Pap Touray The master singer from The Gambia

By Oko Drammeh

One of the most recognisable vocalists to come out of Banjul was Pap Touray. Like high premium chocolate, Pap who was the lead singer in the Eagles, Super Eagles and later Ifangbondi had a voice that was smooth, rich and velvety. Pap’s vocals promote sexiness, sultriness and sensuality and he convincingly belted out with the prowess necessary to render social change, equality and global consciousness.

Pap started his musical education with the Gambia Police band as a trombone player and later a drum major playing the bass drum, the tambour. One day, he left his work at the Police Barracks in Bakau to attend the Gambia Workers Union strike for salary increase and he was spotted singing “We-shall-not-be-moved”.
The next day he was dismissed from the Police Force. Later that week, he went to Dobson Street in Banjul to join the African Jazz under the direction of the late Alhaji Chamsu Coker and late photographer Uncle Malick Secka. Later, he and a Congolese musician Sammy Ndame and Marceline together with Solomon Cole, a schoolteacher and former musician started what later became The Eagles Band.

Pap was a renowned sportsman and athlete. He was the goalkeeper for White Phantoms Football Club and the Gambia national football team in the ’70s. He was a sprinter and he tried the javelin and discus throwing as well. He was a youth leader and a champion of workers’ and women’s rights.

Pap loved children very much and composed the Youth Song for the young people of The Gambia. It was said that he used to sing while goalkeeping and sometimes he would forget the game engrossed in his song until the ball hits the net before he realised that he was playing a football game and not on a music stage.

This happened in a match with Liberia. The Liberian captain named Mass Sarr (Spark) was a striker. He was a Gambian by birth but naturalised in Liberia through public demand. He did not want to score against The Gambia in that game and when he got a chance, he kicked a slow rolling ball but goalkeeper Pap did not see the ball as he was singing until the ball passed him. The Gambia lost 6-0 to Liberia at the Box Bar Stadium!
Pap Touray showed interest in playing music first at Foyer French School Music Hall where his cousin, the maestro and king of Africa salsa, and inventor of Salsa Mbalax, the Gambian singer Laba Sosseh introduced him to the rehearsing band members of Portuguese-Africa origin, natives of the Cape Verde Island who migrated to Banjul.

The Foyer Hall was in the heart of Wolof and Portuguese Town wards of Banjul South. The musicians then used non-electric instruments like bongos, box guitars, contra bass, clarinet, violins and vocal groups and solo singers.

There were few singers and it didn’t matter what they sang. It was the voice that sold the song. And that voice was Pap Touray. His animal magnetism was irrepressible. There isn’t an honest person alive in The Gambia who wouldn’t want for one night to feel what it would be like to have the hypnotic sway Pap Touray held over fans.

Pap Touray was the lead singer of The Super Eagles and Ifangbondi bands. He was a composer, songwriter and a musicologist. He was an intellectual and poet, and a flamboyant artist who had a message and he never worked for the love of money but laboured for love and gave his services to The Gambia and mankind.
He gave away whatever he had to people around him. He lost everything he had just for servicing the poor. He applied the goal for good in his messages and the unity of one goal for all Gambians.
He was a righteous man with an unselfish purpose to serve his country. Just Like the late Otis Redding sang in the sad song Mr Pitiful, “How can a man sing these sad songs, they called me Mr. Pitiful that’s how I got my fame, but some people don’t understand what makes a man feel so Great! Because he emptied himself of earthly desire and gave up everything he had just for the cause.” Pap Touray was a good person with a beautiful pattern of conduct as a musician.

Pap’s voice was raw and gravelly, but not in a way that hurt. It was a way you wanted to touch — especially if you were one of the legions of screaming fans that flocked to his shows. Fans famously threw themselves on stage when Pap sang, mesmerised by a voice that somehow seemed manlier, more virile than other singers.
Music has a long history of therapeutic use from playing a traditional role in healing rituals around the world to its recent use as an integrative treatment. Find out how music to your ears can add on years. For thousands of years, music has been used in medicine. Ancient Greek philosophers believed that music had healing effects on the body and soul. Singing and chanting have been a part of healing ceremonies for millennia.
In the Ottoman Empire, mental illnesses were often treated with music. The Senegambia, Serere tribe used Ndopè for centuries from healing through dancing and chanting. There is evidence that music therapy can reduce high blood pressure, depression, and sleeplessness. In Alzheimer’s patients, music therapy was shown to significantly reduce anxiety and aggression.

