Thursday, 15 January 2009

The Third Gambian Experience Part Five (Singing Thank You... For A Real Good Time...)

Photo's from the top:-

Sainabou creating foodie heaven.
The Twins: Hassanatou & Husainatou, or maybe it's vice versa ? (Our main backing singers to be).
Joy sorting out her set with Omar & Amadou.
It's A (Wo)Man's World.
Roots Infants having stolen the show...

It was the Gone With The Wind film that came up with that classic quote 'Tomorrow Is Another Day' back in 1939 and that quote has stayed in the universal consciousness since that time and has stuck there...
Trouble is, when you've gone through the night and no sleep is available then the Buddhist text of 'There is no today or tomorrow... Only now' looks a lot more accurate, but I'll leave that up to others to work out...
There is only today and today started a few hours ago but it's a Saturday and the children aren't schoolbound and some of the workers aren't workbound either and so some come over and chat while I'm propped up against the wall outside just writing random notes into a notebook.
I've managed to lose the two coca-cola bottles that I'd bought from the shop opposite so I'll have to sort him out later as there's a money back deal for the shopkeeper and he's going to lose out if I don't but that's not a major problem.
The major problem is what to do about Joy's involvement ?
If she'd stick to what we'd already discussed before we got here then there would be no problem and there wouldn't have been any unpleasantness last night either, but to use another quote 'The Best Laid Plans Of Mice And Men' and all that...
Oh well, if she wants out then that's her decision but I'm sticking to my set for tonight and she can stick to her's if that's what she wants ?
If working together isn't working then work solo.
It cuts our strength on stage but it can't be helped.
Ok, decision made...
On my side at least.
The one gratifying thing is the amount of teenage girls who come over and shake my hand and tell me that they enjoyed what we did last night.
Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed it too, up to the point it went pear shaped, anyway.
Thanks girls... I appreciate it... Even if I do know you were really only there to see Jalex, and if I hadn't been performing then I'd have been there for him too, so...

The family slowly comes to life about 11am when I hear the television go on so I ask Haddy to come over to the shop with me and sort out the missing bottles.
The guy is going to charge me twenty dalasi for the missing ones but since I know I'll probably lose a couple more tonight even if we are performing virtually opposite his establishment, I bung him a fifty note and tell him to keep it or buy his kids something with the extra.
The nice thing about that is that one of them comes over a few minutes later to tell me thank you for the drink and the sweets...
Money doesn't cure everything but I'd much rather be straight with these people than not.
If I don't then it'll rebound on Haddy or the kids at some point and I'm not having that, and fifty dalasi works out about £1.60 English at the current rate as it was then.
I'm not made of money but I do have access to a bit more even if the travellers cheques are now all used up as the few cash machines in the country take Visa cards and I can access it from the hole in the wall just like I do back in England.
Later on, I ask Haddy if the guys know I've bailed them out of their hole, and to try and explain to me what went wrong moneywise, last night ?
No they don't... Yet.
She'll tell them when they wake up and come over later this afternoon but right now she's out of credit on the 'phone.
Well please let them know as soon as possible, as owing money when you don't have it is a horrible place to be and I should know because I've been there often enough myself.
Having said that, there's not a single performer that I've booked who hasn't been paid eventually even if a couple of them have had to wait a few weeks for it.
Apparently there was a big meeting when all the decisions were being made a couple of weeks before I got the original dates and after they'd asked Jalex to appear and he'd cut his fee because it was all in aid of a local youth club, somebody had got hold of the idea that it was going to be a licence to print money.
Basically they thought that nothing could stop them selling out of tickets and the place would be 'rammed'.
(That's an English expression that just means full up, ok ?).
Did they do their homework on who was going to come locally ?
Unfortunately, no.
That's usually one of the things any promotor does before even booking the hall for the event, plus you need posters up in every establishment that will take one rather than in just a few select establishments.
You need total saturation on advertising or things like last night will occur.
It would have been great to be able to sell tickets in advance as well but without an electronic scanner for a hologrammed ticket there is no way that they would have been able to avoid forged tickets appearing, so that was out also.
Oh well, you learn by your mistakes and have you ?
I was assured that she had at least.
One down and seven or eight to go, then.
When it was first put to me that I was coming over to do them way back in July, I'd thought, because that is what we'd discussed, that there was going to be a 'tiered' entrance fee structure.
The kids under 10 were coming at one price and the teens and adults at another, and I was under the impression that it was going to be at the local youth club.
Unfortunately, getting Jalex on board meant that they would probably (and logically) have needed a larger space for the event so they went for the biggest hall in the area and I have to say that it's a nice hall to play, but definitely a bit large for us.
In England, depending on the event, I'm used to playing places with a 300ish person ceiling on the audience and if it's a poetry only event then it's usually between 50-100 people maximum.
The rock club I play on a regular basis has a ceiling of 244 people plus stage and crew and when that's full or nearly full you definitely know it.
It's cozy, and you're close enough to get a reaction from the audience.
I've done a few biggies with a couple of thousand people on all day events but they're always impersonal and you never seem to get the same reaction although the 'Mayfest' which is held in a large marquee is a yearly event and that holds about a thousand and that is one of the few without an impersonal atmosphere, but then I've been to all of them over the last fourteen years whether I've been performing or not and so it's like a meeting of old friends rather than a gig.
Oh well, you live and learn...
I have, and I hope they all have too.

