Thursday, 25 September 2014


It was now nearly time to leave.
For three weeks of seeing the family and friends and getting a few things sorted out it had certainly been an eventful break.
And we HAD actually managed to get a few things sorted out and had a little bit of fun along the way and you can’t really ask more from life than that.
But all good things eventually come to an end and ours was rapidly approaching because we were in our last week and the two youngest had gone back to school, but before we left I had one more job to do.

Before we’d arrived in The Gambia we’d got Mariama and Jalika to go and see their headmistress at Gola Fortunate and ask if she minded running a little competition between all the children who had contributed toward the Rhythms of The World backdrop that they had created for us, and she had been happy to do so.
One of the things Rhythms does on a regular basis is sell out of children’s sized t-shirts and we’d managed to get hold of five of them before they had done so.
Two were going to Mariama and Jalika, but the other three would be going to the school as prizes.
There was going to be one question only and the best three answers in the Headmistresses opinion would be the three winners.
The competition was held while we were in The Gambia, the three winners had been adjudged, and now it was time to present the prizes.
The question that we’d asked the children was ‘Why do you think it is important that music brings the world together ?’
And so early in the morning of our second to last day we were walking up to Gola Fortunate once again.

This time we’d given them the first hour and so we’d see the headmistress first and ask her how she wanted to do it. Whether in the classrooms or in her office ?
The Headmistress decided on her office, and sent a runner to fetch the first winner.

When she turned up the poor lass thought she’d done something wrong, but seeing us there as well hopefully put her mind at rest ?
Our second winner was unfortunately not at school that day, but our third winner was, and so we praised her also and said thank you very much for being part of the whole Rhythms of The World thing.

Their contribution would be gracing the stage again next year so long as we had a festival and although they were only rumours, it did look like it was actually going to happen again as a proper festival and not the three gigs we had this year.
We took a few pictures with everybody’s permission and the Headmistress got us copies of the winning entries and I have to admit I was impressed with their efforts.
Ok, I’m writing this after the event from notes I took at the time, but you have to admit they came pretty close to what it’s all about.

Here’s Ida Secka’s winning entry:

Here’s Amie Camara’s winning entry:

And here’s Amie Ceesay’s winning entry:

Do you notice anything strange ?
The winners were all girls.
I’m guessing that had the question been asked in the UK or the USA or Japan, or most of Europe even, then we’d have had at least one boy or possibly two among them ?
The whole music thing is definitely predominantly male based in the UK although the women do come through occasionally.
It’s more prevalent in the USA because a. The country is a lot larger, and b. The genres are authentic to the differing regions and so girls growing up learning their family’s instruments are a lot more common.  
And before we get into arguments on the subject, I’m talking about musicians, and NOT winners of television talent shows.
When did a real group or a real singer/songwriter ever win one of those ?
You could probably count them on the fingers of one hand after you’ve had an industrial accident !
Too cynical ?
I don’t think so.
So what I was so pleased about is that our three winners had obviously thought about the question that we had posed.
Out in The Gambia, being a musician was definitely a male preserve.
There were some outstanding female musicians, but they were very few and most of those were from griot families.
We’d had one at Rhythms a year ago.
Sona Jobarteh.
Probably the world’s foremost female kora player.
But Sona comes from a griot family and so it will be in her genetic makeup.
Her Father and Uncles are all musicians too.
So having three little girls win our competition was a definite eye-opener.
The times are definitely a’changing because young girls are still expected to defer to the male members of their families.
I’d like to see Amadou try that on with his sisters.
The results could be quite entertaining…
And music was not even part of the Gambian school curriculum.
But with the internet revolution it was now available to all.
No… Things are changing.
I can’t speak for any of the other countries in the African continent but Gambian kids listen, and they know what they like.
And it’s not just Madonna or Rhiannon or the big hitters either, they listen to things that we might take for granted, and it’s not like they have adventurous radio stations, they don’t.
The one that does play western music is from 9am until 12.00midday and I’m guessing it’s a sop for the tourist industry ?
The rest is rap, hip-hop and reggae with a smattering of African music.
So do the math’.
The Gambia is just one small country in Africa but the kids know who Bruce Springsteen is, and they know who Dolly Parton is, and I’m not just talking about our family either.
Amadou had asked for a cd of an Irish folkie type band that I’d never even heard of.
Why ?
Because he knew somebody who had mentioned they liked them, looked them up himself and decided that yes, they were a band for him.
At least I’d heard of the singer that Hassanatou had asked for, even though I hadn’t a clue what she sounded like ?
(New Country should you want the genre ?)
Now multiply that by the amount of children in Africa with access to the internet.
You can see what I’m getting at here…
The times are a’changing because they are not cut off any more.
So yeah, I’m pleased with our winning entries, pleased that the girls came out on top, and even more pleased that they felt that they could compete as equals.
Because in my wife’s time that would not have occurred.

After the presentations the Headmistress told us about our pair.
Apparently Mariama’s name has been put forward for Head Girl ?
This is a bit of a worry because our little drum monster knows all the dodges, and so the Headmistress thinks that she’d be better off as Assistant Head Girl helping out the Head Girl.
She has a valid point, and when I said (and explained) ‘You mean set a poacher to catch a poacher’ ?
She said ‘Exactly that’.
Haddy and I just looked at each other and laughed…
That sounds like the Mariama we know and love.
She’d also not gone in for the competition.
When she was asked why, she’d replied that she already had that t-shirt and she didn’t think it fair that she might get another one if she’d won it, and so she’d ruled herself out.
Haddy and I just looked at each other…
That definitely sounded like Mariama.
Her sense of what is right and what is wrong does sometimes put a few adults we could name to shame. 

