Jaliba Represents a Tradition


Jaliya; true Jaliya is a noble profession and is not just for anyone. The Jali holds a very high status in Manding culture. Article 13 of the Manding Gbara also known as the Kurugan Fuga states; “Never offend the Nyaras (the talented).” And goes further stating in Article 43: “Balla Fassèkè Kouyaté is nominated chief of ceremonies and main mediator in Manden. He is allowed to joke with all groups, in priority with the royal family.” There in lies their primary task; mediation and the fact that everyone is their Sanawo (shares joking relations) helps ease this task for them. One has to be familiar with the latter concept; sanawuya to understand.

They were given status in Manding for a reason. In an earlier article  I wrote that Jaliya is so much more than praise singing; which technically is an erroneous tag at worst or at best does not fairly represent the tradition. Isn’t it a pity that we are so ignorant of our own cultures? We share a geographical space but in so many other ways we are different and we do not understand ourselves or each other.

Jaliba sings a tune for the upcoming UDP congress and is labeled an opportunist by some people, who frankly do not know any better. Jaliba is not new to such criticism anyway; “he needs to stop praise singing and join the ranks of prominent African singers.” That has been said countless times in as many years. “Why does he live off of handouts from shows? Why does he still perform at naming ceremonies?” etc. The answer is simple; Jaliba is not a copycat Jali, he inherited a tradition the upkeep and preservation of which he has been tasked with. He was very reluctant to even incorporate modern instruments alongside the Kora, he did that gradually because he feared rejection by the people whose tradition he represent or that he may veer off too far from tradition. One just needs to understand how conservative and protective the Manding are of their culture to appreciate why that is so. And to clarify for our emotionally charged nation, that doesn’t translate into superiority of heritage; the Jola are even more protective of their culture and rightly so, as are the Serer and many other cultures.

Others reference him singing for Yaya Jammeh and say he just rides the gravy train; how ignorant. Just to give you a perspective. Jaliba sang for numerous personalities; and before even singing for UDP there was a tune for Lawyer Darboe that is decades old. Like politician, there are spiritual leaders; Marabouts as we call them. Jaliba has dedicated numerous tunes to several of them. But perhaps to get a glimpse into the art of Jaliya; listen to the tune dedicated to Sir Dawda on the occasion of the Gambia’s Silver Jubilee here and then listen to him sing for S.M. Dibba; Sir Dawda’s biggest political rival in Walimang; magnificent tunes aren’t they?

The Jali have a social contract, society may currently not explicitly assign it to them but they inherit a certain responsibility to society as part of their tradition. Those familiar with that unspoken tradition understand their role and hence patronize them. Listening to the lyrics in the tunes referenced above, what jumps out can only be grasped by the familiar. Sir Dawda was the sitting president at the time, the lyrics amplified his most adored public qualities; a democrat, peaceful, tolerant and accommodating. These things are no doubt needed in a leader and more. When the Jali calls on a patron directly, they invoke those qualities that serve society well as a way of encouraging the patron to continue upholding those good qualities.

S.M. Dibba on the other hand was seen as fearless, a straight shooter, daring and bold; he calls it like he sees it. Jaliba magnified these qualities in his song, in essence encouraging him in his opposition to Sir Dawda. In a democracy both are needed; a good leader and a fierce critic who will call out the excesses of the leader.

To the unfamiliar, the Jali is playing both sides or is being an opportunist, but opportunists follow potential and there is no greater potential than being a sitting leader. Jaliba inherited a tradition he is tasked to uphold and bequeath to succeeding generations. As lucrative as the enterprise of being a full-blown modern musicians is, he owes this much to his ancestors stretching as far back as Balla Fassèkè Kouyaté of 13th century Manding and beyond. He owes society a responsibility and if the powers that be will not indulge his counsel as tradition demands, he can at least encourage their good actions which they need not call upon him for.

Jaliba has always been educating across political lines and across cultural lines. If his political inclinations show in his music, because they are not aligned with yours doesn’t mean he deserves to be called names. Musicians (not Jali in the traditional sense) have shown manifest political biases and were celebrated for it. So why is Jaliba any different? Why are we so obsessed with defining everything to fit within our standards? Some things are the way they are and they need to be accepted that way because there is an underlying reason to which one may not be privy.

O.J Jallow, Babun Fatty, Saikou Sabally, Buba Baldeh, Sankung Sillah, O.B Conateh just to name a few, were all personalities Jaliba patronized in his songs. Do we all agree with those personalities? Heck no, but he did and we are okay with it because why he does it.

In his tune Politico he took no sides and taught all who’d listen the essence of politics; “…politico long naalu wolu mu sanawol leti.” In essence saying politics is not enmity but an adversarial relationship in which hard truths can be uttered without any unsavory consequences. So it is with health, society, education etc. if it affects society, Jaliba has done a rendition for it.


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