Gambian-born British freelancer, Fanta Jarjussey shares her opinion on Gambian music

Written by Fanta Jarjussey

Fanta

I'm a British-Gambian, born here but raised in West London since the age of 9. I freelance in TV and Music and have worked for the likes of BBC and MTV.

I never visited The Gambia until I was in my twenties and it was definitely strange at first because I had the best childhood memories of growing up in Cape Point but couldn't take myself to places and had no idea where anything was.

I was shocked that the country had a tourist strip, because from what my mum used to say, young Gambians didn't party the way we did but little does she know how times have changed. Dating in Gambia is crazy...I'm not sure if I could date another Gambian after past experiences. They are too much!

Even now, my geographical knowledge is limited to SeneGambia, Bakau, Fajara and Cape Point. It's terrible but I'm trying to improve!

Luckily, my mum always spoke Wollof to me so I can speak it. I may not understand a few words or some of the slang but my Wollof is pretty good and I'm proud of that.

I spent Christmas and New Year’s here for the first time last year and it was quite the experience to say the least. I loved it so much that I came back in March and did something productive this time round, launching my charity the Dimbaleh Gambia Project.

During my time here over Christmas and New Year’s, naturally, I wanted to see what the media and entertainment industry was like here and through some friends, I was introduced to a few people and was invited to watch the Open Mic Festival. I didn't know what to expect as first but it was very surreal because I had no idea that a music industry even existed in The Gambia. It was very different to what I was used to back home in London especially work wise.

From the organisation to lack of dressing rooms and riders for artists back stage I didn't get it. Why wasn't any of those basic things available?! But then I had to remind myself that not all the facilities and ways of doing things in the Western World are comparable to that of a third world country. The concert, events and festival budgets we have in London aren't going to be the same as in Gambia but I think with better direction, those budgets could be used more effectively.

As a whole, I really enjoyed the show and it opened my eyes to what I felt like was a slept on nation buzzing with hungry, talented artists who have created a whole scene out of nothing just like Grime was in London but it has evolved in leaps and bounds and hit the mainstream as well as other countries where as The Gambia is a country not a city and very few people worldwide are currently aware of our industry or artists. It's tough, but all this hard work will not go in vain, I'm sure of it.

Look at Nigeria, Ghana and South Africa? Their biggest artists are touring the world and making the world take notice of their talents. Gambian artists are not at that worldwide level yet but let's start with recognition from our own continent at least.

Upon my return to London, I still felt passionate about the budding music industry in The Gambia and wanted to get involved or help in any way possible so I pitched an article to MTV Africa which they commissioned. I got in touch with Gee who I had met through mutual friends and family and he rounded up a group of artists which included Manding Morry, and Amie Dibba and I also spoke to T Smallz, Shyboy as well as Ooz, David Jay and Malick IV who is based in London.

The article featured mini interviews discussing The Gambia's growing music industry, the challenges it faces and how we are moving forward but unfortunately MTV kept pushing back the dates to publish it and it really infuriated me to the point I was like f*** this!! I'm not going to give up though, there's a lot happening in December so no harm in persevering with interviews, reviews and articles.

Now that I'm back in The Gambia, I hope to make more contacts here, potentially work with a few people and see how it goes.

I still have a lot to learn and a lot to see but so far for me, Jali Madi and Manding Morry hands down are my favourites. Although my father is Mandinka, he never taught me the language so I have no idea what they're saying in their songs but I can listen to Nna Kamma on repeat because it is that infectious! His arrangement, tone and playful nature, I love him!!

Jali Madi's voice is literally crazy when you hear it live. That was the first time I heard it and I just stood there with my mouth open like WTF?!?! I was very pleasantly surprised; he has a gift that most female singers would kill for let alone male...! His range is to die for and who knows with extra vocal coaching how powerful his voice really could be? The biggest singers in the world have vocal coaches and if he had the same then can you imagine what he could do with it? Jali Madi's voice is truly an instrument in its own right, it's exquisite.

My favourite Gambian rapper who I see really leaving a mark and taking Gambian Music outside of Gambia is Gee. I feel like a lot of rappers here imitate the West and offer nothing original. Artists like Gee don't sound like anybody else in the world because of how unique the blending of hip-hop beats with local instruments and the juxtapositioning of lyrical content using two languages. Now that's a gift...

One of the things I feel hinders him is the fact that he hasn't ventured outside of The Gambia yet and in order to take things to that next level, I think he needs to spread his wings. He needs more music videos, more freestyle, more exposure, more contacts abroad. It's all about being at the right places at the right times. I look forward to watching him make history on December 19th but let's see what else he has up his sleeve in the long run.

Having worked with him a little bit on PR and his clothing line withAfriNation, he is determined to reach new heights and I have no doubts that he will but I know that Gee is an artist who does things in his own way and it's difficult for him at times to do things differently outside of how he does things in The Gambia but I think with the right team, PR and management outside of The Gambia not just here who can elevate his career guiding his steps, the possibilities are limitless.

T Smallz is definitely talented and I've not worked with him but we've had a few conversations and you can see how passionate he is about music. His Fen Rek is a club banger and that's another point... I never hear any of these artists played in local clubs out here which is insane to me... We want our music to evolve but we won't play it in our own clubs...?

In order for artists to showcase their talents worldwide, it needs to be presented in accordance to the fast paced, 24/7 consuming digital world we live in today. For example, The Gambia's industry in general does not use social media and making PR campaigns through social media in an effective way from my observations... Using social media in that capacity is a skill in itself. Then again, with such a small percentage of the population using social media, it's tough to create a buzz or a great following through it. How many Gambians tweeting would it take to get something to trend? The number is probably far greater than those that actually use Twitter or use social media period.

Not every artist goes viral or gets discovered by Jay Z in a small island so your grind has to be that of looking at the bigger picture at all times.

One thing I have noticed is the lack of female presence in Gambian music. Amie Dibba is very talented but she lives in America. I have not seen or heard of one female artist who is in Gambia worth even mentioning. I might get in trouble for this but my younger cousins and I were in Manchester recently and they showed me this Gambian girl's rap video and when I tell you, we literally laughed for days like WTF is this s**t? Seriously where are your family? Where are your friends? It was just wrong!!! So embarrassing! Listen, in life, you gotta have somebody who loves you enough to tell you the truth when others won't. Tell you when to quit and to stop when something is not for you... Yes follow your dreams but don't be deluded.

It's not a very Gambian thing to be generally but I am very open, blunt and honest, to a fault sometimes because it gets me in trouble but hey I'd rather be hated for who I am than liked for being someone I'm not. I have noticed that generally, Gambians don't like criticism or being told what to do which is counterproductive.

TV wise, it's difficult as there is no variety. I'd love to create a Youtube Channel and produce a show made exactly how it would be made in London but it's Gambian... Initially working with an established show here would be a great start.

With a few family members and friends who are prominent in the music and tv scene out here, I'm sure I can make something happen with their advice and guidance. I have a few ideas and people I'd love to work with here. I do have a lot of experience and I want to share those but I also want to learn about Africa and how business works here just the same. You can only make something better by first understanding it...