Response/Another View

03/13/2011 10:26

Jaliba Kuyateh: The Evolution Of A Man And His Music

By Suntou Touray

I agree entirely with Cherno Baba Jallow that Jaliba’s music can be enjoyed by a diverse audience of Gambians or Kora lovers. Inherently, my postulations on the study of Jaliba’s musical craft is premised on the rationale that the Kora man utilize language and the power of typical, deep-rooted Mandinka words to entice and excite his audiences. I am attempting a similar study on Juldeh Camara, the renowned Fula "one-stringed" fiddle (ritti/nya-nye-ru) instrumentalist. He, on the other hand, regularly uses eloquent Pularr even to non-Fulas. 
Jaliba and his fans
 Cherno Baba's viewpoint is true in a broader analysis of Jaliba’s many non-Mandinka fans. His songs in Wollof also utilize the dictum of the Wollofbaa-speak to reinvigorate their praises. In a narrow and focused study, songs like ‘nyin manteren, nin Sukuta ngo yee buu nya, akana iiteren’ (“I am not surprised ... when a native of Sukuta honors you, never be surprised"). That song is a classic use of conventional generic Mandinka to aim at the hearts of Sukutarians. The strings act like a drug to the dreamy fans eager to become a central focus. Here the young lady Mbaling Cham gave Jaliba a-four-hundred thousand Dalasi car. Is Mbaling richer than Jaliba? No; contrast the relationship between Jaliya and Batufayaa. The cultural backdrop is called upon to induce the (me, me) of the praise-seeker. In Mandinka, (aling fele) --- that is, come check me out, watch me, adore me --- used to be the reserve of Kandalu and leaders, but now this phenomenon has caught on with every capable and willing patron.

Fans at a Jaliba Concert Dancing the Night Away

The words kill them slowly and softly. If not why dish out $1,000 without thinking? This is not to say I am beyond the mega folding and dog-tapping of Jaliba’s 21-string Kora like a loo sito (a bundle of fire wood). In Amadou Barry (Fula Foro) , we notice again, the crabbing of Mr Barry on his jugular veins. To be a free-born is a big thing in a tribal Fula society or community, hence ‘Fula Foro’ in Mandinka. In Kisima Dambele, ‘Sarahulo yee ban-na yalelon’ (the Sarahulehs are known for their wealth and opulence) again, the key word here is Banna yaa (wealth), something the Sarahuleh is stereotypically identified with, but in both cases Jaliba utilizes the Mandinka terms for them. In Yahya Jammeh, Jaliba sings as (Yahya Yee Banko taa, keleman kee, moo manfa). Again, Banko (country) symbolizes going back to the Mandinka understanding.

I can go on and on about the prevalence of the Mandinka culture in Jaliba’s music. However, Jaliba’s maturation into Wollof and a bit of Fula songs reveals his intention to break all barriers of our society; to cut across ethnic differences. And to his credit, the fan base is multi- dimensional and diverse. If you analyze briefly the behavior and excitement his loyal fans and patrons display at his shows, one will consistently see gushers of adrenaline flowing from his audiences. In Jaliba’s 2010 trip to the U.S,  it has been said, he collected in excess of $30,000 from patrons. And in concerts, women give him gold, clothes, jewelry, musical instruments, etc. The key trigger of such lavish donations is the way Jaliba's songs appeal to his fans. His music has a touchy-feely quality to it.
For instance, whenever McCarthy is mentioned and Morro Baldeh’s name comes up, his relations in America go haywire. And, by extension, McCarthy's natives raise the roof. However, the sweet flavor is the attraction in the words spoken --- since words, here, illustrate to us (outsiders), the lineage or origins of the patron. I have observed, in all of the Jalibas videos I have watched, that he perfectly connects the words with the person he is singing about.

Unconfirmed reports during my study highlighted that Jaliba is actually very spiritual, and knowledgeable about the art of Maraboutism. He secludes himself before every show to concentrate himself and summon his spiritual side. Jaliba has admitted to playing the Kora to soften the hearts of his patrons; hence we can deduce that if the patron is known to him, Jaliba can, by his artful mastery of the Kora and with the backing of his band, skillfully and quickly move the patron; but the speculation that spiritual attraction is involved will always linger.

Jaliba is a very hardworking musician. He practices very frequently and always tries to perfect himself. His basis has always been about connecting with his culture and making it relevant to his everyday experiences. As young Gambian musicians keep on adopting Western mannerism and attitude without first solidifying their talents, cultural expression continues to be the hallmark of the Kumareh Band (a Kumareh is a bird that is traditionally believed to give premonitions and which sings in a melodious voice). Even in Jaliba's band's name, there is some cultural annotation.

Overall, my study did not conclude Jaliba as being in pursuit of a Mandingocentric musical theme. In fact, my aim was/is to locate where and how he brings his music to bare on his many, different listeners. Youssou Ndour does this perfectly; we have become familiar with the many Wollof proverbs and sayings in his music. Yet he speaks immaculate Wollof; so does Baba Maal with his own mother tongue. One has to deeply comprehend Fula to understand Maal.

Suntou Touray, a native of Mbye Kunda, Sandu District, Upper River Region, is a blogger based in Conventry, UK. During his school days in Basse, Suntou lived in both Manneh Kunda and Mansajang from 1990 to 1994. He intends to write on his Basse river-crossing experiences, his village roots and what Basse means to him. You can read Suntou at:

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