Let Me Tell You a Story
Traditional music in the Gambia continues to be performed by musicians who play additional roles as historians and repositories of genealogies. The Gambian griot (story-teller) is a troubadour, the counterpart of the wandering medieval European minstrel. He/she is a living archive of speech and song and maintains oral traditions, both local and epic.
Gambia’s Griots Continue to Thrive
The role of the traditional musician is more than that of a storyteller. He/she is a genealogist and deliverer of social or diplomatic messages, a war rouser, a joke teller and buffoon. Their presence is highly prized at tribal celebrations and many musicians today make a very good living from their highly respected activities.
On the record
For centuries, court musicians and griots have kept alive tales of family and village history. Sometimes a griot is part of the household of a nobleman, appointed to sing the virtues of their benefactor and master, but most are independent, singing the praises of anyone who can pay them. A less-generous benefactor might in fact find the songs contain more criticism than praise.
The art of the griot is traditionally hereditary. Griots are taught by their elders and are trained over many years to learn the enormous quantity of traditional songs and to master the melodies and rhythms. Such performers often become specialists in genealogy- they might be required to sing seven generations-worth of a tribal or family history, or perform ritual songs to summon spirits and gain the sympathy of departed family ancestors.
Traditions of today
Although some non-griots do traditionally practice music, it is only recently that they have begun to move into the professional music scene, meeting vehement social resistance. Despite noble non-professional musical traditions, griots were for a long time the only professional instrumentalists, singers or dancers in most of The Gambia.
These traditional musicians see themselves not just as performers but also as teachers to the next generation. The griot remains an integral part of the culture of The Gambia and the strongest link to centuries of history. Griots continue to maintain the traditions of their people for the benefit of generations to come. There is still a thirst in the country for traditional Gambian music – in 2017 Jaliba Kuyateh launched his double album at the Independence stadium with a full capacity crowd, while Sona Jobarteh and other traditional music bands are continually touring the country.
Voices of The Gambia
A round-up of today’s traditional musicians would include Jali Kebba Kuyateh, Jaliba Kuyateh and his Kumareh band, the Mama Africa band, Pa Bobo Jobarteh, Rongo, Sambou Suso, Sona Jobarteh, Tata Dindin Jobarteh & the Salam Band and the Wuli Band.
These and other musicians continue to perform as ambassadors of The Gambia, continuously promoting The Gambia’s image and interests across the globe. They play an important role in educating, entertaining, unifying and speaking out to and on behalf of various communities in the country. Music and musicians continue to play a hugely important role in The Gambia of today.