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Liking foreign music is fine, but let’s also support our musicians
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Liking foreign music is fine, but let’s also support our musicians

The Minister of Tourism and Culture, Hamat N.K. Bah, who is usually direct and unfiltered didn’t disappoint when he gave his views (or that of the government) on the much-debated topic of the influence of foreign music or foreign musician on our culture.  

Hamat said the Barrow government through his ministry will enact laws to constrict foreign music on our airwaves. He further said they will make sure that 80% of music played on government-owned or commercial radio stations are of Gambian music. 

Frankly, our obsession with everything Senegalese borders on a nation surrendering its sovereignty. Our markets are flooded with Senegalese products yet, try going to Senegal with a kilogram of sugar. You will part with five times the sugar price in bribes. Their corrupt Douanes will not budge on their demand.

We all enjoy Kouthia’s sketches and applauded him for tickling our funny bones. If our Kouthia equivalent here in The Gambia were to do the same on TV, he will be ridiculed, mocked and caricatured. Some will say “Key dafa niaka jom” whilst others would denigrate him with “ateh koutou taila, a foulanghol beh toubabudou ateh beh jang furing yalla”. 

US-based journalist Pa Nderry Mbai recently weighed into the debate and rhetorically asked his followers: “When will Gambian artists start making money in neighbouring Senegal”? He was probably frustrated by the one-way traffic of revenue generated from big events all going to Senegal.

I was recently told that a Senegalese musician and his team are so greedy that this festive season, they turned down Gambian promoters and to do their own thing. He used his Gambian friends/family to do the logistics for him and pay them a token for it and he took all gate fees and sponsorship money back to Dakar. This is beyond greed and unacceptable. 

Still, on our obsession with Senegalese Musicians, a typical Gambian jeck in London, whose upkeep is being subsidised by British taxpayers, will give expensive gifts and a cheque of thousands of pounds to foolish Senegalese musicians. She would expect a mention in his next song. It will go like this “Agie Bintou or Ndey Fatou borom London”.

My Sisters quit kidding yourselves, 99% of people living in your neighbourhood don’t know who you are. “London amna borom” and is not you. 

With the exception of Youssou Ndour, Baba Maal and Coumba Gawlo Seck (in that order), no other nationals are interested in Senegalese Musicians apart from Gambians. They do not have the talents required at international level. Their music is all about what they called “ambience”, tinged with sexual references. Remove the “humbal” and you left with nothing. 

Way forward

We have outsourced our entertainment industry to Senegalese, Nigerians and Jamaicans. All big events in the country are headlined by foreign artists. Some people argued that sharing the same stage with international superstars is good for our own local artists. The truth is, we have been doing that for the past four decades with no result to show for, why would they think that it would be any different now?

Collectively as people, we are our own enemies. Sometimes I do hear hypocrites say ‘Gambian artists should improve to international standard if they want the same props’ or ‘they are boring’ or ‘they can’t sing’. All that could be true, but the same can be said about the Senegalese artists you celebrate and paid a fortune to attend their concerts. 

We need to ban foreign artists for at least 15 years and close all loopholes. Nothing like free or charity event with foreign artists, organisers can do it with local artists. There is a saying in Wollof “Kou amut yaye nampa mam”. If the choice is not there, people will settle for what is available and over a period of time will get used to them. It will be a period when we can find our identity again. 

Recently I was watching a Senegalese TV and a girl-band was invited for a chit-chat. The girls complained bitterly about a local promoter who brought a French-Malian singer, Aya Nakamura, in Dakar last December. They said they have enough artists so they don’t need foreign artists in their country. Ironically the same girls were in The Gambia to perform in December. 

The Ministry of Tourism and Culture should build a college for performing arts. If that will be expensive to sustain, then they can at least have a national centre for performing arts. A place where artists can go to and do their rehearsal before shows, get support, hire a full band set, receive voice coaching, stage presence, choreography etc. 

Our promoters are not actually promoting anything but fattening their bank balances at the expense of local stars. Something has to change if we want to make headway, it cannot be business as usual.


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