Last week I wrote about tourism, that it is essential for the Gambia, and I also wrote that I would tell you about my experience from the first time I visited Senegal.
Here it comes:
Oh dear, that toubab is really stiff!
I was speaking about myself and my first experience with traditional dancing in Senegal.
I looked like I was stiff like a log, my arms went in one direction and my feet in another.
If I could draw a cartoon you would see my arms waving like tree branches in a storm.
My legs tried to bend but my knees refused to function.
The middle part of my body was stuck somewhere……..in the middle.
As for the middle part of the human body, that is part we never speak about or move in our traditional dances back home in Sweden.
We know we have that part but we pretend as it’s not there.
Our tradition is ruled by the Christian church and if we go back in history the church declared that almost everything was a sin, even your thoughts – however the church could control those but that is another question.
Dancing was one of the greatest sins because that could wake up some emotions about mating and a wish to touch each other more and especially the interesting middle parts of the body, so…..that was a sin!
The sinful body was covered by a lot of clothes, even if the summer could be really warm sometimes.
Well, we need a lot of clothes at the same time because it is cold here more or less the whole year.
Nowadays the Christian church doesn’t have any power over us, as in the old days, but it is still cold here so we wear a lot of clothes.
The traditional Swedish and other European, clothes are covering all the interesting parts of the human body so imagine the fear when the Europeans came to Africa for the first time and found all these people wearing almost nothing at all.
The Europeans were taught that the body was sinful and that they could go to Hell if they were even exposed to this sinfulness.
The colonisalists were so brainwashed by the church so they didn’t even reflect over the fact that things could be different somewhere else, they were deeply shocked.
This was long before internet and TV so the knowledge about other cultures wasn’t that big.
Everything that is strange is considered as a threat to what we feel is normal, that is how we react instinctively, but if we are openminded we get interested to learn something new instead of rejecting it.
This comes with experience and/or education but in the old days the schools were more focused on reading, writing, mathematics and Bible studies.
The world was small and the experience of it even smaller, most of those who came to Africa in the beginning had never left their own small, rural villages before.
Compare this with how many people still live, in the Gambia, in Senegal and other parts of the world.
Enough of this history lesson and back to the dancing.
Yes, we are stiff but we have rhytm even if we don’t dance the same way as you do in West Africa.
Why I gave you this history lesson is because if you know our background you know why we need to warm up before we hit the dance floor.
A lot of people do not dance until they have got some alcohol and this is because they are shy.
If we compare the way of dancing in Sweden with the way you dance in Africa you will see that your way is participatory and ours is not.
We don’t dance just like that if we are not invited, if we don’t know the steps and if we don’t feel comfortable in the context.
No one is dancing in the streets just for fun, unless you are drunk of course.
You can dance withou reservations if you are on a concert or a music festival, otherwise not.
We are taught that everything has its time and its place so that is why it takes some time to shake loose.
It has nothing to do with that we shouldn’t enjoy your music, because we love it.
It’s only that we don’t know how to move to it so we get stiff and shy.
Your music and your way of dancing is wonderful, you are an inspiration, so please allow us to be a bit embarrased at first.
Allow us to look stiff, see our arms go in one direction and our feet in another.
After a while all our bodyparts will come together and we will find the rhytm.
Yes, the toubab is stiff but she has fun!
The African music has influenced the American and European music enormously and that is something I hope you are really proud of.
I know that in most of the schools in the Gambia the pupils don’t get music lessons including singing, playing instruments, learning theory and music history and that is a shame.
You are always surrounded by music and maybe you take it for granted and don’t believe that there is anything special about it.
The tradition has also told that there are certain people who are musicians as well as others are farmers, salesmen etc.
Believe it or not but it is actually possible to do whatever you are interested in so even if you don’t belong to a tribe that is traditionally the music tribe you can become a musician anyway.
If children are exposed to a lot of different subjects in school they will evolve and they will also find what can become their skill or even their passion.
The human brain has two halves, the left and the right.
To simplify it a lot you could say that the left brain half is focused on logical thinking, mathematics and science.
The right brain half is focused on emotions, art, music, language.
If we don’t stimulate both brain halves it would be like we would try to walk with only one leg, we would struggle to find the balance.
We need both our legs as well as we need to evolve both our brain halves.
As I wrote earlier; it was to simplify the brain functions I explained it as above but one of the functions is actually stimulating both brain halves and that is music.
Music research indicates that music education doesn’t only benefit self expression and enjoyment but is also linked to improved cognitive function (how you learn something), increased language development from early age and positive social interaction.
An example: a lesson where young pupils learn the English alphabet by singing a song about it and at the same time feeling a great kinship because singing is making us feel good and we forget our sorrows for a while.
By developing the child’s cognitive function you will increase its intellectual capacity.
When we speak about left-brained people we might think of someone analytical like an accountant or a lawyer, as well as a right-brained should be a musician, an artist or a poet.
Yet music research indicates that the average musician or composer is using both brain halves equally.
The right half is focused on the sense of the music, the emotional and the creative part of the music.
The left half is focused on the theoretical part of the music, analysing it, understanding of the musical structures.
One part can’t manage without the other and even if we don’t aim to make professional musicians of our pupils we still enjoy to know how important music actually is for the development of the human beings.
Creativity is important for scientists, doctors, world leaders as well as musicians and others we first think of as creative people.
Penicillin, the light bulb, electricitity, the telephone, transplanting a human organ, saving a human life through an advanced operation or by diplomacy – none of these examples would have been possible without creativity.
What we need in the Gambia is people who are able to think independently and who are creative.
We can’t always wait for someone else to give us the answers or show us the solutions, we must be creative and find out for ourselves how to solve our problems.
That skill doesn’t just pop up in our heads one day, almost by a miracle, we have to exercise it as well as other skills we have.
Right now there is the 2017 World Championships in Athletics going on in London, UK.
Imagine all these talented athletes how much they have been training before they were able to reach that level and be one of the competitors there.
They have a great skill, they know how to use their energy as well as their bodies.
To be a great runner, to jump high or far you need to find the rhythm.
You must be able to control your body so your arms and legs cooperate, you can’t become a champion if you would run as I danced to the traditional Senegalese music where my arms and feet appeared as they had been caught by a storm wind.
The rhythm is essential, the rhythm is following us from when we still are in our mother’s womb until the day we die.
The rhythm was what the slaves brought with them to America once, that was the only thing no one could take away from them.
The rhythm could be sung, clapped, stamped and played by the slaves but their masters didn’t like it because it was unknown to them and by that scary but nothing could stop the slaves from expressing themselves by music.
The masters feared the traditional religions the slaves brought with them from West Africa, as well as the music so the slaves were forced to become Christians and were taught the hymns their masters sang in the churches there.
With time many of the slaves found comfort in Christianity because the Bible spoke about ”freeing the slaves” and about a better life to come.
They say that the last thing that leaves us is hope so the hope of a better future to come was the only thing that gave some little comfort in a world full of hard labour and abuse.
With time the traditional European hymns began to change because the slaves added their own rhytms to them.
Slowly, slowly the music evolved and a lot of different styles came out from the musical seeds the slaves planted.
Slave music took diverse forms; Negro spirituals is the best known and is sacred music and that together with blues was included in the ”sorrow songs”.
The sacred songs spoke about sorrows and pain, about freedom from slavery and the lyrics were based on stories from the Bible.
Many times the lyrics in the Negro spirituals had a hidden message about trying to run away from the slavery, secret meeting places and so on.
As the lyrics were based on Biblical stories the slave masters didn’t understand the hidden messages, the masters only enjoyed the emotional songs as they got used to that style and believed that their slaves finally had accepted their fate and also the religion.
The lyrics in the Negro spirituals were based on stories from the Old Testament in the Bible and from Negro spirituals we later had Gospel where the lyrics were based on stories from the New Testament (the Christian holy book the Bible has two parts).
Blues was a special style in which the melody could glide between major and minor in the same song and the lyrics spoke about life, hardships and broken relations.
Working songs were made to keep a rhythm in the hard work on the fields or on laying railway tracks, the songs lifted the slaves’ souls for a while and made the hard work a little lighter.
Jazz music was evolved from both gospel and blues and was played by African Americans for dances, parties, street parades and funerals.
In this style the musicians could improvise, leave the melody for a while to play something else and then come back to the melody again.
Around the 1920s the white youths became more and more interested in jazz music which slowly made it more accepted by the white population.
Rhythm and Blues, or R&B, was developed by black musicians in the 1940s and was the foundation for Rock ‘n roll, electrical instruments began to be used and the singer used a microphone.
Rock ‘n roll was at the beginning the same as R&B, they only changed the name to be more attractive to a white audience as the radio had become more common in the white households and the youths like to listen to this music.
Elvis Presley became a great fan of this music and he in his turn became a great idol for the youths, both white and black liked him as much and that was very unusual.
From R&B / Rock ‘n roll and gospel came Soul.
Ray Charles was one of the first soul music artists and he played rock music but sang as in gospel which made this style joyous and full of hope.
What happened after all this, you wonder, because we have only reached the 1960s yet:
Pop, funk, hiphop, disco, heavy metal, reggae, punk, synth music, electronical music, techno, grunge etc.
My dears, be proud because none of this would have happened without your ancestors!
Imagine all the hardships they endured and still they changed the world, you are facing a New Gambia, a world in freedom so what will you be able to achieve?
Maybe one day you can join in and sing the lyrics to a song known by the famous African-American musician and singer Louis Armstrong: ”What a wonderful world!”