Friday, 24 October 2008

The Second Gambian Experience Part Six (The Old Weird America)

Photo's :-
'The Cuckoo is a pretty bird...'
Haddy and Lamin (and Mariama).

My second to last day dawned with sunlight which made a nice change with what had gone before so I’m out at about half seven again just doing some vague writing outside the compound gate sitting on one of those wooden seat come rests that Haddy has, mentally sketching the day and the people walking past while off to their respective workplace.
Some who have met me call out good morning and some other things but the vast majority just seem to be curious about the one obvious outsider in their midst.
It is of no worry to me.
I’m just lost in my own world for an hour or two until Haddy calls me inside for breakfast, after which, I’m back outside for another go, at which point Lamin turns up to say goodbye just in case he misses me tomorrow.
We tell him not to worry… We’ll be over his place tonight for a last visit before I’m off home again, although ‘home’ is a concept that I’m having serious difficulty with at the moment.
Lamin, who I’d previously met with a drum while at Fatou N’jai’s naming day is, I guess, a teacher, coach, mentor… Whatever ? To the local kids who are into music and football for he is adept at both despite using crutches to get around, and we talk generally about my stay and my return again at some point which is definitely something I intend to do and I’m going to miss the local kid’s who play their ‘Cup Final’ next week and then he tells me that Kawsu will be over to see me at some point today.
Now Kawsu is one of the guys I’ve met but I have no idea what’s going on so I just file it in my memory and think nothing of it until, of course Kawsu shows up and tells me that they are arranging three gigs for me for the next time I’m out there and can I bring the band ?
I think ‘gobsmacked’ is the right word although astonished and amazed are probably more accurate but don’t really carry the same weight.
It’s like the guy who translated the word bullshit into rubbish as in the expression ‘you’re talking bullshit’ (you’re talking rubbish).
How was it the translator was the one guy who never knew what the word ‘bullshit’ meant ?
So gobsmacked might be slang and not good English but at least it’s the right word and in this case definitely accurate.
Bringing the band that I’m working with at this present time is going to be next to nigh impossible as who knows what holiday arrangements they’ve all got left but we’ll see what we can do after I get back as unfortunately without the internet access I can do nothing while I’m here ?
Actually, my surprise is quite genuine as soundwise we are definitely a bit abrasive for a country that definitely prefers sweeter sounds but some of them have heard the minidisk that I recorded of us at Rhythms Of The World so they must know what they are getting…
Things are definitely beginning to get interesting.
If I can’t get the band which is likely then maybe a couple of members of Parnassus ?
I’ll see what I can do as two of the gigs are in halls with primary and junior school pupils and a couple of the local outfits and one is outdoors on the patch of waste ground behind Haddy’s compound with some of the older kids and a few local outfits, so Hey ho… let’s go… and I just have this crazy thought of The Nuzz Prowlin’ Wolf crashing into a Ramones or a Johnny Thunders riff on the waste ground outside to a bunch of Gambian kids who like their Rap and Reggae…
Damn… That thought is making me smile… and face it, stranger things have happened though right now I’m hard pressed to think of one ?

I’m cooking again tonight. Chicken this time and vaguely Chinese style with vegetables, chillis and noodles although Lord knows when I’m going to be able to cook it as I’ve promised Ebrima I’ll go and see him in the late afternoon and later I’m due round Lamin’s which is down the street away but I know which compound it is by the sounds of reggae emanating from it…
Well, that’s the plan if the rain holds off.
200 dalasi has just bought us a taxi tip to one of the supermarkets in Westfield, a couple of miles up the road which also has a bank to change up some last travellers cheques so I get the money sorted and the shopping trip done at the same time…
Enough apple juice for the rest of the stay and a couple of bits for the Chicken Chinese which I’m told they are all looking forward to trying.

Mariama’s friend Ida has just come over to watch a cartoon on the television.
It looks a sneaky bit like The Banana Splits to me, but who knows ?
The characters remind me of them even if this thing is set in the middle ages.
A couple of days ago we all watched ‘Babe’ with English sub-titles and followed that with it’s sequel Babe-Pig In The City which I might point out is nowhere near as good as the original but anyway…
Yeah, we watched ‘Babe’ and there were tears among the watchers when it looked like that little pig wasn’t going to succeed…
But didn’t you say that The Gambia is an approximately 87% Muslim country
Chris, and that Haddy’s children and friends are predominantly Moslem ?
Yes, I did… But it would seem that one little pig can melt a whole lot of hearts and maybe it was just me that got the contradiction but they didn’t think anything of it…
Babe was the good guy and he triumphs in the end by being nice to others…
I think that is the only way of looking at it and it ain’t a bad way at that… but that is for ‘The New Weird Gambia’ and not the old one…

