Tuesday 18th Nov 2014.
Serious shopping this morning. We ordered Cherno and his taxi and went into town to buy mayo, sugar, eggs and various other things, eggs being particularly tricky on the bikes. I can do short distances with a tray of eggs on the back but the potholes make it very challenging. I always feel a bit uncomfortable shopping this way as I feel being seen in a taxi in town gives people the wrong idea of our finances, and most people already have the wrong idea about our finances. We dropped the washing off to Kaddy on the way, who conveniently lives where the drums are stored. So various jobs have now been done. I can handwash clothes but it takes ages and I really struggle with towels and jeans so it seems better to pay Kaddy to do it. This gives her a bit of income and saves me a lot of hard work and time. This lot get through a lot of sugar. They’ve happily embraced the English custom of the tea break and most people have three or more sugars if it’s available, plus sugar for cooking porridge so the five kilos we bought at the start are all gone!
Breakfast is steamed fish done by Oka (after a bit of fiddling about yesterday with the ‘order’ for the minced fish but it did get sorted) and I’ve got more accara for me and Martin. There’s plenty of bread today too and we’ve still got some honey left. We got back as the band were finishing eating and Martin had almost finished setting up. Hadja phoned to say she’s in the market en route and will be back in time to cook lunch, so all is well provisions-wise and I don’t have to worry about food later on (I hope).
We’ve got the rest of the whole group retakes scheduled for today and tomorrow, starting with Mirri kobi kobi. This one is lovely and slow and gentle, no shakers and three vocalists. The gongo is very prominent and it sounds gorgeous. We’re aiming to let each instrument ‘shine’ in at least one track although the two sets of drums work together so they are kind of exception. Temedi is very drum ‘heavy’ and is very groovy indeed. We’ve got the two instrumental tracks which have a very different feel then Manet with the two bolons, This way of doing it was my idea and Moussa wasn’t all that happy with it to start with but we’ve got such a range of instruments and talent. The gongo is so fantastic played as well as they all do (I wanted to do a track just with gongo but was overruled). I don’t play on this one so am taking pictures.
It’s almost lunchtime and we’ve done three which leaves one more whole group track to do, one more bala ‘instrumental’ (this is still on the list although I have a feeling that I’m not going to get this done no matter how hard I push) and the overdubs. So we’re well on track timetable-wise. The energy is a bit ‘edgy’ today. The start of Temedi where we come in one by one isn’t working very well as people are rushing and we’ve had to restart a lot of times and this is then making people fractious! We’re also not getting agreement on the exact lyrics or where they are in relation to the rhythm with both Temedi and Mirri Kobi Kobi. These are less ‘finished’ in Moussas’ head too so he’s doing more tweaking and adjusting than usual and that isn’t helping anyone to feel settled in what we’re playing.
I’m getting fed up of counting everyone in and then having to stop the whole thing about half a minute later because it’s wrong. For some reason it works better if I do this than if anyone else does it, I do it in French but keep meaning to practise my Susu, in which I can count to four, then forgetting and defaulting to French. I’m also singing lyrics which I don’t really know and which haven’t been properly explained to me yet, so a tiring morning.
We got a bit of work done on lyrics at lunchtime. Souleymane has been working hard at writing things down for me. The process is still painfully slow and necessitates the involvement of Moussa which makes him tired. He does understand that people need to understand what the songs are about but the unpicking of meaning and attempts to rephrase in English is very tiring for us all. It’s going to be a large chunk of work when I get back to England, sorting out the translations.
The gist of Mirri kobi kobi is something like: ‘A person who’s not good won’t get a good life. People will come to a good person. A bad person will end up by themselves’. It’s a song for/about Moussas first ‘patron’, Lamin Traore. A guy on the isle of Kassa, where he was trying to get a boat to Gambia to start his musical adventures. Lamin took him in as a kind of minstrel – to play for him, fed him and encouraged him. This is common practise and kind of what all musicians are looking for, a patron, a sponsor. Here in Gambia most of them are hoping to link up to a European person for this purpose. It’s what the band want from me, kind of what I am to them (the difficulty being that I don’t have the finances to take them on). The song praises Lamin, thanking him for his kindness and encouragement, and uses him as an example of good people who encourage others (particularly musicians I think). Kobi Kobi is like ‘mu fa’ a Susu word I know well, meaning ‘not good’. It’s got owls in it (well sound effects of owls) which people are suspicious of here, think they are sorcerers or shape changers and a kind of onomatopoeic sound ‘katakata’ which represents the way babies shiver in their mothers arms when something bad passes. Bad people I’m told, can transform into owls and that’s why people don’t like owls. (I’m keeping my love of owls to myself).
