From selling café touba in Serre Kunda, to becoming one of the finest singers in Senegambia…exclusive interview with Mame Balla

Written by Alieu Khan

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Born on the 19th October, 1977, Mame Balla Diouf, also known in The Gambia as Daddy Sam, grew up in Pikine, one of the poorest suburbs of Dakar.  He used music as an escape. 

The former Dancehall Masters’ vocalist began his musical journey at age 19, drawing inspiration from great singers like Lucky Dube. He has sold hundreds of records and Mame Balla is still a household name in Senegambia. 

What’s On-Gambia decided to have a chat with him, so our readers can know more about him and also get to know how it all started for him. Enjoy it:

 

What’s On: Why did you migrate to The Gambia? 

Mame Balla: It was in April, 1993 when I moved to The Gambia with my dad. We came in search of better opportunities.

 

According to rumors reaching us, you started as a groundnut seller? 

That’s not true! I will let you how everything started. I first settled in Farafenni, with my dad. He gave me 100CFA, to start a business. I can remember him advising me to utilize the money effectively, because it was our last balance. 

With the help of a Senegalese lady, I started selling café touba. The business went well and I was able to save some money.  We (my dad and I) decided to proceed to Serre Kunda. 

We stayed in Ebo Town and I continued selling café touba.  I later became a hawker, selling different items depending on what was popular in the market. 

I also sold groundnut, like you heard, but it was not the only thing I was doing. After gathering enough money, I bought a wheelbarrow and was going round looking for people, who have things to carry. 

Finally, my dad managed to open a workshop, working with mirror and glass installations. I became his assistant.

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Impressive! But how did you get into music? 

I was discovered by Adaji, one of Gambia’s first rap groups. They introduced me to Pa Jallow, a former music producer and owner of Galan Studio. He was impressed with my voice and recommended that I should form a duo group with Bro Coms, another aspiring musician. 

To be honest, it was not easy in the beginning. We both wanted to be the lead vocalist (laughs). But with time, we were able to put our egos aside and entered studio to record our first two singles, Brotherman and If You Want to Be Somebody. 

We gave the group the name, Dancehall Masters!

 

And what happened after the release of the singles? 

Dancehall Masters became one of the country’s biggest music groups. In 1999, we released our debut album, Brotherman.  It became a hit and we won different awards. 

When our contract with Galan Studio ended, we went to work with Hakim of Sunland Music. It was Sunland that produced our second album, Masterful Creation. That album also won awards for us. 

Dancehall Masters managed to crack into the Senegalese music industry and we were given the Best Integration Group Award. 

In 2002, we released our third album called Senegambia – targeting mainly Senegalese music lovers.

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Tell us about the break-up of the Dancehall Masters? 

Like many other groups, we became uncertain about our future.  It was at that moment that Hakim disclosed to me that Viviane Ndour was working on a new album and she wanted to have artists from the sub region to be part of it. I was selected from The Gambia and I left for Dakar. 

The name of the album was Viviane et Frères and the song I did with her was La Fleur.  After successfully taking part in the project, Bouba Ndour of Jololi offered me a five year contract. 

The future of Dancehall Masters was still in the balance. I started negotiating with Bouba to offer Bro Coms a similar contract.  Luckily, he agreed and Coms was invited to Dakar. It was in the Jololi studio that I revealed to him that I was not returning to Danchall Masters. He was shocked! 

In the beginning, Bro Coms was not very keen about working with Jololi, but

after a careful reflection he returned to Dakar to sign a  contract with Bouba.   

In 2005, I released my first solo album, Senegambia.  It was a success and one of the songs, Vacans Yii became a hit in both The Gambia and Senegal. 

The second album, Man ak Mom came in 2009 and the song Sii Mbenguel featuring Viviane was one of the most popular mbalax songs in Senegambia.

 

What happened to Bro Coms? 

He was also working on an album, but the process was slow because he travelled to Europe. When he returned to The Gambia, he joined marakass and decided to quit singing.

 

Are you still in touch? 

It’s difficult, because he is so much into the marakass thing and it’s always hard to get hold of him.

 

What about your contract with Jololi? 

The contract ended in 2010 after a successful tour of Europe and America.

 

You’re now based in Holland, any reason for that? 

Yes, my wife is from Holland. We got married in 2009 and I decided to join her. I met her in The Gambia. She was the founder of State of Mic and was working with different artists.

 

Recently, we have seen you in a new music video by Jon Tarifa.  Can you tell us something about that project? 

I met Jon in Holland. He’s originally from Albania. We entered studio to do a song on immigration. Jon and I are both immigrants in Holland, so we have similar stories. 

We are currently promoting the music video. Hopefully, before the end of Ramadan the video will also be available in The Gambia and Senegal.

 

What types of projects do you have right now? 

Music is my full time job and I’ve a studio at home. I’m always busy writing and recording new songs. 

There are also plans to revive the Dancehall Masters, because Gambians are asking for it. I created the group with Brother Coms and now that he’s no longer into music, it’s my duty to listen to Gambians and offer them what they want. 

So Gambia should watch out for my new reggae songs.

 

Are you following the Gambian music industry? 

I am in touch with some Gambian musicians.

 

Musicians like? 

Singateh, Mo Hawk and Gambian producers like Malang Fatty of JSC Productions in England.

 

What about the young musicians, any favorite? 

I don’t think I know the new ones, but I hope to meet them when I visit The Gambia soon.

 

Final words 

Let’s unite and live as one! Let’s always remember that The Gambia is the smiling coast of Africa. 

Gambians are friendly and hardworking people.  Senegal and The Gambia is one country and no one can divide us. We are the only two countries in the world that speak wollof. 

To my fans I know the wait has been long, but new things are coming soon!