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The mandinka region situated in the extreme south of Senegal is called Casamance, a name acquired from Portuguese meaning home of the king or maybe kingdom of Kaasa . The Casamance River divides the territory into two stripes of land which are delimited one by the border with Gambia and the other by Guinea Bissau.
IThe bridges to cross the river are rare. One is in Ziguinchor – close to the touristic locality of the coast – while the other is in Kolda, a small city almost two hundred kilometers in the inside. The forgotten roads of Casamance, also the main ones, do not allow travelling comfortably and in safety. In the asphalt which is deprived of any sort of maintenance, enormous and deep holes keep destroying tyres and rims. The check points are numerous because of the conflict between the government military and the local independent movement which has been ongoing from many years. Far from the bridges the departure of the few boats that charge cars is always uncertain and one risks arriving in the morning and waiting in vane for the inert boat on the other bank
We left Kaolack in the early morning heading Tanaf but thanks to the mindfulness of the Gambian police, the passage Farafenni and Soma has lasted much more than expected and we find in Sedhiou that the boat is on the other side of the river. So before taking the canoe we wait for our car to drive around Kolda and we are in the house of Djeli Sekou “Jams” Kouyate, percussionist and singer of the historical local Sedhiou Orchestra. He is also the father of Fatou Kouyate, the only wife of Madya.
Sedhiou Band is also called UCAS Jazz Band de Sedhiou (from the name of Union Culturelle et Artistique de Sedhiou) it is one of those famous and respected orchestras in Africa but which had never had the opportunity to fall upon the international discography market, despite it exists from more than fifty years.
In 1969 it was the Sedhiou Band to represent Senegal at the first Pan African Festival in Alger and it later won for three times the golden medal at the Semaine Nationale de la Jeunesse du Senegal. It is from the Sedhiou band that some of the main international non Wolof Senegalese musical stars come from, like the Toure brothers of the Toure Kunda and the singers of the Orchestra Baobab Balla Sidibe and Aliou Diallo.
In the romantic sound of Sedhiou Band the mandinka rhythms of the Pheuls, of the Djoula, of the Balanta and also of the Wolof are mixed to reggae. The Latin American sonority and mbalax give their music vitality and a rare variety to an African orchestra. The connection with the Orchestra Baobab is not that untrue. The four singers today in the Sedhiou Band – other than Sekou Kouyate we find Seydou Ndao, Aminata Dieng Ndiaye and Djime Diate – playing the three guitars we have Ibrhaima Dia, Youssouph Cissokho and Aliou Kouyate, at the bass Ibrahima Diate, the drums Bakary Coly, percussions Kekounta Camara, Sekou Kouyate and Djime Diate and on sax the over sixty veteran Abdou Kounta Diate.
Papa Sekou was on his way to Banjul because in Gambia the band presently finds mostly its living. After having eaten rice with sauce and river fish, we chat a little while his son prepares tea.
“Sedhiou band started playing at circumcision ceremonies and today it is the most important orchestra in Casamance with a long and glorious past. We have played with all musicians in the regions, including Gambia and Guinea Bissau, from Super Mama Djombo to Jaliba Kuyateh. We play traditional music using also modern instruments, like guitar, sax and drums. We are griot and our songs are stories of our land which allow the young generation to know and to remember. When Senghor was president a lot of value was given to culture, and griot were supported by the government. Senghor was an intellectual writer and poet. He was Serer but had much respect for the mandinka and for all the Senegalese ethnics. Today the situation has changed. Senegal ’s resources are used mainly for Dakar and Casamance is totally forgotten. Culture has no longer a central place in our lives like it had at the time of Senghor.”
Sekou Kouyate’s look is intense and intelligent. Despite the sensations left by his observations on issues that are dear to him, our following stay in Banjul was too short compared to the numerous things we promised ourselves to do, in fact we didn’t manage to meet him again. We have looked for the Sedhiou Band’s music but without big great results. Kerewan Sound the most furnished music shop in Gambia didn’t have it and we managed to find a pirate copy of Casa Di Mansa, their last studio recorded CD, master copied for the occasion from a guy in the Serrekunda market. Other music from the Sedhiou Band you can find on the blog Likembe and World Service,, and it is thanks to them that we can offer a wider musical selection. It is really worth while listening to them.
1972 - Kéléfa
1980 - Ceddo
1992 - Saroo
1995 - Samalaa et sarro
1996 - Africa kambeng et dimbaya
1997 - Unité et paix
1998 - Africa Kambeng
2002 - Afindiang
2003 - Casa di Mansa
2006 - Takusanu Ndakarou
1. Casa di Mansa (da Casa di Mansa)
2. Seejo (da Casa di Mansa)
3. Jomboyo (da Casa di Mansa)
4. Finkin (da Casa di Mansa)
5. Nenne Suxo (da Dimbayaa)
6. A.P.R.C. (da Dimbayaa)
7. Fode Kaba (da Kelefa)
8. Kelefa (da Kelefa)