Kairo: Sound of the Gambia

If Gambian music often seems swamped by the superstar powerhouse that neighbouring Senegal has become – think of Youssou N’Dour, Baaba Maal or Cheik Lô – then *Kairo* (the word means peace) is a gem of an album that redresses the balance perfectly. But this light rhythmed, resolutely listener-friendly album does far more than this – for, let’s face it, there’s little to separate Senegalese and Gambian musics, with their lilting kora runs and tripping mbalax rhythms in common. Compiled by GRTS, Gambia’s Radio and Television Service, as a way to circumvent Africa’s thriving bootleg cassette industry, it’s quite possible that *Kairo*’s 13 groups and performers might actually get some royalties from their efforts.

Whether or not the disc marks the makings of a record-industry infrastructure is one thing: the other is the music. And with peerless artists such as kora player and singer Tata Dindin Jobarteh, percussionist Musa Mboob and Amadou B appearing, *Kairo* offers a sonic picture of Gambia’s overlapping languages and traditions which, with the presence of rappers De Waan Jee, is already looking to developments. The latter’s ‘Salaam Aleikum’, a tapestry of pattered rhythms and entwined vocals is truly uplifting. However, *Kairo*’s stand-out tracks – Tata Dindin’s breezy ‘Bitillo’, Mass Lowe’s scurrying ‘Aminatta’ or the mighty drummings of Mboob’s ‘Chossan’ – owe their timelessness to musicians who draw a delicate strength from the admixture of old and new.

mag cover This article is from the April 2001 issue of New Internationalist.
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