I’m sort of getting to grips with the word ‘Iggy’ which is maybe ‘jiggy’. The way the pronunciation of something seems to change drives me mad but sometimes things are sung a certain way, ‘broken’ they call it, and then said another way. Also I probably don’t always ‘hear’ it right, then there’s accents and dialects and street Susu which isn’t the same as ‘pure’ Susu and sometimes I despair of ever making any sense of any African language at all! Jiggy then is kind of ‘trust’, a relationship of trust, a person you trust not to hurt you. I represent this for Moussa and for Oka I’m told. I ‘help’ and I can be relied on not to betray. Trust is a big issue here. Poverty, plus the notion of a white person or European representing a ‘chance’, can cause musicians to seriously betray each other. I know a bit of the history of Moussa and Okameos’ musical journey from Guinea. Arriving in Gambia in 2002 and playing in both Gambia and Senegal in a group called Emmanitude Culture. They hooked up with a French Guy called Pierre and it all went very pear-shaped indeed. Somewhere there’s an album Pierre recorded and I met him once, although Moussa wasn’t in that group anymore by then, but I’ve no idea where he is or how to get hold of that CD. The idea of making money, serious money, can destroy a group completely. I’m hoping that issues around money don’t tear us apart but I’m well aware that they might!
Hadja did get back in time to cook lunch – hooray! This afternoon much like this morning. Bit of a struggle, lots of problems with starting tracks. I’m exhausted! The band went home and Oka has stayed for a bit.
I was looking forward to an early night but it was not to be. Hadjas newly married sister and her husband came to visit. So far we’ve avoided visitors by not telling anyone what we’re really doing. Most people (hopefully) think we’re still running the workshop that finished nearly two weeks ago now. Also the advantage of being in Sanyang is that it’s a long way from Mangai (Susu Kunda i.e the house of the Susu in Gambia. A lot of the musicians we know live there, and it tends to be where new arrivals go) or anywhere else. So people have to have enough money for their ‘pass’ (around D50 return so not quite £1) to come to see us. Most of them can’t manage that unless they’ve got business with us and we pay it for them, so we remain largely undisturbed.
But Aishas new husband has a car so they had no problems getting here. I’m not sure if they are curious about what we’re doing or if Aisha just wants to show off her newly married status. She did work for me once as a replacement for Hadja who was away for a night during the 2nd workshop we ever did but she’s unreliable so I’ve never used her again. they came and sat with us, that slightly formal sitting around which I find so hard to endure as I feel obliged to try to make conversation to smooth the social awkwardness. We had a huge language problem as Aishas husband is Gambian so doesn’t speak French, which is what I tend to default to. We then either spoke English, which is good practise for Moussa but which he finds hard and so tends to become conversationally distant, or they had to talk amongst themselves in Mandinka, which I don’t speak. I can do the greetings (although I often mess up the response), say – yes, no, I love you and sing a couple of songs in Mandinka, none of these helpful for general conversation. Martin of course can’t speak Mandinka and doesn’t have much French.
One of our workshop participants had given Hadja frustration and a couple of other games so we played these which helped ease the social awkwardness. My ‘Englishness’ is excruciating in these kind of situations as I feel like I’m the ‘hostess’ but I don’t know all the rules. We’ve not got enough money to send out for a load of ‘soft drinks’ which is what well-off Africans do. Africans don’t always want tea or coffee in the evenings, which is what we have got, because they aren’t used to that – most people only have these with breakfast. The approach to conversation with people you don’t know also falls into the great cultural gulf – Europeans ask questions, Africans mostly don’t. I was very very tired by the time they left.