Song of the Month



Oko Drameh profiles Alhaji Sait Camara- An Innovative Genuis

Alhaji Sait was one of the finest Xalam players in the history of Xalam playing. He makes the notes sing giving them the colour of a vocal performance. His dazzling virtuosity and innovative genius has earned him a legacy as a giant of the Xalam.

Alhagi Sait Camara is the son of the grand Griot Ada Camara of Kaur, the Gambia. Ada Camara was a renowned griot and historian of his time. His name travelled far and wide and he was called upon to narrate family ties and values of community belonging and genealogy of communities. He lived in Kaur most of his life and he was considered as one of the noble elders of Saloum. West African griots are gatekeepers of their culture, repositories of oral tradition. Hear centuries-old histories from Gambia and Mali, accompanied by stringed instruments and drums. His narrative features a recitation describing the beginnings of the slave trade with the Portuguese and Dutch in the early 1600s. Alhagi Sait Camara was born in Kaur Town. His father wanted him to learn how to play the Xalam and how to narrate history and preserve the history of the region. Alhaji Sait Camara was a Muslim scholar and studied the Koran extremely well and can recite the Koran accurately. He was also responsible for bringing to light the history of the Sosseh Family tree starting from MAWASRAN MAYA NJIE SOSSEH. He revealed that the second name of Sosseh was SESOHO. The great grandfather of Sosseh, Mawaran Sosseh at Jollof, the natives were trying to shorten his second name used Sosseh instead of SISOHO. Alhaji Sait was the historian of the Sosseh family tree and a close friend of Gabi Sosseh, the former director of Gambia Ports Authority.


Barra Touray, who together with a great man called Badou Secka, went to war in 1939 from Kaur, ruled the town of Kaur in 1939. He also inherited bravery from his family. They were the elders of Kaur that went to war with Maba. They joined Maba Jahu (the Islamist) in his war. Badou Secka is from Balu Madegan, Jere Laba Kumba, Laba Cheyassin Sajor, Badou Laba, Demba Songeh, Waka and Njor Amar. The elders of Kaur included Tafsir Omar Jeng, Alhagi Nanda who lectured at St. Louis and went to Mecca on foot for the pilgrimage with a large number of followers. When the Gambian people were selected to go into the 1939 war (Second World War) Tafsir Ali Boye, a marabout in Kaur wrote certain verses of the Koran and gave it to the selected men who went to war and most of them came back safe. Sawalo Musa Gaye came from Njaw, near Kaur and participated in many wars of Maba Jahu. Sawalo Musa Gaye was the father of Sering Jahana, Matarr Ceesay, Layan Dado and Omar Ceesay Jahana. The Sallah family of Kaur were the first Tukulors to settle in Kaur and Dandimayo (the neck of the River in Fula) where Salowbe Sallah and his marabout Yali Bana later settled.

Alhaji Sait Camara unfolded to us the histories of the regions when Senegambia was Called Madu Ndeye (before Colonialism and before it was called Senegambia by the French). Alhaji Sait with his Xalam songs and rhythms and oral history teachings has taught us many things that we could have lost and never to preserve in our history as the people of the Senegambia region.

The history of Maba Jahu the Muslim and the infidel Latjor Menge, (king of Kayor and Saloum) who later converted to Islam by Maba Jahu and his head was shaved by Omar Sane and given the name Salimaha Jobe. Also the relationship between Maba Jahu and Sundiata, one of he sons of Sundiata was called Colly Sundiata. The surname Colley of the Jola tribe has a strong link with Colley Sundiata. Maba was defeated in the battle of Sine by Burr Sine. He died after prayers on his mat. It was Omar Saine who gave him water to perform his abolition before the last prayer. He was buried in Som but later Burr Sine asked that his remains should be brought to Sine where he finally laid to rest. His lieutenants were Biran Ceesay, Gumbo Gaye, Sawalo Musa Gaye, Sait Kanyi. After the fall of Maba there was disintegration of his lieutenants. Gumba Gaye went to Ngane Sanjal, Sawalo Musa Gaye went to Pakala and Sait Kanyi went to Passy.

Maba wrote a letter before he died to the Governor of Bathurst and the authorities asking them to shelter his son Sait Matty when the need may arise. Maba was a great man and brilliant scholar and had many students. When Maba was in full force Sait Maty was studying.

