Music of the Gambia

Last updated
Drummers at a Senegambian wrestling match 1014067-Serrekunda arena for wrestling-The Gambia.jpg
Drummers at a Senegambian wrestling match

The music of the Gambia is closely linked musically with that of its neighbor, Senegal, which surrounds its inland frontiers completely. Among its prominent musicians is Foday Musa Suso. Mbalax is a widely known popular dance music of the Gambia and neighbouring Senegal. It fuses popular Western music and dance, with sabar , the traditional drumming and dance music of the Wolof and Serer people.

The Gambia country in West Africa

The Gambia, officially the Republic of The Gambia, is a country in West Africa that is almost entirely surrounded by Senegal with the exception of its western coastline along the Atlantic Ocean. It is the smallest country within mainland Africa.

Music of Senegal

Senegal's music is best known abroad due to the popularity of mbalax, a development of Serer sabar drumming popularized by Youssou N'Dour.

Foday Musa Suso Gambian musician

Foday Musa Suso is a Gambian musician and composer. He is a member of the Mandinka ethnic group, and is a griot. Griots are the oral historians and musicians of the Mandingo people who live in several west African nations. Griots are a living library for the community providing history, entertainment, and wisdom while playing and singing their songs. It is an extensive verbal and musical heritage that can only be passed down within a griot family.


National music

"For The Gambia Our Homeland", the national anthem of the Gambia, was composed by Jeremy Frederic Howe, based on the traditional Mandinka song "Foday Kaba Dumbuya", with words by Virginia Julia Howe, for an international competition to produce an anthem (and flag) before independence from the United Kingdom in 1965.

For The Gambia Our Homeland national anthem of the Gambia, written by Virginia Julia Howe and composed by Jeremy Frederic Howe (based on the traditional Mandinka song Foday Kaba Dumbuya), adopted after an international competition before independence in 1965

"For The Gambia Our Homeland" is the national anthem of the Gambia, written by Virginia Julia Howe and composed by Jeremy Frederic Howe. It was adopted after an international competition to produce an anthem before independence in 1965.

Traditional music

The Gambia, the smallest country in mainland Africa, is an independent coastal state along the River Gambia. It gained its separate identity as a colony of the United Kingdom while Senegal was a colony of France, but the two countries' traditional music are very much intertwined. Among Gambia's people, who together number some 1.728 million (2010), 42% are Mandinka, 18% Fula, 16% Wolof\Serer, 10% Jola and 9% Soninke, the remainder being 4% other African and 1% non-African (2003). 63% of Gambians live in rural villages (1993 census), though the population is young and tends towards urbanization. 90% are Muslims and most of the remainder Christians.

Demographics of the Gambia

The demographic characteristics of the population of The Gambia are known through national censuses, conducted in ten-year intervals and analyzed by The Gambian Bureau of Statistics (GBOS) since 1963. The latest census was conducted in 2013. The population of The Gambia at the 2013 census was 1.8 million. The population density is 176.1 per square kilometer, and the overall life expectancy in The Gambia is 64.1 years. Since the first census of 1963, the population of The Gambia has increased every ten years by an average of 43.2 percent. Since 1950s, the birth rate has constantly exceeded the death rate; the natural growth rate is positive. The Gambia is in the second stage of demographic transition. In terms of age structure, The Gambia is dominated by 15- to 64-year-old segment (57.6%). The median age of the population is 19.9 years, and the gender ratio of the total population is 0.98 males per female.

Mandinka people West African ethnic group

The Mandinka or Malinke are a West African ethnic group with an estimated global population of 32 million. The Mandinka are one ethnic group within the larger linguistic family of the Mandé peoples, who account for more than 87 million people.

Fula people A large ethnic group in Sahel and West Africa

The Fula people or Fulani or Fulɓe, numbering between 38 and 40 million people in total, are one of the largest ethnic groups in the Sahel and West Africa, widely dispersed across the region. Inhabiting many countries, they live mainly in West Africa and northern parts of Central Africa but also in, South Sudan, Sudan and regions near the Red Sea coast.

Griots , also known as jelis, hereditary praise-singers, a legacy of the Mande Empire, are common throughout the region. Gambian griots, as elsewhere, often play the kora , a 21 string harp. The region of Brikama has produced some famous musicians, including Foday Musa Suso, who founded the Mandingo Griot Society in New York City in the 1970s, bringing Mande music to the New York avant-garde scene and collaborating with Bill Laswell, Philip Glass and the Kronos Quartet.

