Alagi Yorro Jallow
Fatoumatta: Artists and musicians, poets, storytellers, and writers are a country’s truth-telling squad. If they join the minions of political sycophants and tribal face-savers, a nation loses its soul. The campaign to politicize and tribalize the link between arts, culture, and music by politicians and tribal lords in the Gambia has started in earnest. The arts and cultural activists should sanitize arts, culture, and music content by defending artistic creativity and artistic freedom in the Gambia. This does not in any way mean censorship or curtailing creative artistic freedom of expression. You shall always act with ethics and morality.
A few years ago, not many had heard of O Boy and the Gambian Child, who composed the single best-selling all-time musical soundtrack known, “Kessen kesseng,” launched a hugely successful career. Their stage name better knows their stage name. O Boy and the Gambian Child two favorite young Gambian musicians who are talented and gives entertainment to their fans specializing in spoken word, a mix of music and poetry. Their new release and launched on Friday night of another misunderstood political song with racy anecdotes politically incorrect, “Ajindi,” of political anthem wildly controversial today, done in this genre, has generated overwhelming excitement on a social media platform. Surprisingly, it has won the approbation of the Gambia’s stern opposition politicians and so-called cultural activists and a prominent opposition member Amadou Kora of the United Democratic Party.
Fatoumatta: Artists and musicians, you are the keepers of memory. Do all the art-for-art’s sake you can that keeps your muse afire. Only remember, it is your sacred duty to remember society. It would be best if you did so by uncompromisingly taking sides with truth – however sharp its edges, however bitter its taste, however rancid its odor – and placing it in present memory through story and song and dance and strokes of the brush. Keep memory breathing out loud so others may remember and not die. To forget is to wither.
Gambian creative artists and musicians must not politicize to score cheap political points. It is dangerous to the musician and the music industry in the country, no matter how talented and famous and how many albums sold out, avoid being used by political hacks or “hired gun” and tribal lords interfering into artistic creativity. Artists and musicians must be busy, concentrate in keep honing their skills, engage in promoting Gambian cultural identity, smarten up, shut the door and do some growing up, then come out to the world anew, and keep this cycle going till you are as old as wineskin because an artist is a well, the world draws its inspiration from, its hard truths from, it is awakening from.
Fatoumatta: Skilled professional artists and musicians do not let the creative artistry well run dry or run bitter or build up dregs of mediocrity and conformity to politics and tribalism. Given the power of arts and culture in particular in influencing societal values, perceptions and shaping the character of the people, especially young people, cultural activists shall continue to be vigilant to ensure that arts, culture, and musical content that promote Gambian cultural identity and heritage that are not detrimental to the industry and the country and the well being of society are vetted in line with decency.
Famous Gambian musicians O Boy and Gambian Child’s latest offering, “Ajindi,” is a stinging rebuke of the Gambian society. It is a castigation of the country’s collective foolishness in knowingly elected leaders responsible for the erosion of its insufficient governance mores management failure. O Boy’s language is raw, emotive, and therapeutic. In 4 minutes, ‘Ajindi’s soundtrack political expression ‘ provides what is arguably the most comprehensive coverage of the country’s hemorrhage values, customs, and conventions.
Fatoumatta: O Boy and the Gambian Child’s rap starts deceptively mildly as a prayer. They launch into an ironical and satirical criticism railing against a broken western education system and political myopia after that. They then move on to the perils of politics, with electoral engineering being the only solace for unemployed youth, even as retirees are brought out of the woodwork and given prime state jobs. O Boy further talks of political incompetence and leadership political myopia for relinquishing power by the incompetent political class.
This is not the first time the creative arts and culture have been used to protest governments’ excesses and incompetence and the subsequent Gambian society’s breakdown. In her seminal book ‘Trends, Identities and the Politics of Belonging,’ she talks of protest music and musicians engaged in politics of the 1960s songs of political protest for political and economic independence. She interrogates the interface between politics, society, media, arts, and culture. The toxic politics of belonging and politics of identity artists suffer at the hands of politicians without the ability to shape their ethos and destiny, leading to perpetual conflict over who belongs. She questioned how cultural rites benefit from cultural rites’ doctrine, and ethical and political affiliation is articulated in the Constitution.
The Gambia’s record on freedom of expression, freedom of the media, and artistic freedom is well known as stipulated in Gambia’s Constitution articles. However, no space is absolute, and every liberty must be enjoyed by being counterbalanced with responsibility. The artistic creativity and freedom of artists and cultural activists are enshrined in the Bill of Rights – Chapter 2 of the Gambian Constitution.
Fatoumatta: O Boy and the Gambian Child’s performance, like music, “Ajindi” has found resonance in the Gambia because it succinctly captures the vast majority’s angst. It publicly articulates what citizens feel but can only whisper in safe spaces for fear of state reprisals. Instructively, in a country riven by ethnic divisions, everybody is asking and knows what tribe O Boy and Gambian Child belong to. A common uniting thread has been woven borne of shared adversity of political affiliation to ethnicity.
Critics have lambasted O Boy and Gambian Child to support the shown of their ethnic and political affiliation to a political party just during the launching of their new release “Ajindi” on Friday. They accuse them of being a turn-coat who only got off the train when the gravy stopped flowing.
However, others still have come to their defense, stating that many were taken in by the incompetence and myopic leadership of President Adama Barrow’s promises of a rosy future for all. The recourse to a famous adage to the effect that wise people change their minds. They claim, not without good reason that communities that voted overwhelmingly for President Barrow have fared the same, if not worse off, than those that did not. These have now begun to consider their destinies apart from leaders whose trump cards lie in the inflammation of ethnic passions and incendiary rhetoric.
Questions arise. Is this the beginning of a revolution? Is the Gambia finally witnessing a shift from Artists and musicians who leverage ethnicity to a newly united country driven by issue-based leadership? Author David Mugun says, “revolutions usually find inspiration in songs and that the resonance of O Boy and Gambian Child’s music should not be underestimated.” Indeed, O Boy and the Gambian Child’s music has penetrated the previously impervious shield of millennials indifferent to politics in the country. Furthermore, because this demographic cohort has the numbers, they could significantly alter outcomes in the next presidential elections.
However, there are fears. For one, that O Boy and Gambian Child’s masterpiece may be a one-hit-wonder, incapable of catalyzing similar protest songs. Second, though O Boy and Gambian Child s song captures the pain and powerlessness of poor electoral choices, still, the abiding impression is not of citizen angst, nor of the abuse that they have, one way or another, suffered. Instead, it is in the sense that, for all these ills spoken, sung, and debated ad nauseam, come the elections of December 4 Presidential election, Gambians will still make choices based on parochial interests of tribe, nepotism, and cronyism; as if bewitched; as if in foolishness that cannot be unbound!
Fatoumatta: The Gambian ars and cultural activists must remain committed to protecting young artists from exposure to politicians and tribal lords with harmful content and political anthems in their content and public performances and ensuring that arts and culture and music content reflect the Gambia’s cultures and moral values. No nation can progress without a proper moral foundation.