Sait Maty's Bah (son of Maba) arrived to Banjul to the governor after the Battle Saba and Gunjur. When Maba died there was confusion about who should take his place and the people did not want to be lead by Sait Maty. Sait Matty fought a war in Saba with Sait Kanyi, son of a Nyancho called Sambou Mammeh and Sait Maty was defeated. He came to the Gambia and died in Bakau were he was buried. The family of Baye Nyass from the time of his grand father Reda Hydara who married to Jaja Nyass and they had MaSamba Jalia Nyass. Samba Jali got married to Choro Faal and had a child called Lamin Sa Choro and Ala Sa Choro. Lamin had a son called Bukary who was also called Ngaga had a son who was called Seedy Muhamed Nyass and also a son called Abdoulaye Nyass who is the father of Baye Nyass. The father of Baye Nyass is Abdoulie Nyass. Baye Nyass eldest son was called Khalifa.

The transformation of Shiek Omar Foutiyu Taal and his visit to Sheik Omar Faye (grand father of Muntaha Faye). Sheik Omar was the son of Sayerr Taal their great grandfather was Koli Tengere, Seydina Omar was the father of Sayer Taal the father of Sheik Omar Foutiyu. Sheik Omar Foutuyu meet Maba Jahu in the middle of the suppression of Muslim by the infidels and Sheik Omar warned Maba Jahu not to go to Sine because he saw what the great Andalla Dado worked for Burr Sine to defend Burr Sine's country.

ANDALLA DADO was a great marabout who went to Sine before coming to the Gambia and went to HALUWA (To subdue you to god) in the Gambia. He spent forty nights and forty days in Haluwa in the Gambia. In his haluwa, he saw an image of mankind who was his friend when he was at DARA (Koranic School). This friend was NISA but he was not a human being but a JINN. Andala was from the family of Basing, Jabou Dado, and Jabou Dado was the offering of Mutarr Dado of Kerr Malick Sarr of North Bank Region in The Gambia. The Jinn told Andalla to go to sine and cure there sick lingere daughter of Burr Sine who no one can cure without my powers. Andala was rewarded with tens of many things including cows, goats, bags of millet, bags of rice, other grains etc after he cured the daughter of Burr Sine. Then Burr Sine asked him to do some work for him. Andalla agreed and asked Burr Sine to get some one whose surname is Cham (because both his mother and father were Cham) who will make an earthenware pan to cook the medicine he was preparing for Burr Sine for enemies not to take his country from him. This was the medicine that Andalla prepared for Burr Sine to defeat Maba Jahu. Andalla left Burr Sine, which coincided with Maba's war with the Infidels of Kajor, Bawol, Jollof Saloum, Ripa and Fonyi.

The story of Mansa Wally Fayenkee, the founder of the Senegambia region and Cassamance (the first Black Arab who habited the Manding) a place used to be known as the dense forest. He was the one who order the captured of Muhamed Bun Ahmed known as Njajan Njie who was Burr Jollof after being married to Ngoneh Mboge. Njajan Njie was named after Muhamed Malik the Black Arab who discovered Mali, with his named "Mbetala -Maliki-ya" meaning let us go to Malick, brought about the name Mali.

Mansa Wally Fayeenke was also known as Mansa Wali Jon. During a period of sickness, he would sit under a tree to recover from his illness and when people visited him they would report to other as he was sitting Jon as someone who is not sick. The Jon means that he was upright and upful. He was the one who named Kayor, Baol and Sine. These words are Manding names. Kajarr meaning dry land, Baol in Manding Bawolu mean, near the water and Sine came about because they wanted to rest during their journey northwards and decided to rest and they said Alingana Si Jang meaning lets sit here and that was why the place was called Sine and Saloum was name after the brother of Mansa Wali who could not travel any further and decided to stay in the place called Saloum today. His name was Saloum and the place was named after him when he decided to stay there with his contingent. Almami Alpha Khan, a Tukuness (the original name of the Fulas) and his spread of Islam in the Gambia. Because the fulas appeared in large numbers in Conakry they were called POLL because the large numbers that appeared at one time. Almani mean an Imam, Alpha meaning an elder and Khan meaning a cane (the cane that Imams held as spiritual leaders handle when he was delivering a sermon) and that they were entrusted to open Madrasas known as Dara to us for Islamic studies. Almani Alpha Khan is the great grand father of Alhagi Abu Khan of Kuntaya, one of the first places in the region were Islam was studied and also Kunta Kinteh where Al Quara Kinteh lived, a Koranic master and great grandfather to Kunta Kinteh and predicted the return of Kunta Kinteh back to the Gambia which happened in the visit of Alex Haley Kinteh.

