World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article

Music of the Gambia

Article Id: WHEBN0000565994
Reproduction Date:

Title: Music of the Gambia  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Music of Africa, Music of Mali, Outline of music, Music of Burundi, Music of Gabon
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Music of the Gambia

Drummers at a Senegambian wrestling match

The music of the Gambia is closely linked musically with that of its neighbor, Senegal, which surrounds its inland frontiers completely. Among its prominent musicians is Foday Musa Suso. Mbalax is a widely known popular dance music of the Gambia and neighbouring Senegal. It fuses popular Western music and dance, with sabar, the traditional drumming and dance music of the Wolof and Serer people.

National music

"For The Gambia Our Homeland", the national anthem of the Gambia, was composed by Jeremy Frederic Howe, based on the traditional Mandinka song "Foday Kaba Dumbuya", with words Virginia Julia Howe for an international competition to produce an anthem (and flag) before independence from the United Kingdom in 1965.

Traditional music

The Gambia, the smallest country in mainland Africa, is an independent coastal state along the River Gambia. It gained its separate identity as a colony of the United Kingdom while Senegal was a colony of France, but the two countries' traditional music are very much intertwined. Among Gambia's people, who together number some 1.728 million (2010), 42% are Mandinka, 18% Fula, 16% Wolof\Serer, 10% Jola and 9% Soninke, the remainder being 4% other African and 1% non-African (2003). 63% of Gambians live in rural villages (1993 census), though the population is young and tends towards urbanization. 90% are Muslims and most of the remainder Christians.

Griots, also known as jelis, hereditary praise-singers, a legacy of the Mande Empire, are common throughout the region. Gambian griots, as elsewhere, often play the kora, a 21 string harp. The region of Brikama has produced some famous musicians, including Foday Musa Suso, who founded the Mandingo Griot Society in New York City in the 1970s, bringing Mande music to the New York avant-garde scene and collaborating with Bill Laswell, Philip Glass and the Kronos Quartet.

Mbalax (meaning "rhythm" in Wolof),derives its from accompanying rhythms used in sabar, a tradition that originated from the Serer of the Kingdom of Sine and spread to the Kingdom of Saloum whence Wolof migrants took it to the Wolof kingdoms.[1] The Nder (lead drum), Sabar (rhythm drum), and Tama (talking drum) percussion section traces some of its technique to the ritual music of Njuup.[2][3][4]

The Njuup was also progenitor of Tassu, used when chanting ancient religious verses. The griots of Senegambia still use it at marriages, naming ceremonies or when singing the praises of patrons. Most Senegalese and Gambian artists use it in their songs.[5] The Serer people are known especially for vocal and rhythmic practices that infuse their everyday language with complex overlapping cadences and their ritual with intense collaborative layerings of voice and rhythm."[5] Each motif has a purpose and is used for different occasions. Individual motifs represent the history and genealogy of a particular family and are used during weddings, naming ceremonies, funerals etc.

Popular music

Gambian popular music began in the 1960s. The Super Eagles and Guelewar formed under the influence of American, British and Cuban music. The Super Eagles played merengue and other pop genres with Wolof lyrics and minor African elements. They visited London in 1977, appearing on Mike Raven's Band Call. After the programme, when the band began playing traditional tunes an unknown listener is said to have inspired the group to return the Gambia's musical roots, and they spent two years travelling around studying traditional music. The reformed band was called Ifang Bondi, and their style was Afro-Manding blues.

Gambian Laba Sosseh, who relocated to Dakar, Senegal as a teenager, spent his entire career outside of the Gambia, becoming a significant presence in the African and New York salsa scene. Civil unrest caused Ifang Bondi and other Gambian musicians to leave for Europe.

Former Ifang Bondi musician Juldeh Camara has been working with Justin Adams since 2007 and has been touring all over the world. Also from Ifang Bondi, Musa Mboob and Ousman Beyai have started a new group XamXam [6] which started with a project in the Gambia to produce new music by taking six musicians based in the UK to the Gambia to work with top musicians from four different tribal backgrounds. Ousman Beyai moved to the UK where he worked with Musa Mboob to set up the live band XamXam.

Jaliba Kuyateh and his Kumareh band is currently the most popular exponent of Gambia's Mandinka music. There is also a thriving Gambian hip hop scene.


  1. ^ Patricia Tang. Masters of the Sabar: Wolof griot percussionists of Senegal, p-p32, 34. Temple University Press, 2007. ISBN 1-59213-420-3
  2. ^ (French) Ferloo
  3. ^ Mangin, Timothy R. "Notes on Jazz in Senegal." Uptown Conversation: The New Jazz Studies. Eds. O'Meally, Robert G., Brent Hayes Edwards and Farah Jasmine Griffin. New York: Columbia University Press, 2004. 224-49. Print.
  4. ^ For the Njuup tradition, see: The Culture Trip
  5. ^ a b Ali Colleen Neff. Tassou: the Ancient Spoken Word of African Women. 2010.
  6. ^


  • Hudson, Mark, Jenny Cathcart and Lucy Duran. "Senegambian Stars Are Here to Stay". 2000. In Broughton, Simon and Ellingham, Mark with McConnachie, James and Duane, Orla (Ed.), World Music, Vol. 1: Africa, Europe and the Middle East, pp 617–633. Rough Guides Ltd, Penguin Books. ISBN 1-85828-636-0


A Gambian music discography is located at

This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.

Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from Project Gutenberg are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.