Alagi Yorro Jallow
MAMUDU: Artists and musicians are a country’s truth-telling squad. If they join the minions of sycophants and face-savers, a country loses its soul. Nobel laureate Dario Fo warned “A theatre, a literature, an artistic expression that does not speak for its own time has no relevance”. Therefore, relevant stories, storytelling and socially conscious songs can transform meaningful narratives in a country.
Artists and musicians are the only profession that celebrates what it means to live a life. I had to think on that. To live a life that sucked, that triumphed, that soured up, that found the light, that stopped without an ending, that had a neat finish. Storytelling finds artists all worthy of telling, without judgement, without favor, without fixing them to suit our desired storylines. Storytelling validates the bum and the prince, the cruel and the compassionate, the meaningless and the purposeful, all of it a true reflection of human existence.
Mamudu: We listen to them. They show us situation and force us to take responsibility for our own future, and for the future of our children and grandchildren. These are fundamental traditional roles of artist and a musician especially in a country like ours that has become irrevocably fractured along political and ideological as well as philosophical lines.
Mamudu: Artists and musicians formulate what we are yet to express. They go beyond our subconscious as civilized people to compel us to have a conversation. They talk to us about our aspirations, our consciousness and our humanity as well as to our survival. Let the ordinary person’s integrity and ingenuity be far more inspirational than the absurdities of political theatre and its masquerade of actors.
Mamudu: One artist to another. It’s the season of sidekicks and sell-outs for hire. This Gambian legendary Kora maestro Jaliba Kuyateh, is a great entertainer, extremely talented. I thoroughly enjoyed his earliest recordings of combined pulsating Kora rhythms relates to a traditional folktales songs and parodies ranked in order of greatness decades ago. But it looks like someone at the Office of the President noticed him and asked him to do a hit job with it. He sold out! The crossroads where easy money becomes a big piece of steamy cassava for many a hungry artist who later find themselves used up and scrounging for relevance.
Mamudu: This equally entertaining sycophantic lyrical song, ” Adama Barrow Baraka” employs the cheapest tactics of lumping a people into a cheap political-baiting stereotype– says the Jaliba and the Kumareh band have always been pro-establishment and opposition is new to him—Jaliba during Yahya Jammeh’s kleptocratic rule had two songs for Yahya Jammeh, so goes the song, “July 22 and Jilanka”!
Mamudu: A well-told joke will lighten a tense situation. A lively anecdote will remain memorable to everyone. When artists and musicians re-tell narratives, conscious stories, joke or anecdote at another time, they civilize humanity and make the world livable for all. And that is why artists, musicians, storytellers and literature must be at the center of the new curriculum in the Gambia.
Mamudu; Has Jaliba Kuyateh never heard of the great anti-colonization female dancer/warrior, Syotune wa Kathake; Muindi Mbingu and the Ukamba Members Association in 1938? There’s a long list of independent thinkers from that region. It’s a sad day when an artist chooses to become a tool for stereotyping a people for someone else’s political gain.
Mamudu: You may say- he has a right to take sides as a citizen. True, not just a right, but a responsibility. But when artists take sides in politics, they should take the third side– the side of justice, the side of the underdog in the streets who simply demands a better life because they pay their share in taxes and toil.
Mamudu: The third side is one that rarely pays, mostly leaves an artist sidelined by both political sides, but when that artist maintains a solid stand against selfish opportunistic politics, they become the voice that people listen for.
Lucky Dube. Nina Simone. Bob Dylan. Miriam Makeba, Fela Kuti and maverick Ouzza Diallo now acting out of principle. They took the third side, they paid a price, they are legendary. I’d like to add Youssou N’Dour, whose “Nelson Mandela” album put him on the artist-the-warrior path, although still has ways to go before earning the legendary title. But I get it, it’s political bimborization time when people say or sing silly soundbites that win quick points for the side that is paying you. Maybe the other side wasn’t quick enough to lure Jaliba with a better deal, otherwise instead for politicians he’d be singing for national culture and consciousness. Both sides have used artists equally as creative hitmen (yes, hitmen include women.)
Mamudu: Now, there are artists who become politicians, and that is absolutely necessary sometimes; but it takes a highly woke kind of artist to take that path. My favorite by far is the late Vaclav Havel, a playwright and stage director who became the revolutionary leader of the non-violent Velvet Revolution, brought down a repressive regime, and became the President of the Czech Republic. That’s how woke you need to be!
Mamudu: Super star Youssou N’Dour unlike Jaliba Kuyateh suspended his music career on hold so he can enter politics ahead of presidential elections in 2012. His announcement came on the back of the launch of Fekke Maci Boolé – which means I Am Involved in the local Wolof dialect – a social consciousness movement he says will “disturb” the country’s entrenched political elite “I will free myself of all artistic commitments to enter the political arena,” N’Dour told a cheering crowd. “For me, there are two Senegals. The Senegal of the have-nots and Senegal of the haves. My concern is the Senegal of the have-nots,” the musician added on his own TV station.
Mamudu: N’Dour challenged Abdoulaye Wade, the 85-year old president who has been in power since 2000, but his declaration has stung politicians. N’Dour has repeatedly said Wade – whose age is sometimes disputed – should not stand for re-election after winning two free and fair polls.
N’Dour’s plan has been greeted with wild optimism by his many fans, but not everyone is thrilled. “His political movement is going to put pressure on politicians. He’s loved by Senegalese, by music fans, and he’s a shrewd businessman who has created jobs – this is what the people want.”
Mamudu: Iris Murdoch opined that “tyrant always fears art because tyrants want to mystify while art tends to clarify. He further put forward that “the good artist is a vehicle of truth”. Conscious music the type Jaliba played in his early career studying at the Gambia college was music that wakes people up to the things around them, to the reality in which they live in. It stirs the mind of the listener to reflect on life. Conscious music comes from an artist who is himself conscious of the world he lives in.
Alagi Yorro Jallow