Burr Saloum, Sa Ndende Cud Fall invited the French and handed over the region to them because of unfair trading in the slave trade which was the main reason why Banjul was pushed back to Karang, while Banjul extended all the way to Kaolack. The region of Senegambia was a very organize society formed of Kings, Governors, Chiefs, and Alkalos before the Europeans came to this region. Burr Saloum Ndende Cod Faal was fighting against Sait Matty Ndendeh Cod Faal; Burr saloum was killed in the battle of Saba. The Xalam

Xalam, also spelled khalam, is the Wolof name for a traditional stringed musical instrument from West Africa. The Xalam is thought to have originated from modern-day Mali, but some believe that, in antiquity, the instrument may have originated from Ancient Egypt. The Xalam is commonly played in Mali, Gambia, Senegal, Niger, Northern Nigeria, Northern Ghana, Burkina Faso, Mauritania, and Western Sahara; it is also known in other languages as bappe, diassare, hoddu (Pulaar), koliko (Gurunsi), kologo (Frafra) komsa, kontigi (Hausa), koni, konting (Mandinka), molo (Songhay/Zarma), ndere, ngoni (Bambara), and tidinit (Hassaniyya Arabic).

Someone who plays the Xalam is called Xalamkat in tribal wollof language (a word composed of the verbal form of Xalam, meaning "to play the Xalam", and the agentive suffix -kat, thus meaning "one who Xalams"). In most areas male griots, or praise singers who are born into the profession play the Xalam. It most often acts as a solo or duo instrument to accompany praise songs and historical recitations, and in some areas it may form part of a larger group including Kora, drums, and calabashes. It is traditionally heard at weddings, infant-naming ceremonies, and (always with amplification) is now a common member of folklore ensembles, popular mbalax groups, and ndaga variety shows.

Important past and present Senegalese Xalam masters include Abdoulaye Samba (Banjul), Jabel Samba, Doudou Nying Kol Yandeh, Sàmba Jabare Sàmb, Ama Njaay Sàmb, Abdulaay Naar Sàmb (all from the Jolof), Abdulaye Sosseh (from the Saloum), and Bokunta Njaay (from the Bawol).


On 4 October 1973, RTS, which had been in talks with Radio Gambia about producing a joint radio programme, based on Senegambian history and broadcast in the local languages came to an agreement, and the first ever recording of the programme Chossani Senegambia (the history of Senegambia) was made. The Gambian team consisted of veteran broadcasters like Alhaji Alieu Ebrima Cham Joof (historian, former director of Programmes and Head of Local Languages at Radio Gambia), Alhaji Assan Njie (presenter of Radio Gambia), Alhaji Mansour Njie (historian and presenter of Radio Gambia, later presenter of Gambia Radio & Television Service (GRTS) and Alhaji Ousman Secka. Alhaji Alieu Ebrima Cham Joof (coordinator of the programme for Radio Gambia) travelled to various parts of Senegal and the Gambia accompanied by his team of journalists including Cheikh Jallow, to interview the elders knowledgeable in Senegambian history.

The Senegalese team also went to the Gambia to gather materials. Their team included: Ebrima Mbenga (coordinator of the program for RTS, Dodou Diego Diop and Alioune Cissé. The programme was pre-recorded and it was scheduled by both Radio Stations to go live at the same time and date (Tuesdays), so that both Gambian and Senegalese listeners can listen to it at the same time. On many occasions, prominent Senegalese historians made live appearances at Radio Gambia studios and vice-versa. The programme was generally accompanied by live music from prominent griots like Jali Nyama Suso, Alhaji Bai Konte (on Kora also griot), Alhaji Abdoulaye Samba (or Abdulai Samba, on Xalam also griot) and backing singers. Some of the prominent historians from Senegal that appeared on the programme included: El Hadji Demba Lamin Diouf, Modou Diouf (also known as Captain Modou Diouf - special appearance at Radio Gambia, 1979), El Hadji Mansour Gueye and Gorgi Makura Mboob. From the Gambia they included: Dodou Nying Koliyandeh, Jabell Samba, Alhaji Babou Samba, Alhaji Bamba Suso, Doctor Lamin Mbaye, Alhaji Momodou Lamin Bah and Alhaji Sait Camara.

The programme was a success in both Senegal "The programme Chossanie Senegambia... has a higher audience in the Gambia and Senegal than any other programme broadcast by RTS and Radio Gambia. It is the only programme that goes into the people own culture and tells them about the history of their ancestors. "And the Gambia, because no programme like that existed before in neither country.

Alhaji Sait Camara was one of the finest Xalam players in the history of Xalam playing. He makes the notes sing giving them the colour of a vocal performance. His dazzling virtuosity and innovative genius has earned him a legacy as a giant of the Xalam. Sait Camara's global reputation as an awe-inspiring historian is complemented by another rare gift -his ability to spread his story as a dedicated and loving historian. He was one of the most important historians of his generation. He died in 2008.

May his soul rest in Perfect Peace.

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