Griot storyteller of oral tradition in West Africa

A griot, jali, or jeli is a West African historian, storyteller, praise singer, poet, or musician. The griot is a repository of oral tradition and is often seen as a leader due to his or her position as an advisor to royal personages. As a result of the former of these two functions, they are sometimes called a bard.

Kora (instrument) instrument

The kora is a 21-string lute-bridge-harp used extensively in West Africa.

Brikama Place in Brikama Local Government Area, The Gambia

Brikama is one of the largest cities in the Gambia, also called as 'SATEY BA' by the locals meaning big Settlement, lying south of the country's capital, Banjul. Brikama is the headquarters of the Brikama Local Government Area, being the largest city in the division with a population of over 57,000. Brikama is the birth place of the Gambian music industry with most of the famous musician hailing from Brikama.

Mbalax (meaning "rhythm" in Wolof), derives its from accompanying rhythms used in sabar , a tradition that originated from the Serer of the Kingdom of Sine and spread to the Kingdom of Saloum whence Wolof migrants took it to the Wolof kingdoms. [1] The Nder (lead drum), Sabar (rhythm drum), and Tama (talking drum) percussion section traces some of its technique to the ritual music of Njuup . [2] [3] [4]

Sabar traditional drum from Senegal

The sabar, which originated from the Serer people, is a traditional drum from Senegal that is also played in the Gambia. It is generally played with one hand and one stick. Among its most renowned exponents was the Senegalese musician Doudou N'Diaye Rose. The sabar was used to communicate with other villages. The different rhythms correspond to phrases and could be heard for over 15 kilometers.

The Serer people are a West African ethnic group. They are the third largest ethnic group in Senegal making up 15% of the Senegalese population. They are also found in northern Gambia and southern Mauritania.

The Kingdom of Sine was a pre-colonial Serer kingdom along the north bank of the Saloum River delta in modern Senegal. The inhabitants are called Siin-Siin or Sine-Sine.

The Njuup was also progenitor of Tassu, used when chanting ancient religious verses. The griots of Senegambia still use it at marriages, naming ceremonies or when singing the praises of patrons. Most Senegalese and Gambian artists use it in their songs. [5] The Serer people are known especially for vocal and rhythmic practices that infuse their everyday language with complex overlapping cadences and their ritual with intense collaborative layerings of voice and rhythm." [5] Each motif has a purpose and is used for different occasions. Individual motifs represent the history and genealogy of a particular family and are used during weddings, naming ceremonies, funerals etc.

Genealogy study of families and the tracing of their lineages and history

Genealogy, also known as family history, is the study of families and the tracing of their lineages and history. Genealogists use oral interviews, historical records, genetic analysis, and other records to obtain information about a family and to demonstrate kinship and pedigrees of its members. The results are often displayed in charts or written as narratives.

Gambian popular music began in the 1960s. The Super Eagles and Guelewar formed under the influence of American, British and Cuban music. The Super Eagles played merengue and other pop genres with Wolof lyrics and minor African elements. They visited London in 1977, appearing on Mike Raven's Band Call . After the programme, when the band began playing traditional tunes, an unknown listener is said to have inspired the group to return to the Gambia's musical roots, and they spent two years travelling around studying traditional music. The reformed band was called Ifang Bondi, and their style was Afro-Manding blues.

Gambian Laba Sosseh, who relocated to Dakar, Senegal as a teenager, spent his entire career outside of the Gambia, becoming a significant presence in the African and New York salsa scene. Civil unrest caused Ifang Bondi and other Gambian musicians to leave for Europe.

Former Ifang Bondi musician Juldeh Camara has been working with Justin Adams since 2007 and has been touring all over the world. Also from Ifang Bondi, Musa Mboob and Ousman Beyai have started a new group XamXam [6] which started with a project in the Gambia to produce new music by taking six musicians based in the UK to the Gambia to work with top musicians from four different tribal backgrounds. Ousman Beyai moved to the UK where he worked with Musa Mboob to set up the live band XamXam.

Jaliba Kuyateh and his Kumareh band is currently the most popular exponent of Gambia's Mandinka music. There is also a thriving Gambian hip hop scene.