The Old Weird Gambia…
The Kankurang comes from that place.
Stay with it and you will understand.
The Old Weird America…
That was the first expression coined by one of the ‘Beat poets’ some time in the late 1940’s and since taken up by authors and writers everywhere but where did the ‘Old Weird America’ come from ?
It came from England, It came from Scotland, It came from Ireland, It came from Wales and it came from France and Holland and Germany and it became by travel and emigration a thing of it’s own…
The Old Weird America like The Legend Of Sleepy Hollow (Yeah, I know it was invented by Washington Irving) and places like that, but there was an older earlier ‘Old Weird…’ with elf and faerie and men who kill swans who turn into maidens and all that strange folk music stuff that is centuries old but that must have come from somewhere... ?
Like Europe perhaps, but who knows ?
What matters is that exists.
It existed when I was young in the songs and nursery rhymes and strangely enough it never went away and exists even now, and even with the advent of the electronic superhighway and instant messaging to anywhere in the world that is logged on, it still exists…
The Old Weird America…
It’s a beautiful way of describing a mythic and legendary past and since I know for a fact The British Isles have a fair bit of ‘Old Weird’ emanating from it then it follows that other places must have their own also, and The Kankurang is definitely a bit of Old Weird Gambia and there it would have stayed except for one little item that freaked me out when I heard it…

Now there’s this cd box set, see…
It’s called The Harry Smith Anthology Of American Folk Music and it contains some of the oddest and strangest selections of old folk music known to the world of music.
It came from (obviously) a guy named Harry Smith who was an experimental film maker, artist and musicologist among other things and who amassed a collection of 78’s of early recorded music and what mattered to him was that it sounded different and not related to anything else that was around at the time and one of the items that you will find on it is a track by a guy named Clarence Ashley entitled The Cuckoo (or Coo-coo) and this track was recorded in 1928.
Now there is an older version of this song to even that one, as it actually appears in ‘Sharpes Folk Songs Of The British Isles’ which would definitely make it seventeenth or eighteenth century by the language used or possibly even earlier ?
This stuff obviously exists out there but unfortunately is known only to a few as opposed to the mass…
So imagine my surprise when a couple of Mariama’s friends started chanting the first line within one of their skip rope songs ?
Now I didn’t get it all, and some of it was in one of their indigenous languages but it was definitely The Cuckoo and what made it even weirder to me was that it was the American version.
Obviously, going back there again I’m going on a hunt for the kids to find out where they got it from if I can, but why the American and not the English version ?
The Gambia was a British colony before independence and there are a couple of word changes within the two versions which give away the country of origin.
Hey ! I’m not an expert on this stuff, I didn’t even know there was an English version which predated Clarence Ashley’s until I looked it up, so how did it end up in The Gambia ?
To my knowledge there are no serious folk music freaks in that part of Fajikunda so could they have got it from one of their school teachers who knows the thing ?
I dunno, but it certainly freaked me and I’m going to have to find out as the intrigue is beginning to get to me.
Anyway, if you don’t own the Harry Smith Anthology, just do yourself a favour and buy it. Give the wife (or husband) a few quid to get them out of the house, dim the lights, pour yourself a cup or glass of whatever takes your fancy, stick cd no.1 in the cd player and press play and then settle down and relax and just let it do it’s work…
I guarantee that when you’ve got through the cd’s you will have more questions than answers.
Will it change your life ?
Well, if music is part of your lifestyle then I would say yes, definitely it will.
I’d known a few of the tracks on it for years but usually in their ‘cover’ versions by modern performers.
Just as a for instance on ‘The Cuckoo’, I’ve got a Tom Rush version and a live Bob Dylan version in my own collection and from memory I know I’ve another by a female but right now I can’t remember who ? (Janis Joplin).
Hearing the originals puts you in a different time frame as all the tracks on it were recorded between 1927-1933 and listening to them (for an old vinyl junkie like me) without the pops and crackles that accompanied the old thirty three and a third format is an amazing experience…
Anyway, do yourselves a favour… Just go out and buy the thing or borrow it off a mate or hire it from your library, but listen to it.
This stuff should be taught in school music lessons and not how to play Wonderwall
as this stuff is more likely to live forever.
The Old Weird Gambia is maybe nearer the Old Weird America or the Old Weird England than some people think ?

Haddy has a cuckoo living in her orange tree in her compound…
Karma ?
Omen ?
Or just serendipitous coincidence ?
By this time she will have read the Greil Marcus book and passed it on to Lamin to read also.
Maybe when I get back they can shed some light on it ?
It’s a strange old world sometimes and occasionally it gets stranger…

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