Song of the Month



Oko Drammeh profiles Sambou Suso

The Gambian Voice that exceeded any one genre, so powerful and entirely distinctive, there's a richness to her voice, a clarity to all of its inflections, a woman so powerful and so formidable. Her age has only deepened the urge in her powerhouse voice and moans during her long career as a griot singer (rejuvenation and discovery). I can't compare her voice to anything — he had such an unusual breadth of influences, but you can toss all day about who is the Afro Manding Gold Ngalam of The Gambia, and you end up with Sambou Suso.

 She's all of it! Sambou Suso was born in Banjul in the early 1970s to the late Omar Joof (Youti) and unlike most young Gambian artists; she hails directly from a musical griot family that really gave her a jumpstart in her musical career. From 1991 to date, she has released several singles, including 'Mindaan du Jaam' which instantly became a hit song. When you hear a great song, you can think of where you were when you first heard it, the sounds, and the smells. It takes the emotions of a moment and holds it for years to come. It transcends time. A great song has all the key elements — melody; emotion; a strong statement that becomes part of the lexicon; and great production.

 Her song entitled 'Bunia', Mandinka for ‘respect' from her upcoming album has been released on a music video, entitled 'Da fatang 2' under the Jololi label in Senegal and internationally, and many more recently.

 Sambou's singing style with her strong and piercing voice could be compared to the likes of Mama Draba of Mali and Sona Tata Conde of Guinnea. She mainly sings Manding, a West African style music, probably originating from Mali but popular throughout the sub-region.  She  has also co-recorded songs with a number of Gambian musicians, including Kora player Jaliba Kuyateh, reggae artist Singateh, Hamaleh G reggae group, and many more. She was crowned best Gambian female musician, a title that she won over and again. She won the title of 'Best National artist'.(Gambia online).

 Sambou's voice has so much variation and such diversity. She has the ability to sing a cappella in almost a whisper in a packed club environment and be able to hear a wind blow — that's not about technical ability, that's something else. Beauty and brilliance, unleashing her chest voice singsong falsetto and her ferocious Afro Manding Songs with deep soul-feeling, singing with impressive seriousness and stylistic range.


 There is a Jali Muso tenacity to the way he would force you to listen to the effeminate side of her voice that made the thrills with her powerful, soulful tenor with its near-wordless, but endlessly affecting charm and as much honesty and emotion as she does. When it comes to expressing oneself through singing, there is no one who can beat her. She is the reason why Manding girls want to sing.

 The Gambian singer Sambou has everything in singing Afro Manding songs — the power, the technique. She is honest with everything she says. Everything she's thinking or dealing with is all in the music to her live performances. And she has total confidence; she does not shy-out at all. I think her griot traditions brings that confidence, because in griots they do not play, everything was real that she thought and felt and the way she sing so softly, almost gently — but also with so much power.

 Quoting Sambou –the Daily Observer interview (Yunus.S.2013): “I am a singer and a griot for that matter, I write and compose my songs because I take music from my parents. My father is a kora player while my mother is a jali. They know very much about the oral history, because they inherited this from our forefathers. I did not go too far, but I did my elementary at Albion Primary School and then proceeded to Banjul Technical and Secondary School.

 “Immediately, I finished my secondary school, I opted for music because it had already become a part of me and my life. Though I sat to an examination to study secretarial courses, music championed everything since I really want to go into it. I can sing very well because I started singing with my father when I was young. I did not find it difficult to launch myself into music, because when I was young as my parents were playing kora and singing, I used to play alongside with them. But then there was no television to showcase the talented people until the advent of the GRTS television station in 1996,” she said.

 Sambou Suso added: “Well, I started as a traditional musician because I am from a jali family. In traditional music, especially as a griot you need to ask in-depth questions to know the history, the eulogy of any person you want to praise or praise-sing. So to be a professional and competent one to be reckoned with, I always consulted my parents because they have deep background knowledge of many families in The Gambia. As I adore them so I cherish Kanja Kuyateh she is my number one star.”

 There is tenacity to the way she would force you to listen to the effeminate side of her voice. I saw shows with a room full of guys wearing. But you can talk all day about technical aspects, and you get nowhere. Sambou have the ability to sing a cappella in almost a whisper in a packed club environment and be able to hear a pin drop — that's not about technical ability, that's something else.

 Age has only deepened the urge and power in her powerhouse voice and moans during her long career as a griot singer. Sambou Suso was the first one, a female Griot Singing star to make a decisive cross-over into Afro Manding pop, setting the stage for singers from Mariama Misma Suso, Neneh Jali Suso, Kumba Kuyateh, among others. Contrary to anything you've heard, the ability to actually carry a tune is in no regard a disability in becoming a contemporary African singer singing Afro Pop, only a mild disadvantage.

 She has been touring and performing in Europe and USA for many years now, mainly in England, Germany, Sweden, Norway and Denmark, to name but a few. She is getting ready for European and American tour soon. Look out for Sambou Suso and band in a place near you. The beauty of the Sambou's voice touches us in a place that's as personal as the place from which that voice has issued. If one of the weird things about her is the ecstasy of surrender they inspire, another magical thing is the response Sambou can arouse once we've recovered our senses. It's as if she hypnotized us into loving her, diddled our hard-wiring, and located a vulnerability we thought we'd long ago armoured over. Falling in love with a singer is like being a teenager every time it happens.

There is a difference between people who sing and those who take that voice to others, who create euphoria within themselves. Its transfiguration, when you're talking about her strength as a singer. It was her power to deliver — it was about her phrasing, the totality of her singing.

Brilliant musicality!
Author: Oko Drammeh


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