With Alagie Manneh
Sanna Singhateh is arguably The Gambia’s numero uno. His gigs are always sold out and he gets the biggest airtime of any musician in the country. As he launches his Dinding Mansa (The Young King) album this Saturday at the Bakau stadium, The Standard’s sub-editor, Alagie Manneh, had a one-on-one with him. Excerpts:
You are born Sanna Singhateh, where did you get the moniker ST?
I was named after my grandfather, on my mother’s side. He was called ST. He used to play football but was also a veterinary officer. When he was way young, he used to play football. His name was Sanna Tamba Sanyang. That’s how I got the ST name. Even my mom, uncles and family members call me ST.
At 33, you are still a young man who has achieved so much musically, what is your motivation?
It’s hard work and consistency. I believe in music, I believe in myself. When I chose this career, I wanted to be different and I had to upgrade myself, do research and do things to go the extra miles in order to give fans what they really want.
You are among a few artistes to get a capacity audience at the stadium for a jig, how did you manage that?
I would say it’s the nature of my music because my music is a clear representation of the typical Gambian society. It’s not just about entertainment and dancing, my music is about things that we go through; the joy, the fun, the pain, the hustle, the struggle. This is what my music actually entails. So, people listening to my music feel their stories in it, they see themselves in it or better yet they can see someone else’s story in it that they know. That has been my greatest strength.
Saturday’s Dinding Mansa launching will mark your third album but the talk on everybody’s lips is your collaboration with Baaba Maal, how did you make his acquaintance?
Baaba Maal is known internationally. He’s amazing. As artistes, we try to look at other people for inspiration, for motivation and Baaba Maal is that icon for me. But to tell you the truth, I have a very strong management. Usually, it’s me doing interviews, being on TV and everywhere but I have people behind me who work day-in, day-out to actually see that we reach where we intend to.
What are some of the messages in the People song with Baba Maal?
When we talk about songs like Fuwariya, it outlines the struggles that people go through. These are social matters. This song with Baba Maal is more of that. It attempts to highlight a lot of things that people feel in our society, local issues and stuff like that. Basically, the Baaba Maal song is for the people. We are looking forward to more international collaborations.
What is the inspiration behind Dinding Mansa?
Dinding Mansa represents my struggle as an artiste. From the very beginning, where we would actually hustle to get money to record a sound, where before the first recording… it’s just a chronicle of the effort I have been putting into my music from the start when I was just nothing and to now when people would actually point at me and said he is the best artiste in my country or the best rapper in The Gambia. That story line is what Dinding Mansa represents.
You reportedly pocketed more than D6 million as proceeds in the launch of Gambiana, your last album, how much of the proceeds this time round are you giving to charity?
I have the ST Foundation which is a charity. The foundation is there specifically for that. There’s nobody getting paid in the foundation. Everybody there is just giving love and support. What we are trying to do is… we haven’t even finalised the name… It’s the ST Foundation for Community Development. We want to step in even where it’s not just about sick people or about just food and students, but wherever it is necessary. I understand as an artiste, all I have is from people and I have to give back to the people. So, through my foundation, its easier. But honestly, charity is something we have been doing even before we start the foundation. We will continue to do that. We owe it to the people.
How many revellers do you expect to turn out for the launch?
Let’s say 50,000 plus. Yeah.
Is it true you refused to perform at President Barrow’s NPP launching saying you don’t perform at political events?
It’s not just… If people have been concentrating, I have never really performed at any political event. Not just with this government, but even the government before this. It’s not really my thing. I prefer staying neutral. I do music for the people. I feel like the ST brand is a typical Gambian brand. It puts me in a better situation to remain neutral, serve my people and not let politics into my music.
They also said you refused UDPs invite to perform at one of their recent rallies?
Yeah, like I said, I am not performing at any. I’ve got several invitations to be honest but it’s been our policy for a long time and we are hoping they [the parties] understand.
Some insiders said your troubles with the stadium authorities emanated from your refusal to perform at the Barrow rally, is that true?
Personally, I feel like it’s just one big misunderstanding with the stadium management. I would not want to go into those details, but I thank God that we are able to sit and discuss and come to terms and now the show is going ahead. I am happy, you know. That’s all that matters to me.
In one of your recent media interviews, you talked about your issues with the stadium authorities and how you felt “targeted”, can you be specific?
