LSE’s Sylvia Chant shares the energy and beauty of the sounds that characterise Banjul, capital of The Gambia. This post originally appeared in Urban Vignettes.
The sounds of the city are felt everywhere and most hours of the day and night in the sprawling suburbs of Gambia’s main urban area; Greater Banjul, which comprises Banjul City Council and Kanifing Municipal Council. These sounds range from the cocks crowing at dawn and the first call to prayer issuing from numerous tiny neighbourhood mosques, to the cries of babies and children playing freely in the sandy roads, to the barking of congregations of stray dogs, to the harmonised singing of soldiers on their long run to and from the army barracks in Bakau and back, to the low hum of radios, to the insistent throb of recorded music from walled residential compounds, and to live bands at late night parties, and the chatter and laughter emanating from local bars, drowned out now and then by the pulling-up of cars and motorcycles. And sometimes the music literally hits the streets, as social gatherings spill out of the confines of people’s homes and entice the attention of neighbours and passers-by.
Here in Fajara, on a March midday in 2008, we were treated to an utter feast of sound and spectacle from a nearby compound, which just had to be recorded. In true Mbalax style (a genre born in the Senegambia region), drums and dance, spontaneous and unscripted, become one. At formal occasions, such as weddings and baby naming ceremonies it is usually the women who dance, but here, at this more impromptu event, the performers are male. After granting permission for filming, dancers and drummers alike laid on an especially exuberant display which seemed to defy physical logic, especially in the context of a ferocious sun.
The energy in this small and singular performance is writ larger in the several youth carnivals, processions, and ‘huntings’ which pass through Fajara’s streets on a regular basis, keeping the heart of Banjul beating against formidable odds.
Sylvia Chant is Professor of Development Geography at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE).