Two weeks ago I wrote about slave spirituals and last week about gospel music. Both these musical styles are based on stories from the Bible; slave spirituals from the first part – the Old Testament and gospel on the second part – the New Testament. The stories from the Bible gave the slaves in both North and South America hope for a better future, if not in this life then in the next when they have died and gone to heaven. If you have been a Muslim all your life you have heard about the prophet Jesus and the other prophets Islam and Christianity share, but maybe you haven’t studied the difference between living as a Muslim and as a Christian.
I began my life as a Christian and converted to Islam some years ago. I thought it could be interesting for you to know a little about the differences.
When I felt the urge to convert I began with studying Islam as much as possible. I find it important to know what I am getting myself in to, both for my own sake but also because I knew that people here are going to question my decision to convert.
This last part could be a topic for an article of its own so I will leave that trace and go back to the music. Those of you who haven’t read any of my articles before might have missed the fact that I work as a music teacher here in Sweden. In our curriculum, music is a subject of its own and all pupils, from age 7 to 16 are obliged to study it. It is challenging to teach large groups of kids at the same time, but from what I have heard, I shouldn’t have complained when my largest classes had been 30 kids. In The Gambia you have much larger classes and not at all the equipment you need. Of course that depends on the school, but that is actually similar here. We don’t have really poor schools, but we have schools that struggle with the economy and the teachers must be magicians more or less to make it.
From the government there are regulations for what each pupil in Sweden should learn but they don’t give us the means. Take music as a subject, for example: some schools have fully equipped classrooms with lots of instruments and even a recording studio. Other schools don’t have a classroom for music so these lessons have to be done in the ordinary classrooms. There might be a cheap keyboard there or a guitar, but that is all. Still we, as music teachers are expected to give the same high quality lessons on these terms. It’s impossible of course, we only do our best.
One extra challenge for a music teacher is that we don’t have any specific books to give to our pupils in this subject.
It is very strange that this hasn’t changed a bit since I graduated at Örebro University in 1986. Most school subjects have textbooks but not music.
What I have to do, as well as my colleagues, is to create my own material. That takes a lot of time, of course, but at the same time it is an interesting challenge. Thank God for the Internet! When I graduated in 1986, computers were not common and the hard discs were so large so they filled up a large room. It is very different nowadays and I have found so much useful information there. The Internet is a blessing when it is used wisely, and through different kind of forums it is possible to share ideas and material with each other.
As I have my heart in The Gambia I love the music I have been listening to every time I visited the country. Through conversations with my great Gambian friend and tour guide Lams Ceesay, I began to read about the slave trade. Lams is like a living dictionary and he has taught me a lot.
I searched for information about the trans-Atlantic slave trade, or which we call it: the triangle trade. The reason for that name is easy to see if you look at the map. Take a ruler, place it on the map. Draw one line from Europe to Africa, next line from Africa (The Gambia) to America and the third from America back to Europe. There you have the triangle which the large ships followed. From Europe they brought wool and weapons to the colonies. From Africa the ships sailed, packed with slaves, and from America they sailed with tobacco and cotton back to Europe. This was a huge industry that gave a lot of profit to the whites, so of course, they didn’t want to stop this business until they were forced.
There is so much information to find on the Internet about this; articles, theses, books, stories and videos. I have put together information about the slave trade, written a questionnaire and I’m beginning every lesson by telling about the slave trade and ending with a short video. I have brought items with me; woodcarvings and art objects plus music instruments made in The Gambia and Senegal. I have three large djembe drums, one medium size and three small ones so the pupils can try to play them. They find this very interesting and suddenly they find that Africa is not just a continent far away with starving people and dangerous animals.
My mission is to tell about what I know and what I have experienced so the
pupils will get a true picture of parts of Africa instead of what the media prefers to show. I speak about my friends in The Gambia, how a lot of people live, about the nature, the ocean, the River Gambia, all animals and birds . I also speak about the education system, the schools, the differences between the schools we have here in Sweden and the schools in The Gambia. I try my best to make the pupils feel that what separates us is our culture but what joins us is that we are humans. We live on the same planet, some of us are poor and others are rich. We study, dream, work, laugh and cry – we have more that joins us than what separates us.
As the media is showing the Western world such a limited picture of Africa I find it necessary to show something else. Of course there are people who starve and people who fight, but that is not the whole picture.
I am very proud of being a part of The Gambia and I am very proud of my people . I don’t close my eyes to the problems, instead I try to find the reason why things go wrong. All actions have a reason, whether it is about raising our kids or educating our people. It doesn’t help the development of The Gambia a bit to be complaining all the time over things that have gone wrong or people who have said something less smart. All actions have a reason, so let us try to find out the reason and then we can face the consequences together. Sometimes we are spectators of others’ actions and other times it is us who have thrown the s*** in the fan, so to say. Whatever happens and whatever the reasons it is always easier to face the consequences together, forgive each other and move on.
When I speak to my pupils I tell them how proud I am of the Gambian people. I speak about the election in December 2016. I tell them about the oppression, the fear you all lived in but also the amazing strength you had when you managed to get rid of the dictator. I am amazed at the joy, the ability to rise up after falling over and over again. I am amazed at the creativity, the ability to make something useful out of trash. I am amazed at the dignity, the beauty of the women with babies on their backs.
The ability to come back strong after been beaten, abused, oppressed and humiliated is the same strength your ancestors had. The music they took with them from their home countries in Africa grew and developed to something new that influences most of the music we listen to today all over the world. This is truly something to be proud of! From all the hardships, all the sorrows, all the pain came the most wonderful music – music that is loved by billions of people. You have created this! Your ancestors’ blood is running through your veins, their songs are your songs, their rhythms are your heartbeats.
Be proud of your inheritance, be proud of yourself and what you are. Be proud of your ancestors and tell the whole world about them. Your music has influenced the whole music industry, your music has been loved and cherished for generations. Your music will keep on rocking and rolling all over the world with a force that is stronger than life itself. You are not the poverty, the starvation, the deforestation, the flooding or the corruption. You are the force, the joy, the power of love, the generosity that makes people want to come and greet you year after year. Mama Africa is warm and generous, she has a beautiful smile and a warm bosom where we can rest our tired heads. Mama Africa sings for everyone who is willing to listen, she tells us her stories and dances in the sunset.
The people’s movement in The Gambia has proclaimed: Never again! Never again will you be slaves, neither mental nor physical slaves . The awareness is there in all of you, the sense of dignity and pride is there. The determination that The Gambia must move forward and never look backwards is there. Believe in yourselves, find the strength and the power in every home and every community and see what you can accomplish together. Times are different but people are the same. There are people who choose to do good and others who choose to do bad. The choice is yours but remember that you have to face the consequences.
Democracy is a gift we must cherish, we must never take it for granted. If we use all of our abilities, all our skills and all our determination we can build up a great country together. Let the music of your ancestors ring in your ears, find the strength within the group, within all of you who share the same experiences. Be inspired by your ancestors who never gave up. They were kidnapped and shipped far away from their families. They knew when they entered the slave ships that they would never see their homeland again. Make your ancestors proud of you. The music is your roots, let it grow and rise towards the sky. Be proud of your roots, be proud of yourself and show the world your greatness.