A Cultural colossus: Sulayman Ceesay breathing life into Gambian culture across Europe

Written by Lamin Saidy

“We never had it so good” was one of the most effective glib soundbites that co-founder of the United Kingdom internationally-acclaimed rock band Pink Floyd, Roger Waters, made, as he rattles off a spam of nostalgia on how music and culture was, and still is, an effective vehicle to project soft power, especially for a small Island country poised to punch above its weight.

And the contrast with The Gambia could not be starker: a small West African country manacled by the river, currently freed from the shackles of a semi-deranged glistering-toothed dictatorship, is ready to land on the international stage with a bang. Culture and entertainment are going to be big platforms to lure many people, especially tourist, to see The Gambia’s march to heaven. And, “we never had it so good” The Gambia in Sulayman Ceesay.

In life, the bandwidth for only one thing: Gambian culture. It is his daily preoccupation, stuff of his dream and passion. Never before has someone given a stratospheric passion for culture, making it his living, breathing and moving platform than him.

In a coruscating interview with What’s On-Gambia, from his base in Sweden, Sulayman Ceesay, who is also the founder of the cultural group Kuteh Jumbulu in Bakoteh, reaffirmed his commitment to take Gambian culture to every nook and cranny in Europe.

Currently, he has dialled the notch up with his promotion of Gambian culture, performing in countries like Norway, Denmark and United Kingdom. Asked to assess his recent engagements, he observed: “I had very successful performances. I am very proud of the work I am doing. From Sweden to Norway to the UK, I have great outings. Significantly, people were warming up to the sort of culture I was promoting. And to me that is important.”

Front and centre at the heart of his cultural crusade is to instil Gambian culture in the heart and soul of young Gambians born in Europe. Clad in his Mandinka masquerade paraphernalia occasionally, Sulayman, alias Teyekersato, used to capture the imagination of young Gambians during cultural shows in Europe; who tails him off in awe.

Asked about progress to woo young Gambians in Europe to Gambian culture, an ebullient Sulayman noted: “It is going on spectacularly well. When I partake in cultural programs in Europe, I make sure Gambians born in Europe are included. Because, essentially, the whole point is to expose them to the culture their forbears grew up in. And there are important values about the culture I promote that can help them get on with their lives successfully, such as tolerance, respect, pluralism, solidarity, compassion and all the rest of it. All these values are aligned with values here in Europe, and tells us a lot about the foundations of a successful life.”

With social media platforms, specifically, Facebook, being turned into a rant-drama of distasteful eco-chamber and Gambian political nerds giving a running commentary on events unfolding back in TheGambia, Teyekersato satiates the appetite of Gambians with traditional Mandinka songs and serenading dance on Facebook Live. Commenting on this, he said: “I have a big followership on Facebook. Facebook Live is a platform where I can reach hundreds and thousands of people. And I am trying to maximize it for all what it is worth. Many people are following me from Europe, Africa, Europe and the Americas. Recently, a Gambian in America wrote to me a glowing tribute encouraging me to stick to the cause. I am having plans to expand further. With my friend in Sweden called Malick Jeng, we are coming with a radio program called Jamano Beats. It is designed to showcase Senegambia culture as it is about reminding people old songs.”

For the Tourism sector of The Gambia to attract many tourists, it needs the best of talents in the entertainment industry to barnstorm the global tourism market and reel off the goodies that Gambian can offer tourist for their monies worth. Asked whether he would throw himself to the task if called on, he did not demur, saying: “A true patriot always put himself up to serve his country. Of course, I will work with the Ministry of Tourism and Culture to use my platform of promoting Gambian culture in Europe and convince tourist that The Gambia is the best holiday destination for them. Many people have written to me suggesting this to me. And, yes, I am ready for it.”

Perhaps through people like Sulayman Ceesay, like the Pink Floyd band has done for the UK, The Gambia can punch above its weight in the sometimes cesspit pool of tourism-wooing competition.