While there are no claims that music therapy can directly cure diseases like cancer, medical professionals do believe that music can reduce certain symptoms, help with healing, improve physical movement, and enrich a patient’s overall quality of life. Music therapy is often used in combination with meditation and visualizations.
One quote of Pap is: “Reason and insight can penetrate life mysteries when you can subdue the forces of nature.” Pap Touray was a singer and one of the creative influences of the world famous Super Eagles Band and Ifangbondi Band, which he formed with friends like Badou Jobe (guitarist and bassist) to become the most successful African music band on the continent of Africa. The runners-up were the famous Bembeya Jazz of Guinea, the Ryco Jazz of Congo, Manu Dibango of Cameroun, Osibisa of Ghana and Hugh Masekela of South Africa. These are the giants of African music.

Pap’s open warm-heartedness and love for music always forced him to sing with others in duets, trios, quartets, and quintets. He was free in his heart and one of the highest pleasures in his life was making music and composing songs. His trio vocal team of the Super Eagles including Edu Haffner and Oussou Njie Señor (Must Stop) were the singing angels of Africa and. His duets with Ali Harp at Ifangbondi were amazing. In his face there was a beaming brightness of bliss. He was clean in mind, body, soul and intention. His music is still precious and preserved in its purity.

Pap believed that when you learn new things, you give your brain a workout, so why not learn a new instrument? He believed that people who take music lessons have increased IQ levels, even showing improvement in non-musical abilities. Also, when you play a wind instrument, such as the saxophone, flute, trumpet, trombone, clarinet, even a pennywhistle, you get the added benefit of improving your lung capacity.
Music is for all ages, there is increasing evidence that regular mental and physical exercise maximises overall health and functioning in older adults; for aging individuals who are prevented by disability from participating in active physical exercise, music bridges the gap – providing the significant benefits of both mental and physical stimulation to even frail older adults. Whether enjoying the social experience of singing in a choir or reflecting on a musical recording, music can serve as an effective healing art for older adults as our bodies run on biological rhythms and function best with consistent routines; sleep is no exception.

Pap’s songs were innovative. They were inspiring songs of joy, love and revolution. He composed the great Gambian music encyclopaedia of beats, rhythms, melodies and harmony scores that became the yard stick for weight and depth in Gambian music that wasn’t in American music, free from impersonation and free from instinctive imitation songs, rejected copying Western clothes and fashion style, rejecting bleaching and hair frying. He was the true culturalist and a pan-Africanist. The veil of illusion and the concept of make all belief disappeared with his music and image.

With Ifangbondi, Pap set the creative cultural music revolution in Africa. Ifangbandi opened the eyes of Salif Keita, Youssou N’Dour, Mory Kante, Baba Maal, and Toure Kunda. The Hall of Fame Jamaican Reggae superstar Jimmy Cliff came to The Gambia in search of his roots and visited Pap Touray and the band. He travelled to Senegal with Ifangbondi to see the band play in Dakar. Dollar Brand alias Abdoulah Ibrahim, a Jazz pianist also visited the Ifangbondi band for musical inspiration and performed with them in Dakar, Senegal.

The biggest visit was by the American Jazz band, King Oliver Nelson with his 32-piece big band performing in Banjul at the McCarthy Square. Carlos Santana almost made it here but was delayed in Casamance. Taj Mahal, Youssou N’Dour and Herbie Hancock also visited the land of music, The Gambia, the birthplace of the musical instrument the kora. How can anyone ignore his music or treat it with contempt or refuse to allow it to improve your life?

This city of Banjul was were the first songbird of Africa and the star of the Paris music life and known all over Europe, the Great Lady Vicky Blaine was born. She conquered France after the American belly dancer Josephine Bake retired. Vicky Blain lived at Dobson Street in Banjul Half-Die a few steps away from where Pap lived.

Vicky was Pap Touray’s musical sister and friend. They together sang on stage the famous Vicky Blain songs such as Black as Night,”Bismi la, Sunu Musal Kat and others which were huge success in the clubs of Monte Carlo, Ibiza, Monaco and in many parts of Europe and the world over. The duets of Pap and Vicky are full of versatility.

Pap Touray used his deep baritone voice to promote original black African naturality and Gambian spirituals, to share the cultures of other cultures and countries, and to benefit the labour and social movements of his time. He sang for peace and justice in five tribal languages throughout The Gambia and Senegal and the West African region.

Pap Touray became known as a citizen of the world, equally comfortable with the people of Senegal, Holland, and Sweden. Among his friends in Senegal were the great African poet and first president of Senegal Leopold Sedar Senghor, film maker Ousman Sembene, anthropologist Cheik Anta Diop, Actor and film maker Djibril Diop, Mam-Betty, Magia Niang, Dodou Ndiaye Ross, Gran Balle, Tanor Dieng, Mbaye Dieng and Madam Mitchelle of Balafong Night Club, Super Diamano Claude Gueye (Impressario) and Prosper Yang (Xalam II) Cheik Batchilly and Joe Ouakam, Francis Senghor and Frenchman Henri, Marget Wadda, Samb Diabarr Samb, Abdoulaye Narr Samb and Amad Ndiaye Samb and the list goes.

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