Musicman 1 

These articles were written for publications such as The Gambian Observer and Waato magazine 


Cultural Values and Role Models


Let us consider The Gambia and the current state of cultural values. The argument for the prosecution is that culture is a holistic thermometer of the health of a nation. Where do we go from here? Will the nation hold up its hands and acknowledge the need for a renaissance? The Arts in motion!   Did you indeed throw up your hands in horror? Did you simply yawn through lack of interest and an even more profound lack of understanding?

The fundamental question is of an existential nature. What is a value scale? Where did you get yours? Free with phone card tokens? A sultry imitation of last nights Nollywood soap opera? A download from your internet chat room? Do we begin to comprehend that time waits for no man? Or woman? And it is most definitely not gender specific!  Evolution has placed us all in the 21st century frontal lobe development zone! While we struggle to comprehend the culture of the 20th century that we have grown-up with, we find that the goal posts have been moved and suddenly there is a whole new game.

This is in fact very exciting for cultures that have been under-exposed. Mans inhumanity to man, ethnic cleansing, colonial double-dealing, corporate centralisation and the greasy black stuff (oil) have all played their part in placing greed as the yardstick of achievement. Suddenly the computer age, and the internet in particular, has produced a level playing field where race and colour, age and gender, bank account and social background count for very little. What matters is credibility; the ability to communicate; to deliver results and to sensitise your business partners and stakeholders !

In order to proceed any further, one must at all times be referencing ones values. Is this necessary? Is it good or bad? What is good? Did your elders in the village explain that this would be coming down the wire? Were you given an induction course in how to engender new approaches to traditional values? Where do you keep your value scale? How did it become so firmly entrenched in your psyche? What is the correct way to proceed if there is a conflict? How do we make this critical transition?

If you have faith, support from mosque, church, community or tradition, there can be no finer time than waking to the joyous sounds of progress. Bala Sahos  exceptional account of Serigne Mass Kah and his legacy celebrates this notion in style. The tradition of this Marabout will survive the 21st century and beyond, and will be a great role model for future generations! If however you are from a disadvantaged or dysfunctional background, and there are no strengths in your history to count on, it is all forward on the roller coaster and to hell with the consequences. Role models become something of a burden, rather than an inspiration! So how do we adapt?

800 years of African history suggests that there is a stability within the village system that has prevailed. In existential terms, this needs no justification. It has prevailed because it is a system that can withstand the pressures of change. It can offer sustenance and nourishment to the people who need it! Above all it gives the members of the community a set of values that are both realistic and workable! And there can be no doubting the strength that is gained from longevity!

However the future is exciting but unpredictable. The quest is to succeed, but  also to maintain a sense of African identity and pride. John Paul Sartre and his femme fatale Simone de Beauvoir gave Europe, and France in particular, this conundrum in the 1960s. How do we choose, if not from a pre-ordained set of values? Where do we get this emotional menu from? Is it parental? Is it community based? Is it genetic? Will it be good for the community? Will it be good for me? How do I go about changing my approach if there is a cultural dichotomy?

That word again! Culture! Reality! Fashion! Whims! Whats new? Evolution? Happening now! Interest only! Controversy! Issues! The World today! So....what is the answer to this conundrum?

It then becomes an issue of instinct, which in a round-about way brings us home to our embrace of the future and our absolution of our past! The primal scream that makes us dance the night away in Casamance, love it large in Lama Lama, or simply make beautiful music with those who are close is the drive that has sustained us for thousands of years.

Asking "why is the wrong question! It exists! It happened! Cogito Ergo Sum! said Mr Descartes. Understanding our own evolution and the tension of the eternal argument between father science and mother philosophy is oxygen to the fire that is life!

Asking  the question how can lead to an enlightening situation!

I have felt uncomfortable for 30 years playing great music that has strictly defined parameters! Who made these rules? Why should I subscribe to a musical system that has its roots in aristocratic 13th and 14th century Europe? How can I reach a deeper truth? The Kora pre-dates the Guitar and Lute by at least 200 years!  The musician, baudelaire or court jester of yester year, who entertained and plucked at your heart strings, has evolved into a well-trained, scientific practitioner who can err greatly on the side of technique. How do I reach the passion and the essence of what music, or any other art form, can contain?  Clean, air-conditioned, well promoted venues can become the poison of mediocrity given a consensus of meat-eaters or vegetarians, depending on your proclivity. What is implicit in a performance of an African band such as Jaliba Kuyateh or Tata Dinding is the raw, driving passion that knows no fake;  no going through the motions; no lets just get it done and take the money; or any other trickery!

An under-exposed culture is a euphemism for new to the world stage, we have got it all to do, let us play, and   what does being nervous mean?  But what it really does mean is that we have not been corrupted by the greed of the business!

Africa, and The Gambia specifically, is being summoned culturally to the high table of global art; the supreme council of world creativity; the united nations of continental rhythm; to establish a truth that can never be undermined or exposed as fallacy. The roots of all of the music that our brothers and sisters in the Caribbean and N. America have produced in the last 100 years can be traced directly to W.Africa. Let me spell this out really clearly so that there can be no misunderstandings. The great great grandfathers of people living here today, the blood relations of Serigne Mass Kah, carried with them a genetic coding to the new world! Their progeny produced the greatest contempory revolution in creative thinking that the world has experienced. These people were itinerants one minute and global heroes the next. They played a music that was considered subversive and yet completely desirable and necessary They turned the standard idea of european classical harmony on its bottom, picked it up on the other side, danced with it awhile, and then played it again even harder. And what is clear is that the technique that they used was somehow carried on the wind across 3000 miles of ocean, and is still here today in the traditional music of the villages!

Every American administration since the end of the McArthy witch hunts in the 1950s has paid tribute to the ongoing contribution of African American artists and musicians. Their playing of world music has been simply immense. Supposing it could be proven with DNA coding that you were the 27th cousin, once removed, of Duke Ellington. His classical work Black, Brown and Beautiful would become a little bit more important than your new car or hairpiece! Of course, if you are sitting there thinking that you would rather be Bob Marleys sister, then that is OK! I  find it exhilarating that my watchman in Fajara is the Mandinka double of Miles Davis as pictured on his album Tutu!; that John Coltrane, who mashed up my head with A Love Supreme live in Antibes in 1965, could be a Wollof  from Upper River Division. Jahass! Jazz!! How would you like to play tonight?

            Why on earth would you want to do anything else?  

                        Paul Hill  

Paul Hill studied Psychology, Philosophy and Linguistics. inc Artificial Intelligence, Robotics and Computer Models of Human Behaviour at U.C.N.W. 1981.

Orchestral Composition and Arranging at City College Manchester. 1995.

Teaching Diploma at Access to Music Manchester. 2003.

and has been a practicing Musician for 35 years.



Copyright 2011. Musicman 1. All rights reserved.