Gambian Sounds: Kebba Jali Conteh

We really enjoyed interviewing a musician Jali Omar Kebba Conteh. He is a griot and the leader of Foroyaa Band. Since he was 8 years old, he was learning to play kora from his father who was a great kora player.

When he was 16 years old his father passed away. That was the time he thought about continuing tradition of his griot family. He worked, save money to buy his first kora and started to play by himself. He didn’t have a master to teacher him, but he managed to learn on his own. As well as learning the balafon. He believes his father’s spirit is with him.

His late father Ba Kebba Conteh and grandfather Alahagie Bai Conteh were very well-known griots. They had travelled and played around the world. Omar Kebba’s father never asked him to follow the tradition. He felt the need to do it to develop his culture and to bring his father’s memory back. Creating something for the future is what he would like to do. So new generations will grow up with their tradition and culture.

His aim is to write a book about kora and to build a school, sewing African dress and to teach people how to dance African dance.

“Without tradition you have no experience, without tradition you have no history.”

Griots are important historians. Without them many facts and important information would vanish throughout the years. He started to learn about the history of kora after he was asked about a certain story which he was not aware of. This gave him courage to learn about it.

Griots can be female and male but usually men play because it is sometimes not well accepted for a married woman to be musician or griot.

Omar Kebba formed Foroyaa band with like-minded men so they can join minds and develop things together. They have songs for a full album, but they have not record them yet due to lack of finance. Meanwhile they play on ceremonies, festivals, and events. The dream they have is to record 2 albums, each with 10 tracks for international and national markets.

In 5 years from today he would love to make a change so people will learn more about himself, The Gambia, its tradition, and culture. He would also like to open a school where he can teach children how to play kora, how kora came to The Gambia and true history of the kora, as well as other instruments.

“People outside love my culture.”

He would also like to travel around the world to promote Gambian culture. The interest some foreigners showed about willingness to learn playing instruments encourages him to dream about having music school.      

His message to the world is that people should do things together, love each other and support each other regardless of skin colour so we can push the world forward.

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