Joy surfaces around midday, walking down the road to the compound from the guest house.
"Have you done all your running about to the bank ?"
"Yeah... Why ?"
"I just wondered what was so important about it... You were talking about it when I got in the car last night ?"
"They lost a packet on the gig last night... I bailed 'em out".
"It's done. They've got the money to pay everybody now and I've got nothing left apart from what's in my pocket but at least they're coming out even... I can get more out of the hole in the wall for me but I can't go mad because the holiday money's gone and I'll be running on empty when I get home"
"I'm sorry about last night... You were right, I went for myself and I should have thought of everyone else"
I don't think she's ever said anything like that to me before, ever...
Certainly not when we were together as an item, so the apology came as a serious shock to the system...
This is a woman who is never wrong... Even when she is.
" 's ok... I did want to ask you whether you wanted your own set tonight... After last night I don't care either way but I'm sticking to what I originally was going to do, set wise"
"No... We'll do it together if that's ok ?"
"Yeah... 'course it is"
"How much did they lose ?"
"Seven thousand, five hundred"
"Christ !"
And she reached out and touched my shoulder with the palm of her hand...
She really hadn't known... She was so bound into the 'respect' and 'blackness' thing that it hadn't even seemed to occur to her that anything was wrong and the look on her face said it all...
"Hey... Don't worry 'bout it. I'm sorry I blew my stack but it had to come out somewhere, now can we get off this subject and sort out what we're doing... Shit ! Hang on a minute... I need paper and a pen... Now !"
"What... ? Oh !"
"Shurrup... Pass me the notebook and that pen... Quick"
And there and then I wrote a poem that had been incubating inside for a little while and not just on this trip out. It had been there last time I came out and it had obviously needed a bit of a gestation period before I wrote it out, but when I'd written it and changed one word I was reasonably happy with it because it summed up, for me anyway, one of the things I liked most about some of the people I cared about out here.
It was about Haddy's youngest daughter Mariama, and Ida, the two nine year olds who were best friends and always smiling and getting into mischief together, but it had something else too... A sort of summing up of what makes The Gambia quite a special place for me because of the pair of them's sunny outlook on life.
Anyway, I hoped it had done the pair of them justice...
Then I showed it to Joy.
"That's really nice... It seems to mean more than just the words"
"Good... That's what I was aiming for... Don't tell 'em and I'll do it tonight and surprise the living daylights out of them... Right... What's your approximate set... How long are we on, anyway ?"
"Dunno... We haven't got the musicians tonight... I thought probably two or three songs and the rest poetry... about seven or eight in all ?"
"Sounds ok to me... What'cha got ?"
And in that totally unprofessional way we have of sorting things out, we arranged our set for the evening, which, thankfully, was going to be starting a little bit earlier than yesterday's.

