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Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Gambia’s showbiz maestro: The iconic Waka Jagne

By Tijan Masanneh Ceesay

I see showbiz on the rise to success in The Gambia and quite frankly, the artistes and promoters should be commended for being steadfast and committed to their craft. It’s worth celebrating and I join those who echo sentiments that we should promote and support our own. This takes me to the original maestro of Gambian pop and showbiz. None other than the legendary and iconic Waka Jagne, a childhood friend and brother.

Growing up at Lancaster Street in Banjul under the eyes of the John Prom and the Ass Faye, Waka was destined for stardom in football. He was a crafty midfielder for Young Real de Banjul. He had excellent dribbling skills who excelled in what we called at the time “kataa”. Away from football he was a great swimmer who often goes swimming from the Nursing School point to the end of Marina Parade in high tide. How he did it is still a mystery. I will be quick to say for us kujaeli tati perreh, we were always in awe.

Waka quickly gave up football and became a student of the game of basketball under Alade Sunny Joiner where he learned the point guard position. I vividly recall him putting up a show at the Banjul Tennis Lawn in a mini basketball exhibition game in which I was his opposite number. He was so kind to nickname me D Thompson after that great NBA legend. Actually Waya, another nom de guerre, was just being nice, I sucked! Just at a time he was destined to be one of the best point guards in Gambian basketball, the gloomy skies of the beautiful metropolis of Freetown came calling and the next chapter begins.

Waka headed to Freetown to go to school. He returned every summer for the usual holidays. The summer the King of Pop, Michael Jackson, launched Thriller would change Waka’s life forever. Waka flew into The Gambia aboard a British Caledonian flight after having meticulously copied and perfected the “moonwalk”, the slide and glide, the hat fling with the red jacket.  “Robot dancing“ was born and Waka Jagne became our king of pop.

Our king of pop became iconic. Every kid wanted to be Waka Jagne. Robot dancing became a way of life for the youths with groups emerging from every corner. There were robot competitions and concert halls were filled to capacity. The demand for Waka to teach the skills was

demanding and his first port of call

was the famed St Joseph’s High School drill team. Anytime he entered their Box Bar Road campus it was so chaotic he was barred from coming to the school during the lunch break hour. “Su boehun ma Waka Jagne ak Robot bile” was common verbiage among parents for the kids were now just talking robot dancing and asking parents to get them the Michael Jackson jacket. In sum, they all wanted to be Waka Jagne!

Let me cite one of the most extraordinary performances of Waka Jagne at College St Michel on Rue Dr Thez in the Senegalese capital. During a January 1983 schools exchange visit, Waka Jagne took a stage in downtown Dakar and spaced walk it like no other. The back slide and gliding just brought the house down. There were flash and camera clicks from all corners of the building! Everyone was in awe and yes, the linguere were going crazy for this Gambian phenom named Waka. He left a lasting impression there and this was further validated when they paid a return visit for their question was: “Es que Waka Dina joue?” That’s what I call a legend!

Enter a Youssou N’Dour and Abdel Kabirr joint concert at the new Independence Stadium in Bakau where the Space Invaders trio (Saul Sallah, Ousman Barrow and Waka Jagne) were called to perform. What a sight it was when Waka took to test the grass to see if the popular back slide was going to work on grass. Unknowingly to him people were watching from the stands. Oh boy when he did the turn and started gliding away, 25,000 people rose to their feet in disbelief at the spectacle on natural glass. I can say, on that day, Waka outshone the King of Mbalax.

Waka grew up in the shadow of her sister Haddy Jagne, a celebrity herself and back in the day, by far the best female radio DJ in The Gambia. So, showbiz was not unfamiliar territory. He would relocate to the United Kingdom where he founded Waka Jagne Promotions. He used his company to promote African culture and artistes of African origin in England. He also landed a spot on BEN TV before finally heading back home and now works in promotion with cellular giant Africell. To this day, Waka Jagne is at it, promoting and encouraging young Gambian artistes and musicians. His innovative ideas have been an added bonus to the entertainment scene. If I am asked to described Waka Jagne, I will do it in three words: Iconic and legendary!

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