Musa Ngum on stage is an explosive, dynamic singer and sparkling showman, and off stage he looks so simple and ordinary, when he holds the microphone in his hand to sing the spirit comes alive and takes over. His voice is hypnotizing, the osculation of the voice fabric has a drug effect that is addictive which can electrify your blood pulse flow straight to your heart and overcome your mind which is far beyond human control.
Born in Fatoto, Kantora District in The Gambia, Musa Afia Ngum became interested in music at a very young age. Because his father was a trader who had to travel often, he was taken care of by a caretaker who was fond of playing a one-stringed guitar instrument. The caretaker used to play this instrument for Musa until he fell asleep. Musa, even in his early years refused to go to bed unless and until the "mola" was played which, looking back, he deems quite mystic.
Ambitiously pursuing his music career, Musa joined a group called Sangamarr Band in the late 1960s. He became the group's lead singer and played together at Sangamarr with the likes of Sam Jarju, Cheks, Pa Alieu Njie, Mbye Jasseh, Pa Ngum and Manka Susso, who was the group's guitarist. The group specialised in playing famous traditional songs with western instruments. After a while with Sangamarr, Musa was asked by his bigger brother, Lie Ngum, who was then a member of a group called Gelewarr to be their lead singer.
Musa played together in the Gelewarr Band with the late Oussou Lion Njie, the late Njok Malick Njie, the late Adama Sallah, Musa Njie, and Koto Ngum among others. During his Gelewarr days, Musa Ngum recorded songs such as "Tesito", "Bala Jigi Musa", "Xaleli Ndakaru” and many more which gained cult status and made him a legend in the Senegambia region. Gelewarr toured The Gambia, Senegal, Mauritania and other West African countries.
Musa’s songs are mostly about the ancient Kingdoms of the Senegambia region in both landscape and cultural unity. He is indeed a musical hero. Musa left The Gambia in 1981 and moved to Senegal. He was assiduously courted by Super Diamono, one of the then premier Senegalese bands and he finally joined the group in 1985. He teamed up with Omar Pene, Maiga, Lamin Faye (Lemso) - the legendary Senegalese guitarist and they released "Borom Daaru" and "Partef" which became Senegambian classics. One of the biggest hits during Musa Ngum's stint with Super Diamono is the combination song he did with Omar Pene which is popularly known as "Omaro, Bamba sa mam la".
When Super Diamono disbanded three years later, Musa joined the short-lived group Ndaply and then went solo with his "Banjul Banjul" release and has since released a total of six cassette decks (Cds). He used only traditional Senegambian instruments. One feature a lot find it hard to believe is that the bass line is not an electric bass guitar but a traditional instrument known as the "Balafong". He was awarded one of the highest honours in Senegal, Chevalier of the National Order of The Lion, by the then Senegalese President Abdou Diouf.
Musa was invited by the Gambian president to come back home in 1997 and he has since lived in the country. In a nutshell, Musa Ngum is a superstar, songwriter and producer who, to a large extent, ushered in the era of artist controlled close harmony in popular music.
Musa is very devoted and passionate about his singing. He was the hero of Super Diamano of Senegal. He was the main attraction and the crowd puller for the band but he was a threat for the band’s way of gaining reorganisation in the Senegalese class system.
Senegal has not been known as a Revolutionary African ideological country due to their own version of Africanism based on Negritude and subjecting World Festival of Negro Arts with the degrading term “Negro” for presenting Black Africans. They were threatened with the songs and lyrics of Musa and the band sidelined him while he was their main crowd-puller and a neck-to-neck challenge and concurrent to Youssou Ndour in the Dakar music scene.
They substituted him to Omar Pene and Maiga because of his African Revolutionary principles, political awareness and spiritual lyrics. The band decided to make him a substitute and reduced his role to one or two songs in every concert. Musa said that we have been made indifferent by colonialism and we have lost our cultural unity to the French and the English until we are sometimes engaged in mud throwing at each other. He once said that he will not wear the same colour of socks with his shoes until Senegambia is unified again as a symbol of defiance.
He has his relatives in Afdie (Halfdie) the southern side of Banjul. Afdie settlement was like Soweto in South Africa. In the past, one policeman alone does not patrol in Banjul South. If one does, the ndongos will seize you, disarm you and take away your gear for their own use against the police in strikes, bogus arrest and functions of discontent.
Musa Ngum is a ndongo, a professional musician and one of the world’s best singers musically. Musa is not a materialist and do not have a Manson or a fancy car to prove his point but he has soul and he is modest. The sick concept of possession do not bother him or attract his attention, it has no place in his spiritual world.
He could have been singing Reggae and Soul working as a night club singer but he refrain from that and want to become an icon and a legend in promoting Gambia’s original music and striving for a national cultural identity through music. He is a visionary preserving and promoting Gambia's golden heritage.
Blessed with an exceptionally wide range that encompassed three distinct vocal styles, a piercing falsetto, a smooth mid-range tenor, and a deep Griot growl, Musa combined great technical prowess with rare musical individuality. Rebellious by nature, he turned the tables on Gelewarr Band hierarchy by becoming his own producer for “SAMA YAI DEM NA NDARR” the most significant work of his career. A suite of Madina Sabac influenced songs on the nature of Africa's political and social woes, this concept album still a novel format in this time painted a poignant landscape of Gambia’s Wollof urban neighbourhoods.
Musa also displayed dazzling virtuosity by overdubbing (building sound track by track onto a single cassette tape) his own voice three or four times to provide his own rich harmony, a technique he would employ for the rest of his career. “ARTIST DU DANU” was a critical and commercial sensation in spite of the fact that Musa feared his political discontent (and his stand against the Negligence of Gambian Musicians. Other major artists most importantly Omar Pene, Momodou Maiga and Ismail Lo followed Musa's lead and acted as producer of their own efforts.
Musa gave his spirit, his life, his thoughts, aspiration and the purpose of existence by being a force in our country. We as a people cannot let our inventors and great thinkers forge a life for themselves. When they are alive, we act as if they are not important but when they die we state to celebrating them.
Author: Oko Drammeh
Editorial: Musa Ngum, the legendary Gambian musician will be celebrating his 40 years in music next week Saturday January 31st 2015 at the Jaama Hall-Kairaba Beach Hotel in Senegambia. This is a great acheievement for Gambia.This Friday January 23rd 2014, the legendary Musa Ngum will be our guest on the G T Radio show
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