The development of music in The Gambia
A thought came to my mind this morning to help the interested young musicians develop the evolution of music and the industry in The Gambia generally. When we were younger the only dance Hall in Banjul was the King/s School Hall which was the top floor of the School at Leman Street. That hall accommodated all the top class dances and events. It was there the prestigious conventional bow/tie dances took place. At those times in the 50s the dances in fashion were the Fox Throat and the Walse.
These were steps danced to a special beats of the record moving the partners on the same level and position from side to side and forward controlled by the male partner. These were lovely combination steps and movements to watch. The walse and fox throt continued then the Rumba came. The Sierra Leonean influence crept in and Nicky boy Prom popularized the Rumba in many weddings and naming ceremonies. The UAC Tennis Lawn came in the picture and public dances especially official functions. Then the Bolero dance came with the Congolese music, the famous and popular GV records.
This was followed by the Pachaga and Charanga. The period of dances in the compounds or Bal Pusere. The first Gambian DJ Magandy then started providing PA system and sets for dances in the compounds and homes. Nicky Boy continued to provide music in the compounds and houses. . Public dances were free for women who were let in on presentation of an invitation Letter. Men paid one shilling.
In the 1950s the French Government rented a place in Picton Street which was used as a Cultural Centre locally called Foyer. Foyer had a small size hall mostly used for meetings and party for a small group. In the late 50s the Foyer moved to a new structure in Hill Street where the hall was bigger and there was a library, a bar selling wines, beer and soft drinks. There were no can drinks then. Soft drinks available were bottled locally by the Farage family and the Oldfield family.
Dances were still held at St Mary’s School or the UAC Tennis Court. In the early 60s the Tennis Court at Cliffton Road got in the act. The Rumba and the Bolero dance was still the most popular. The GV records started to flood the market. These were Salsa music from Congo mostly from Congo Brazzaville. The GV Congolese music inspired a lot of young musicians most notably Labba Sosseh. Labba eventually developed into a great musician, moved between Gambia and Senegal to perform and because it was more lucrative in Senegal he eventually moved with the Rico Jazz to Senegal and went Solo. The emergence of the Congolese music in The Gambia led to the first band with that type of music to visit the Gambia. The Rico Jazz was a 4-man band from the Congo. They came to Dakar and moved on to the Gambia in 1958.
They impressed and were very popular. This was followed by the first band from Sierra Leone called Giraldo Pino and the Heartbeats. The heartbeats at the time was a world renowned band. The welcome of such a high profile band in the Gambia was fascinating and it was the first time a carnival was held from the Government Wharf round the little town of Banjul to confirm their arrival. The dance in fashion then was still the Rumba and the Salsa but the conventional bow and tie dances were still being held at St Mary’s with the annual Augustinians dances and the formal Government functions while the annual Military dinner was held at the Bakau camp. There were no nightclubs.
In the early 60s a new dance found its way from the USA through Sierra Leone to The Gambia. It was the Madacin. Hit the rock and step in Madacin. The Madacin was a formation dance with a leader who gives the instructions. The team leader will request for the formation of a letter and the dancers in formation dancing in tune then forms the letter. Leader goes as follows based on the music and timing. You all look good now, hit the rock and give me letter M. You all count to 3’and go. In formation it is lovely to see. If you complete it satisfactory the leader knowledges it by saying you are looking good, yea.
Sukuta Sanchaba Sulay Jobe