I have a habit of listening to the BBC late at night and into the early hours of the morning. On a Friday night, last week there was this popular DJ Edu who was doing a countdown of African songs for the week. From from 10 going down, he would mention artistes from different African countries. At No. 10 was Samba Peuzzi from Senegal and I remember a singer from Nigeria and one rapper from Zimbabwe. An Ethiopian artiste was at number 5 or so; a duet by a South African pop group was also in the list.
As the countdown continued, I was hoping to hear him mention a name like ST or Jizzle… But the countdown continued to number one and it was a Ghanaian artiste! No Gambian artiste was mentioned.
As I lie in bed in that moment of dismay I thought of the ST and Independence Stadium management saga! Then I processed the relation of the utter lack of support from government of most of the things that are made in The Gambia. This is a clear manifestation of the ineffectiveness of our own institutions and people towards our own Gambian brands and people of creative talents.
I have always argued that without the support of government and the will to nurture and build people in the creative industry especially in the arts, we will never have a star that can be a symbol of this beautiful nation. Senegal can boast of a Youssou N’Dour and Akon; Guinea has Saikouba Bambino; Mali has Salif Keita. All other countries have figures who are not just artistes but symbols of national pride and who serve as cultural ambassadors. Akon for example not only took Senegal to the world he also served as a symbol of a nation and represented the culture in mainstream media and changed the perception of the people all over especially in the West. Who can we boast of as a country? There is no doubt that there is abundant talent. Sona Jobarteh can be a reference in point. The question is, do we Gambians recognise and appreciate our own? Do we take ownership of our own brands? Has the government given the necessary support to our artistes? As far as I am concerned, we could have had a figure like Youssou or Salif or Angelique Kidjo from Benin. We can build our own Wally Seck or Davido from the young generation of artistes. What are we doing to appreciate and support our own!
Coming back to the ST saga, I was flabbergasted by the statement from the Independence Stadium management, not only was it disrespectful to the ST brand but I took it as an insult to this country. The issue has been settled but it goes to show the attitude of individuals and institutions of the state in overlooking the potentials of their fellow countrymen. ST has won the hearts of many Gambians and it’s so heartwarming to see the popular show of support and solidarity given him.
We as a people need to recognise and appreciate what we have. For long we have been spectators to foreign artistes, why can’t we start being players? Imagine ST doing a gig in Senegal with a full stadium, just like how Jamaican, Nigerian and Senegalese artistes fill up our stadium. There is hope in the new generation, but the fact remains that if the government doesn’t lead in making the environment suitable for our people, especially the young to thrive, we will just remain fans!
We need to have the infrastructure as facilities are the major impediment to artistic development in The Gambia. We are still using a sports facility as a musical concert venue. We also need to have the right capacity as in training. A college to learn art and culture can be a step in the right direction to build future stars. Art can be an instrument for progressive shifts in social and economic development. Not only can it be a major employer, but it can be a vehicle for marketing our culture which can boost tourism. I remain optimistic about the prospects of our artistes.