Occur Goes Global - The Music of the Gambia

It’s a perfect time to explore the music scene of the Gambia, as the country transitions from the bullish presidency of Yahya Jammeh to the lead of Adama Barrow. Most of the performers on our list aren’t overtly political (save for tenacious rapper Gee), but they all seek unity for their metamorphic nation. Here are five Gambian musicians who are sparking our interests.


Jaliba Kuyateh and the Kumareh Band

Dubbed the King of Kora, Kuyateh comes from a lineage of skilled musicians. He masterfully plays the 21-stringed instrument with the fluidity of a painter, simultaneously building the rhythm and lead melodies. His throaty vocals harken to olden times, so songs such as “Biyaso” can’t easily be placed in a specific decade. His influence is felt the world over, with areas as diverse as Detroit and Senegal honoring his work and charitable spirit.



A major proponent of stoking the Gambia’s hip-hop fires, Gibou “Gee” Balla Gaye puts his money where his gifted mouth is. Not only does he produce universal beats, but he also promotes entrepreneurship among his kin. He went on a self-imposed hiatus in 2015 to protest Gambian enterprises’ funneling of cash to foreign artists when their nation’s creatives were being stifled. He’s since returned, flying in the face of suppression.


Freedom Culture

Rhapsodic reggae emigrated from the Gambia and infiltrated West Sussex County, U.K., one djembe drum at a time. Sidi Man Gaye teamed with polyglot artist Fangbulu to embark on The Journey, their 2017 album of Rastafarian sermons coupled with high-octane dance beats. The track titles, such as “Must Go” and “Struggle,” narrate the tumult of the Gambia’s political environment.



Think of these three lads as the Gambian One Direction. Their youthful buoyancy, romanticism and cheekiness have made them staples of their country’s scene. “KoKom” means “Marry Me” in their native tongue — these pleasant guys are bringing together their torn land with love, not hostility. Nobles are Afro-pop peacemakers.


Sona Jobarteh

Breaking the barriers of artistry in the Gambia, Sona Jobarteh is the first professional Kora player in her country. She descended from a prestigious Griot family, inheriting her relatives’ love for the complicated lute. Combined with her sweet, heavenly voice, Jobarteh is enchanting hordes of fans all over the globe. The spellbinding “Gambia” celebrated the 50th anniversary of independence from Great Britain.

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