Round about four thirty in the afternoon we broke for lunch just as the p.a. turned up along with three or four teachers, a whole load of parents, and a bunch of little ones from Roots Infants...
Now I don't tend to do too many gigs in the middle of the road... I have done, believe it or not ? but it is quite rare.
However, we'd got the permit from the local police station to close the road and it was all taking place at the side of Haddy's compound about 40-50 yards away, so we bolted down the food and shot round the corner to watch the first act...
Anybody with children in an Infant school will know what the feeling is like watching their child in a school pageant or show, and even if you're an old cynic like me, watching those kids do their thing does tend to bring a little lump to the back of your throat especially when they've obviously practised it (They only had about 48 hours, remember ?) and they were all foot and note perfect as far as I could see with their dancing and singing.
They were great.
Not only that, but they were a perfect introduction to the rest of the event...
Unfortunately I was now wishing I hadn't bolted the food because the inside of my stomach was beginning to feel like it had a whirlpool beginning within...
Nooooo.... Please no... Don't do this to me... Not now...
"Are you ok ?" From Joy, who has obviously noticed my discomfort.
"No, I'm not... See you in a bit... I hope"
And I was gone.
I managed to miss the songs, raps and poetry from the kids of Abuko School (All seven of them) but I got back in time for the play that they performed afterwards and apart from the odd technical problem (The power kept cutting out on their microphone) I have to say that they amazed me...
These kids... All younger teenagers, produced a play, which with a bit of judicious pruning and editing, would not have been out of place on the old B.B.C's Play for Today if anybody remembers that ?
It was up to date, it concerned Aids and H.I.V. and how it is spread in parts of Africa (even The Gambia is not immune because it does affect everybody if they're not careful) it was happy, sad, witty, serious, and it obviously had a safety message within, and to sum it up...
It was quite brilliant.
48 hours...
That's all the time those kids had to write it, practice it and perform it.
I don't want to pick on any one of them particularly, but the 'class comedian' who I mentioned earlier in the ol' blog, played the villain of the piece which meant that he usually got all the best lines and when his 'phone rang and he took the call (in the play, not in reality) while trying to chat up the father of the girl he wants to buy for a wife while one of his business arrangements falls apart, three simple words that I'd had directed at me on the previous night literally brought the house down...
'Hey... Fuck you !"
The whole crowd just roared with laughter...
Utterly brilliant.
Their names, in case anybody wishes to get in touch and commission a play from them, are
Alhage Drammeh, Omar Darbo, Adama Jarju, Awa Jarju, Isatou Konteh, Isatou Bah and Yankuba Fatty and if I've got this right then Alharge, Omar, Adama and Awa performed the poetry and Yankuba and the two Isatou's performed the songs, and although I managed to miss those, I am assured by Joy, Haddy and quite a few of the locals that the songs and poems were equally as impressive as their play.
They can all be found in Class 9A.
Unfortunately the school is not e-mailable and neither is their Headmaster which is a great shame but there is always the post and then a follow up 'phone call...
Those kids have a serious talent and I sincerely hope that they are encouraged to do more with it.
The problem is that the three things that they did, poetry, song and playwriting do not register too highly on The Gambian school curriculum which is more concerned with Maths, English and the Sciences.
Hey, I'm not knocking it. Most children in England can't spell for toffee, and these days can't string a couple of sentences together without an 'In'it' or any number of other badly spoken terms within (that's 'Isn't It' or 'Is it not', In'it... ? Yeah'tis).
and their mangling of what is a beautiful language when you get into it, appalls me.
Yes, I know I do it myself on occasion, and I do tend to vernacularise it when I write, but that's a writer's privelege... and besides, it wouldn't read like me writing it if I didn't, but that is a conscious choice on my behalf. Nobody else need do it if they don't want to, but I really do think that 'Creative Writing' should be a part of any school's English syllabus, or any other country's for that matter.
Facts are all well and good, but sometimes a little imagination can go a long, long way.
Anyway, those kids had the chance to do something with their imaginations and they roundly impressed the people of Fajikunda.
Their school should be proud of them...
Hell ! The Gambia should be proud of them...
I know we were.
When we made the original offer for any who wanted to come and join us to do so, we gave them carte-blanche to do anything they wanted to do from their own imaginations and they all came up trumps.
No snake eyes in that hand.
Trust... That's all it took.
Trusting them to do the right thing (or is that 'write' thing ?) and in only 48 hours ?
Credit where it's due, and they came through with honours.
Now that is worthy of some serious 'Respect'.

