Hakim talks about Gambian music, betrayal, relationship with Gee, Africell cheating artists…..in candid interview

Written by Alieu Khan

Hakim is a respectable producer with a respectable career. We Must Rebel by Rebellion D’Recaller, More Message by Singateh and Bul Falleh Nyee by Gee are just few of the Gambian hit songs that he produced at his Sunland Music Studio. But recently, thieves broke into his studio and went away with almost all his equipment. 

In an interview with What’s On-Gambia, Hakim talks about the theft, Gambian music, among other things: 

Tell us a little bit about your background, how you got involved in Gambian music. 

My brothers and I grew up in entertainment business in America. When Oli Taal brought us to Gambia for the 1999 Roots Festival, we were fed up with America.  We resolved that if we could survive in Africa, we would not come back to America. We loved Gambia. We opened a home studio and stayed for a few years. Only because we saw no financial growth, we returned to America. After one year in America, I returned to Gambia alone and continued to produce music for Africa. 

How has living in The Gambia influenced you as a music producer? 

Gambia has turned me into a one of kind producer. We learned all about mbalax and many other African styles of music. Music has taken me all over Africa, and being based in Gambia has opened that door. I’m unique in that I’m more African than most Americans and more American than most Africans. 

Recently, you decided to close Sunland Music-Gambia – not pleasant news for many Gambians. Can you please share with us why you came up with such a decision? 

I did not decide anything; our beloved thieves decided it for us. A studio cannot operate without equipment. Because of the recent betrayal, I don't really want many artists in my home for recording anymore. If we have enough support to regain equipment and rent a suitable creative space, then we could re-open a studio for Gambian artists. Our love for Gambian music and artists goes without saying; even my two sons are upcoming inspired Gambian artists. But in reality Gambian music is still charity business. 

We want to share with you an email we received from a reader filled with lot of questions, and please help us with the answers; “Concerning thieves breaking into Hakim’s studio, are there any suspects? Do you think it’s a sabotage or conspiracy? How comes there is barely any post from his fellow producers empathizing with him?” 

There are suspects but no proof yet. I don't think it’s a sabotage or conspiracy. Maybe they wanted a little bit of cash to ease the pain of poverty. Other producers have shown concern. I have to give a big shout out to Gambian producer Ann One for offering me his apple laptop to use for a time. Though the laptop does not have all the same special softwares, it has allowed me to finish some of the songs that were lost. I’m actually writing these answers with his laptop right now. Alie Ann One Jallow has represented for all Gambians. 

What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learnt through all this? 

Sometimes I think: this all happened because I was helping too much. Too much of anything is not good. My best friend reminded me of Mathew 7:5: first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye. This means, we shouldn’t try to help others so much that we forget to help ourselves. By helping ourselves first, we can help others even more. I’ve also learned to trust my intuition because some people don't give me a good vibe but I still welcome them with good heart. Maybe they were the ones plotting and planning. 

Though some smile and praise you to your face, they don't really have a good heart for you. I’ve learned not to be so easily accessible. Another one of my best friends reminded me a Jesus's words: Don't cast your pearls before swine. 

Are you still part of the music union? If yes, are you actively involved in their activities? 

I am Vice President of the Producers and Promoters Association. I feel like I was the fire of the organization, but it has kinda gone out because I have not seen much enthusiasm from the other members. Everyone is working for free, which is not good if you want people to give their best. I still believe we have the power to make positive changes that can make life better for all Gambian producers and artists. 

What are your thoughts on the performance of The Gambian music industry and how would you compare the industry now and before when we had Born Africans, Pencha Bi, Royal Family and artists like Singateh coming up? 

In a way I would say nothing has changed. Artists are still struggling. But the scene seemed livelier back in the days, with more inspiration, support, sponsors, and sales. Back then, an artist could sell 1,000 copies or more - and not bundled with a concert ticket. That doesn't happen these days. Artists need to unite and stand for something because right now they are falling for anything. 

There is lot of drama in the Gambian music industry. Artists sabotaging each other and promoters snubbing artists, how did you manage to keep yourself away from all this? 

Those who are fighting over crumbs can have crumbs. We should be focused on eating the full bread! 

Let’s try to think bigger. I urge the artists to be self-sufficient by owning their own sound equipment and promoting their own shows (which makes sabotage less likely). I deal with positivity and fairness. If you can't be positive and fair then we don't need to work together. 

But is it true that you said that you would never work with Gee? 

No. We have had a few misunderstandings but no beef (I'm a vegetarian, lol). Gee is an amazing talent, and in my opinion he is a guru of hip hop in Africa. No Gambian artist has been totally banned from working with Sunland. 

Do you think rap-mbalax has a place in the world music scene? 

We are still innovating. We've been making a new fusion of music that the world has never heard, and people love it all over the globe. I think if we concentrate on quality, we can only grow and receive more appreciation. In a small way, Gambian music is already impacting the globe with no budget.     

When we have a budget of a few million dollars, and experienced leadership/guidance, I strongly believe we will see Gambian music conquer the globe.

What type of artists do you prefer to work with? 

Artists who have put in thousands of hours of practice/training/study. They make my job easier and pleasurable. Artists who love, live, and breathe music. 

Recently, we‘ve seen Manding Morry and T-Smallz releasing new videos that they think can catapult them to international fame. What’s your honest opinion about that? 

To reach international fame I think it will take continued efforts, hard work, and much support. Having a quality video is good; we also need people who have the right connections to get that video to the right people. I have DSTV with many African music channels, and I have not seen any Gambian artist on them yet. Quality cost - and as the saying goes: "you get what you pay for". Yet still we must keep pushing forward with faith even though we are financially challenged. 

Let’s talk income. Is it profitable to be a producer or musician in The Gambia? 

I cannot say it is profitable yet. Many top hit songs you’ve heard produced by Sunland were done for free. Sunland survives mostly on royalties earned from writing and producing American music. Producers should make money from record companies, not from struggling artists. And Gambia has no record company that has abundant funds to invest in music business. 

Much thanks to H.E. the President for his financial support of Gambian artists: H.E. is closest thing we have to record company at the moment. I urge Gambian producers to sharpen their skills and try to make links outside of Gambia. I’m sure that we can be based in Gambia and still supply the world with quality production. Artists from Senegal, Nigeria, and Sierra Leone have come to Gambia specifically to record at Sunland.

Gambian Artists don't make much from shows; many times top artists get nothing. 

Gambian music doesn't generate any royalties yet, and companies like Africell make millions of dalasi from our music and refuse to give us a single butut. We need to negotiate a fair deal with GSM companies and stop allowing free use of our works. Once we get GSMs and radio stations to pay for using our music, things should look a lot brighter. 

What are your top five Gambian songs? 

Songs I can listen to 100 times in a row: Egalitarian's song Suka Debo (the Shy Boy version).

Sandeng and Badibunka's song Kanu Mousu.  Anything from Mariam Sowe, and unfinished works with Sura Suso (coming soon). 

Favourite musicians? 

Gambian instrumentalists: Jaliba Kuyateh, Sura Suso, Sona Jobarteh, and Kebba Taylor all make musical magic with ease. 

Are you now based in Dakar? 

We have a lot of love and support over here, but no; I’m just here working at the moment. 

What are your future plans? 

Just taking it day by day. The plan is to continue making a positive impact on the globe.

In light of the recent theft: It’s Ramadan, so it’s only right that we forgive those responsible and urge others to send out love and compassion, instead of anger and hate.

With positive vibrations we will bounce back in no time! May the resurrected "Sunland Music Gambia" be more potent than the previous, with multiplied success! Amin!