Related Research Articles

The Senegambia is, in the narrower sense, a historical name for a geographical region in West Africa, which lies between the Senegal River in the north and the Gambia River in the south. However, there are also text sources which state that Senegambia is understood in a broader sense and equated with the term the Western region. This refers to the coastal areas between Senegal and Sierra Leone, where the inland border in the east were not further defined.

Wolof music

The Wolof, the largest ethnic group in Senegal, have a distinctive musical tradition that, along with the influence of neighboring Fulani, Tukulor, Serer, Jola, and Malinke cultures, has contributed greatly to popular Senegalese music, and to West African music in general. Wolof music takes its roots from the Serer musical tradition, particularly from the Serer pre-colonial Kingdom of Saloum. Virtually all Wolof musical terminology including musical instruments comes from the Serer language.

Talking drum hourglass-shaped West African drum

The talking drum is an hourglass-shaped drum from West Africa, whose pitch can be regulated to mimic the tone and prosody of human speech. It has two drumheads connected by leather tension cords, which allow the player to modulate the pitch of the drum by squeezing the cords between their arm and body. A skilled player is able to play whole phrases. Most talking drums sound like a human humming depending on the way they are played. Similar hourglass-shaped drums are found in Asia, but they are not used to mimic speech, although the idakka is used to mimic vocal music.

Mbalax is the national popular dance music of Senegal and the Gambia. Mbalax is a fusion of popular music from the diaspora, the West, and afropop such as jazz, soul, Latin, Congolese rumba, and rock blended with sabar, the traditional drumming and dance music of the Wolof of Senegal. The genre's name derived from accompanying rhythms used in sabar called mbalax.

Mbaye Dieye Faye is a singer and percussionist from Senegal.

Alioune Mbaye Nder Senegalese musicians

Alioune Mbaye Nder is a Senegalese singer. Nder takes his name from the n'der, the drum favoured by his griot father.

Daniel Laemouahuma Jatta is a Jola scholar and musician from Mandinary, Gambia, who pioneered the research and documentation of the akonting, a Jola folk lute, as well as the related Manjago folk lute, the buchundu, in the mid-1980s. Prior to Jatta's work, these instruments were largely unknown outside the rural villages of the Senegambia region of West Africa.


MAMADOU is a Senegalese music band. Originally called "Mamadou Diop and the Jolole Band", the group was founded in early 1998, later simplifying their name to "MAMADOU" in late 2000.

Musa M'Boob is a Gambian musician.

Senegalese wrestling

Senegalese wrestling is a type of folk wrestling traditionally performed by the Serer people and now a national sport in Senegal and parts of The Gambia, and is part of a larger West African form of traditional wrestling. The Senegalese form traditionally allows blows with the hands (frappe), the only one of the West African traditions to do so. As a larger confederation and championship around Lutte Traditionnelle has developed since the 1990s, Senegalese fighters now practice both forms, called officially Lutte Traditionnelle sans frappe and Lutte Traditionnelle avec frappe for the striking version.

Mamadou Sidiki Diabaté is a prominent Mandé kora player and jeli from Bamako, Mali. He is the 71st generation of kora players in his family and a son to Sidiki Diabaté.

Rémi Jegaan Dioh is a Senegalese singer, author, composer and guitarist. He is of Serer heritage and had worked with prominent artists like Yandé Codou Sène and toured in Europe particularly in France, the UK and Spain as well as the USA with Fadiouth's choirs and the Martyrs of Uganda. He has also performed solo on the invitation of The Gambia's president Yahya Jammeh. His mother was a singer and his father was one of the most established dancers in Senegal. Most of his music is sung in Serer. He was a teacher before venturing to the music business.

The Njuup tradition is a conservative Serer style of music rooted in the Ndut initiation rite.


  1. Patricia Tang. Masters of the Sabar: Wolof griot percussionists of Senegal, p-p32, 34. Temple University Press, 2007. ISBN   1-59213-420-3
  2. (in French) Ferloo [ permanent dead link ]
  3. Mangin, Timothy R. "Notes on Jazz in Senegal." Uptown Conversation: The New Jazz Studies. Eds. O'Meally, Robert G., Brent Hayes Edwards and Farah Jasmine Griffin. New York: Columbia University Press, 2004. 224-49. Print.
  4. For the Njuup tradition, see: The Culture Trip
  5. 1 2 Ali Colleen Neff. Tassou: the Ancient Spoken Word of African Women. 2010.



A Gambian music discography is located at