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Gambian culture

N'Denian Kebba Landing Sonko in Copenhagen - February 2015

Culture constitutes the way of life of a people. It is a by-product of a relation between people and a society speaks out through its culture. Culture gives expression to the social thought, beliefs and values of human beings. A society which has no culture would be composed of persons who are expressionless. Cultural tools, like songs, dances, drama, have been utilised as coping mechanisms to prevent total social disintegration. This has been the strength of many African societies. The sense of community has served as a welfare system for many African societies where the old, the disabled and children are given protection. Even though poverty increases dependency and causes strain to the providers, without the sense of community the weight of poverty would be much heavier.

The Gambia is a multi ethnic and multi cultural society. There is no area in the Gambia which is entirely habited by one ethnic group. The ethnic groups are closely knit together by cohabitation and therefore, there is a certain cultural symbiosis among them.

In that regard there is a tendency towards the establishment of a Gambian National Culture, which will be a sum total of all the ethnic cultures. For instance the Gambia National Troupe is composed of all the ethnic groups and their musical repertoire is drawn from all the ethnic groups. The members of the troupe are capable of singing songs from each ethnic group and equally capable of dancing them.

The music revolution

The Gambia has a strong musical tradition, often associated with weddings, feast-days such as the end of Ramadan, or Christmas. Traditional instruments include the kora (lute ), bala (xylophone ), and the tama (hand-held drum). Though the majority of the population is Muslim, Christmas brings a celebration with large lanterns called fanals, often in the shape of boats or houses and intricately decorated. The fanals are paraded through the streets to singing and chanting.

The Jalis "Griot" or Jeli (pl. jalolu) have through ages held the position of keeping the history and genealogies of various clans and families, composed and performed songs honouring principal figures in Manding history. The profession is common in various West African societies.

Formally the 'griots' were the counsellors of kings and spiritual leaders, they conserve the constitutions of kingdoms by memory work alone and it is among the griots the kings used to choose the tutors for young princes. In the very hierarchical society of Africa before colonisation, where everyone found his place, the griot appears as one of the most important of his society, because it is he who, for want of archives, records the customs, traditions and governmental principles of kings.

Demba Conta - yen yen

In modern Gambia some of the musician families are one of griots for generations, but you also find more and more young Gambians of other casts becoming musicians nowadays.
Most of these Gambian artists are young high school leavers, who have found a legitimate formula to unemployment, a problem slowly gripping this largely tourism steered economy. Some are still going to school though while sparing time to be part of the music revolution.

Presently, there are over 40 groups in the Gambia. Few have so far produced albums. The rest already have enough lyrics to compose albums but do not have the necessary cash to finance the basic stages of mixing and recording, which, in local Gambian studios could go up to US $5,000. As a temporary measure however, groups with shaky financial situations have resorted to producing audio singles and video clips simultaneously raising funds before heading for the studios.

At least, Gambians can now express a sigh of relief that after years of inactivity, life is now being injected to the music scene resulting in the frequent composition of lyrics that could be exhibited at any international festival.

Links to some Gambian Musicians on the WWW

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Dawda Jobarteh and Band Live at Copenhagen Couleur Café 2013 - Bamba Bojang

Basirou Suso

Historic sites

The Stone circles of The Gambia


The Stone Circles

Some Gambian Organisations

Welcome to GESO

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            Women fools cultural group

A new rising star - Eddie Conta, son of Demba Conta


  • Events Calendar
  • Gambian Cultural week in Copenhagen, August 2009
  • Photos from Copenhagen / Gambian Cultural Week 1997
  • Gambian Cultural Week 1996 - Some photographs from the Gambian cultural week in Copenhagen, Denmark summer 1996

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  • Related Websites

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    Juldeh Camara in Copenhagen - May 2008

    Jali Foday Musa Suso - Jarabijeh


    Historic Sites of the Gambia

    Historic Sites of the Gambia - An official Guide to the monuments and sites of The Gambia.

    Social and Plitical Structurs in the Precolonial Periods

    Patience Sonko-Godwin
    Social and Political Structures in the Precolonial Periods

    (Ethnic Groups of The Senegambia Region)

    Leders of the Senegambian region
    Leaders of the Senegambian region: Reactions to European infiltration 19th - 20th century

    Stories of Senegambi

    Dr. Florence Mahoney
    Stories of Senegambia


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    This page is owned and maintained by Momodou Camara  

    Last updated on July 8th, 2023

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