It had just gone dark when we were called to go on.
In part four I wondered what could go wrong with today's gig ?
Guess what ?
We hit the mic' and the electricity went off !!!!!
God ! You have to laugh.
However, we just looked at each other, gave the microphone back to the guy behind the p.a. and asked if anybody had got a couple of torches we could borrow ?
So, by the light of two torches we did the set we'd decided on doing, swapping back and forth and coming together on the songs.
I'd angled mine towards the younger ones in the audience, talking about The Old Weird England as opposed to The Old Weird Gambia, and the people they see on stilts in Banjul market which I believe is a Sierra Leoneian thing or so I've been told, and so I did my 'Giant' poem which I refer to as my Roald Dahl ripoff. It's not really, but the Giant does eat the child at the end and everybody laughed.
The Gambia doesn't seem to have much in the way of what we in England call 'Fairy Stories' but it does have The Kankurang in it's mythic past and so most people got the tie-in with a little explanation, and then I did my new one...
I finished it to silence... and then the applause started up.
Truth be told, when that occurs it's nice but you wish they'd stop because it stops the flow that you've got into...
The audience seemed to appreciate it anyway.
I never did see the two stars of it, but they were probably creating havoc somewhere nearby.
When I released my first cd back in 2003 I'd finished the gig it was recorded at with a duet with Joy on an old gospel hymn from The Bahamas written by a fellow by the name of Joseph Spence who performed with a vocal group named The Pirdah Brothers.
It's a nice simple little thing and it's a great way to end a great gig so I do dredge it out occasionally, and despite all the trials and tribulations of the previous night and losing the electrics on this one, tonight's had been a really nice one and so we ended with it.
I gave a little introduction telling everybody that it was a gospel hymn which means it did have Christian undertones but we meant no disrespect to any devout Muslims or anybody else for that matter, but it was a great song for the closing act to end with and so that is what we were going to do... And for all those who wonder why all my t-shirts have 'The Grateful Dead' on them, they were an American rock band whose music I really like, and this song was one of those that they used to end their concerts with, and now as 'The Dead', they still do (They dropped the 'Grateful' after their lead guitarist died back in 1995) and it's title is 'And We Bid You Goodnight'. It's probably fair to say that Joy, Haddy and maybe the kids and myself were the only people there who had ever heard it by The Dead, Grateful or not, but I knew Haddy's kids had heard my cd...
Here's the first verse...

'Lay down my dear brothers, lay down and take your rest
Oh won't you lay your head upon your saviour's breast
I love you, oh but Jesus loves you the best
And we bid you goodnight, goodnight, goodnight'.

Ok, change brothers to sisters (at Joy's insistence, but I don't mind) and repeat it for a second verse then just carry on doing the 'And we bid you goodnight, goodnight, goodnight' bit (In three's) for as long as you like until you repeat the first verse as the last one...
This one didn't end.
The soft clapping in time started on the first verse and the crowd came in on the 'and we bid you goodnight's' and didn't stop so we carried it on until I said 'Thank's a lot, thanks for staying with us, it's been great and we've had a blast... Goodnight... ' at which the applause went crazy but the singing didn't stop...
We left the makeshift stage and still by torchlight slowly made our way back to Haddy's compound, a distance of what ? probably forty yards maximum with the whole crowd following us and still singing...
When we'd got a compound full and no more could get in I dug out the laptop and extension speakers and fired up The Grateful Dead's version... (Cow Palace version for any Dead heads out there) and still they kept on singing... This time harmonising with a recording of an American rock band... and they only ended when the applause came up at the end.
It was then, and still is now, etched upon my memory.
It was absolutely beautiful and if The Dead ever get to hear of it then they should be proud that a cover of one of their cover versions got at least 150 people in a Gambian village harmonising along with them.
It was amazing and also very humbling, and for an old dyed in the wool Dead Head like me it was proof positive that that band really do have the power...
It truly was one of the moments of my life and will stay with me forever, no matter what might befall ?
And you know what ?
For one of the few times at a gig I'd completely forgotten to turn on the minidisk recorder...
I think that maybe that's the way that all our Gods would have wanted it.

Sleep ?
What's that ?
The computer has a battery and the girls wanted their favourite dance cd's played.
An hour later they're still at it when the electric's came back on line and so I played at dj for another couple of hours before everyone went back to their own homes...
I might sleep now.

Now THAT was a gig.

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