with the giveaways but I do not like both artists. I just wanted to ramble. However, as a call for help, if you know a route to skip Brikama straight to Manduar, please be my saviour. Brikama Boyo’s generals don’t joke.