Bala Ranks:The Musician as Social Critic
November 15, 2011
Bala Ranks: "Greed and Selfishness Affecting (Gambian) Society"
Musa Kuyateh, a.k.a. Bala Ranks, was born in Basse Manneh Kunda. Ever since he burst on the Gambian musical scene over five years ago, Bala has been raking in rave reviews for his socially-instructive lyrics. He has been dubbed a 'rising Afro Manding star'. His song BADINYAA (Youtube) brought him nationwide success and fame. At the 2010 Kanilai festival, Bala swept the crowd off its feet with his eclectic ALAMAKOI song (Youtube). In this second-part interview with Foroyaa (reprinted here with permission), Bala talks about Gambian society, music and his native roots.
Bala Ranks: "We have to help one another." Photo Credit/REVERBNATION
As an artist who calls himself the ‘evil hunter’ and talks about social issues, what do you think are the vices affecting our Gambian society?
I believe the main social vices that are affecting our society are greed and selfishness. Most of the people who have wealth are selfish. Instead of them creating avenues for others to earn a decent living, they want people to follow them by living on crunches. In one of my songs, I said some people may be smiling at your face, but they never want you to fare in life. All what they want is to see you in tears. They never teach you how to catch fish, but they always take you out. As human beings, we have to help one another. It is incumbent upon those who have to help those who don’t have. Clearly, I don’t see any essence in driving a big and lavish car when there are people who struggle to get their daily meals.
How do you see the state of art in this country?
Well, to be frank, the artists are really trying. However, one thing the artists lack is unity and togetherness. Every artist believes he/she is a superstar which is far from being the case. As far as I am concerned, there is only one superstar in The Gambia and he is Jaliba Kuyateh. In my sincere opinion, the mentality of one being a superstar has to be reversed. This would enable us to work even harder and lead us to produce quality music.
Do you think your music is being patronized by Gambians?
Well, one of the reasons why our music is not being patronized is because Gambian artists are not patient at all. It is only in this country that some one can just jump up and go to the studio to record. The person having got no experience in music still wants people to appreciate his/her music when the quality of his music leaves a lot to be desired. Most artists by nature are hesitant and therefore lack one pre-requisite of success which is steadfastness. Basically, one reason why the people find it hard to appreciate our music is simply because our music is not properly done and yet we want to impose it on the people. Another factor responsible for the non acceptance of our music is the influence of foreign music. Some Gambians are addicted to foreign music so much so that it becomes an inextricable part of their system.
With respect to the growing influence of foreign music, mechanisms and methods should be devised regarding how to curb it.
Bala performing in Bakau
In your opinion, what are some of those mechanisms and devices that can be put in place to curb the influence of foreign music on Gambia artists?
The quest to curb foreign music solely lies in the hands of promoters and disc Jockeys (DJs). They have to promote Gambian artists both locally and beyond the borders of this country.
Earlier, you talked about disunity among Gambian artists which is not expected given that there is a musicians’ union in existence and whose primary role is to unite the artists. Is this to say that the Gambia Musicians’ Union is not succeeding in realizing this objective?
Well, I was a registered member of this Union, but I must say that the Union has been quite dormant. I’m out of touch with what is really happening in that Union. Nevertheless, I’ll be trying once again to establish contact with the Union so as to facilitate my active participation. There is a need to rejuvenate such a Union as it is surely one of the ways through which Gambian artists can be assisted to realize their dreams.
As a young artist, do you see the need to establish a music academy in this country with a view to enhancing the quality of music?
There is a need for the establishment of a music academy in the country. This would enhance the quality of music that is being produced by Gambian artists. In other countries, aspiring artists have to go through a whole academic system in order to learn and acquire certain musical skills which are indispensable to good music. In a nutshell, it is high time that music academies are established in this country. We, the artists, have embraced the idea and would welcome it with open arms.
You said earlier that despite your father being a sublime Kora player, you cannot play the Kora yourself. Can you play any musical instrument?
Well, as at now, I cannot claim to be a perfect guitar player, but I must say I’m learning to play it and I have the musical instrument in my house.
What do you hope to achieve as a musician?
As a musician, I want to attain iconic status and also to be a role model. In addition, I would like to be an ambassador of my country to the rest of the world. Furthermore, I want to help in the process of making this world a better place for the entire human race.
Bala loves the kids!
Young Gambian artists are often criticized for their lack of connection with the people of the country. As a young artist from Basse, are your musical prowess known in your native town and as well as other parts in the countryside?
Well, I must say I’m proud of my provincial roots and that I still maintain a great deal of contact with people of the province, especially my native town of Basse. I once had a concert in Basse with ‘Magnificent Joe’ and ‘News of the Town’. This concert was one of the best I have ever performed.
As a youth, what do you make of the mass exodus of your compatriots to Europe with a view to seeking greener pasture?
Well, the mass exodus to Europe by the sea is triggered by desperation. It is, in most instances, the lack of employment opportunities that drive the youths to embark on these dangerous sea journeys. After all, they want to live an independent and dignified life and they see going to Europe as the only means of achieving that.
There are dreadlocks on your head, does that suggest that you are a Rastafarian?
Well, I just have dreadlocks, but I’m not a Rastafarian.
Thank you very much for sharing your precious time with us.
Well, it is a real pleasure to talk to you.