Wall of Sound…..Music in Gambia


“Me, I’ve got the biggest sound!” – DJ Scatel (Farafenni)

Music is a big part of the culture here and something that I was interested in exploring. Luckily I haven’t had to work hard to find it – music floods the streets and compounds on a daily basis. There’s traditional African music with the kora and local drums as well as pop music that the younger generation are more interested in. At the bottom of the post I’ll post some links to songs. It’s no wonder “ear plugs for sleeping” are on the PC packing list for Gambia.

When I first got here I thought the music was pretty bad but, as you can guess, I’ve started to enjoy it and learn the words to the songs. A lot of music is dance hall style with some rap and bigger artists being from Nigeria, Senegal, Jamaica etc. The songs are fun, catchy and enjoyable as long as you don’t “over think” it or compare it to something more musically complex. Plus, the music here gets everybody dancing; what better testament to a songs worth than that? Dance circles break out frequently, with 1 inch cell phone speakers trying their hardest to fill up rooms and sitting places.

I’m going to share a quick post about the music scene at a wedding I attended in the Kiang area where I did my Pre-service 2-month training. I was invited and met a DJ there named “lucky.” DJ Lucky showed me his setup and explained how he travels around the area playing music for various programs (e.g., naming ceremonies, birthday parties, weddings etc.). The rate charged for a day can be around 2000 Dalasi ( around $50). One may also have to pay for the truck to transport the equipment or a donkey cart if the party is not far away.

When I first got to the program there was no music. Thankfully a boy rode up on his bike with this big battery strapped on the back. He hooked up this basic stereo and blasted music for an hour until DJ Lucky arrived. Music always seems to be played really loud – the “norm” is to blast the music and just yell to talk to the person sitting next to you. Overall, there’s a lot less idle chat here and a lot more sitting quietly. This is something I’ve had to get used to, as there’s no one who’ll understand “how bout them tigers?” It’s good to cut down on the chat I think.

DJ Lucky came and we needed to change out a sub woofer and a couple tweeters. Here we are doing the repairs before getting the big sound going. This speaks to the way work happens here in Gambia – lots of helping hands getting the job done with whatever tools we have on hand (see fork used as flat head screwdriver).

Getting ready to play some music. These speakers are powered by a generator that’s running 50 yards away so the sound doesn’t interfere with the music. One cool thing that happened was that I got a quick haircut right before this photograph was taken. Haircuts are usually done with some water and a single flat razor blade. It was nice to be part of the crew and just relax and go with the scene – local haircut, loud music, lots of greetings and handshakes, drinking attaya, etc. The programs last all day and are hot but it’s a big step to integrating and understanding the culture a little bit more each time. I always walk away learning something.

And here’s my friend – look at how tall the speakers are next to him! Probably the tallest stack I’ve seen here. You can also see the fresh speaker boxes laying there – the tweeters are in and it’s time to play the music. This system was incredibly loud and placed 10 feet away from our main sitting area. It was nice when 2:00pm prayer came and everything quieted save for the call to prayer from the mosque’s PA system. All of a sudden I remembered I was in a small, humble village in West Africa. Then DJ Lucky faded up channel 1 and blasted that sentiment away to restart the party. The contrast was great and I enjoyed the mix of culture even within the village.

Here are some music videos if you’re interested to hear some of the songs playing around here.

Thank you for reading – feel free to ask any questions and make comments. -stephen

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