As for Jalika, she was getting more confident in joining in everything.
She was still quiet.
(Very quiet compared to Mariama)
But her quietness was deceptive.
She took things in and thought about them before she committed herself.
And her French was amazing.
She’d really taken to it, pleasing her teacher immensely.
It had been a slow haul but she was beginning to get the hang of this learning business.
She hadn’t thumped anybody for ages, so they were all hoping that her earlier ripostes to those she felt threatened by were behind her ?
I’m not sure that’s entirely accurate, bearing in mind what had occurred in the last week, but I’m happy to go along with it. 
So, a quick trip to see the pair of them in their classes and a few more photographs and that was it.
Mariama as Head Girl or Assistant Head Girl ?
Oh well, it’s her last year at Gola Fortunate.
She will be going to a Senior School next September and that will be an interesting time…
The fact that the Headmistress trusted her enough to consider her nomination would hold her in good stead when she changed.
I think Haddy and I need to have a chat about her future because I don’t know enough about the Gambian school system.
The only thing I do know is that St Theresa’s is regarded as one of the best if not the best in the country ?
But like everything else, times change…
Now let’s try and have a relaxing time for the rest of the day, shall we ?

We walked slowly home and discussed the children.
Haddy wasn’t sure about St Theresa’s any more.
She thought maybe St Peter’s was a better bet for Mariama ?
I suppose we’ll have to find out nearer the event ?
When she told me where St Peter’s was, I didn’t believe her.
It’s a two taxi ride, and it’s a good few miles away off the main road leading to the airport.
Still, nothing we can do about it now and so it’s home to a cup of tea, I reckon ?
We spent the rest of the morning and early afternoon shelling even more peanuts.
Thankfully it had been a bumper crop this year and it seemed every family we knew had loads of them.
There certainly seemed to be enough to go round.
And then round about two in the afternoon, Haddy went inside, and left me to change the music on the computer.
I did, and stuck Rokia Traore on.
Rockia is a Malian singer/songwriter and plays guitar a bit.
She’s a striking looking woman with her man style short hair and looks like she could have been a top model in another life.
Anyway, Google her up and play something if you’ve never heard of her before, I think you might find it worth it ?
Screw it !
Just click on the link below to a one hour forty minute gig and it’s done.
The album I was playing was entitled ‘Tchamantche’, and now try and picture this…
I’m sitting on a mat in the middle of the compound.
Hassanatou is over by the kitchen sorting out some food, and Haddy is sitting inside the house when this old lady (probably about sixty to seventy but it’s sometimes difficult to work out, out there) came in through our front gates and made straight for me.
I stood up and motioned her to take one of the chairs scattered about, but before she sat she started talking…
And I didn’t recognise the language.
When the locals speak in any of the local languages they tend to use one predominantly and mix in a few from the others if they want specific meanings but this certainly wasn’t one of them and even I knew that.
It sounded like there was a bit of French in there, but I couldn’t be sure ?
So, stumped, I said ‘wait there’ and went to fetch Haddy.
Haddy came out and asked the old girl inside where she insisted on sitting on the floor rather than a chair and started shelling nuts…
See… Everybody does it.
Anyway, it turns out that this lady has been in The Gambia for just over a year and is a refugee from the Islamic Taliban in Mali.
Things started getting a bit fierce down her way and rather than stay and be terrorised by a different form of Islam than the one she’d grown up with, her family had scattered and she’d found herself in The Gambia.
So imagine her surprise while walking up to the main road from Fajikunda to hear Malian music coming from one of the compounds, and being played by ‘un blanc’ as well ?
She literally thought she was dreaming.
So would we mind if she stayed and listened to the music as she had not heard any of her own country’s music for a long time.
She was happy to help shell nuts while she was doing so if we’d let her  ?
Hey !
What can you say ?
Haddy tried offering her a drink but she only wanted a few sips of water.
I asked her via Haddy if she passed this way often, as the family did have some Malian music in the house, and were somebody to be in, then I’m sure nobody would mind if the kids put it on so that she could listen to a bit more ?
But no…
She didn’t feel able to do that as it would be imposing.
Just as Rokia’s cd was finishing I switched her to Toumani Diabate and that’s when her tears started…
There was nothing wrong, it had just been a very emotional afternoon for her.
This had been the sort of music that she knew throughout her whole body.
About twenty minutes later Mariama and Jalika came back from school and before she went in to change, Mariama stopped to see who was playing.
And indoors to change they both went.
Within seconds the pair of them are out again, Mariama holding her Mother’s copy of another Toumani cd, and a copy of Fatoumata Diawara’s as well.
‘Uncle Chris, play these as well…’
‘You know what they are then’ ?
‘Everybody knows who they are…’
I’m not sure that’s particularly true, but within this family it’s a possible if not a probable.
The next thing we know is that the two little one’s are talking to the old lady in French and she’s gabbling away like a good’un.
About ten minutes later she got up to leave us.
Haddy asked her to stay for some food but she wouldn’t, and told her that she had imposed on us long enough and she was leaving now, but thank you for the afternoon as it had meant a lot to her…
And she left.
That wasn’t just odd, that was totally surreal.
I wonder if we’ll ever see her again ?
I’d like to think she might come back again sometime, but who knows.
We’ll have to wait and see ?
What was it our Rhythms winners had written ?
Music brings happiness ?
Music brings people together ?
They’d got that bang on the button !

It had been a good day. 


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