It was complicated from the start. This is not the first time; this is supposed to be my third performance at the stadium. Everything has been going smooth so when it was brought to my attention three weeks before the event that we might not be able to do this show at the stadium. It felt complicated, especially with me knowing just a week ago there was an event there. So, if I am not allowed to play when I have been doing regular shows there, yearly, for three years now, I felt something was definitely not up. But like I said, misunderstandings happen and I am very happy that I was able to sort it out with the stadium authorities.
What led to your divorce from your wife of many years?
I wouldn’t really want to talk about that right now. There’s too much going on this Saturday and l just like to put my focus on that. Right now, there’s just so much on the table. I just want to focus on the album and my performance.
I respect that. But in the wake of your troubles with your former wife, many including women’s rights activists called you an abuser and other names, do you think that was fair?
Being an artiste, you have to learn to accept critics. And trust me, I did accept a long time ago. People must say stuff, even at this point, like everybody is anticipating the album launching. And after the album launching, everybody else, probably 99 percent would still give out their best comments, you would still have the one percent that would come and say no, the show was this and that. Being an artiste, that’s just part of the job. But I just want to tell everybody I love women, I support women and I would push them in any way that I can. Things happen. It is a family issue. And like I said, I wouldn’t want to discuss my family issues here but just to assure them I am behind women.
Are you considering getting married again, or would that be insensitive this soon?
[Laughs]… to tell you the truth, I am all about my work right now. It’s not really been easy having to put too much together at a hectic time. But regarding that question, it’s not in my state of mind right now. I just feel like I have a lot to do and spend most of my time doing music. In fact, this year is going to be an exclusive year. Musically, there might be a whole lot of surprises. Yeah.
You are a self-made successful musician who impacted many young lives through music and succeeded where many have failed, how did you get here?
My motivation comes from everywhere. I get inspired by just anything. In our society, when you look around, you will have a lot to talk about. So, for me, there is never a point when one should say I don’t have anything to say. There is always something to say. And, doing music that people could relate to, you win their hearts. That’s what I believe in. When they can connect and relate to it, it takes the song forever. The next generation gets to listen to it and I think that has been working out for me.
Those who know you said behind stage, you are full of love and tranquil, what makes you tick?
Love keeps people going. You have to have love for people and passion for what you do. Even the ones that you don’t know, they all matter one way or the other. I don’t really know how best to actually answer that question, but just to say I appreciate everything around me. I appreciate my management, my fan clubs, even those commentators on social media, they are all considered highly. Without them, we cannot do this. This is bigger than ST.
What role should you and other established artistes play to support our up-and-coming musicians who are struggling for self-actualisation?
I’m not really the type that would do stuff and go on TV and be like yeah, stuff like that. But I work with a lot of underground artistes. I help in any way that I can, musically, financially if I have to. My platform is open to each and every artiste. I do shows all around the country and would have these underground artistes to showcase their talents. Personally, if I feel a particular underground is talented, I would always step in. I’m not into a label kind of set up yet as in signing artists, because I don’t want to sign artistes when I cannot fulfill all the things that I am supposed to do for them. So, I would rather help out of goodwill.
Generally, what are your views on the recent standoff between the Gambia Music Union and the NCAC?
I feel we should put our resources together to create a better industry. Even for Gambian artistes now… look, if Pa Bobo was to quit music right now, that would be just it, they would get the Youtube views and after a certain number they would get paid, including myself as an artiste, but these people have worked so hard, year-in, year-out, for decades. It’s their rights, to actually get royalties. It’s only in The Gambia where artistes are not getting royalties. Radios play your music for free, TVs free, clubs free. And you go to these clubs, you probably pay to get in and buy a drink. You go to the radios, you have to pay them for adverts when they are supposed to pay you for playing your music. The thing is, we are far behind. These are important things we need to sort out. A whole lot of artistes out there should be making millions right now, but they are not. And their whole careers seem like a joke. You know, people love you, you have everything but there is no pay and maybe you are old now and not doing music anymore, there’s nothing to actually count on. So, we should protect our artistes. I feel the best way to do that is joining hands. The NCAC and the music union, I believe should put efforts together to sort things out. We just attended the music union meeting last month and it was productive. Artistes came out and issues were discussed. What I would advise is we put what we say into action.
Nationally, these are tough times for the country – Covid-19, tribalism and the charged political climate – what messages generally do you think musicians should be sending?
Being an artiste is just more than doing songs. That’s why it’s important to give messages in your songs. When you have followers, and a lot of people listen to you, you should use that platform for good. It’s the job of each and every artiste to make sure we eradicate these tribal and other differences. It’s high time we put forces together and address these things.