Delightful West Africa – Buying Music CDs in The Gambia
Banjul is a mere 30 taxi minutes from Gambia's tourist coast. Banjul is a reasonable place to buy West African music CDs from Senegal, Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, Guinea-Conakry, the Capverdian Islands, Nigeria or Congo. The shops are easier to use than at the hustler-infested and confusing Marché Sandaga in Senegal's capital Dakar (see West Africa 1). The tiny CD shop Kerewan Sound on the front of Banjul's Royal Albert Market is even listed in the Lonely Planet guide book.
You name your artists and they'll burn CD copies for you. One copied CD is 2,7 Euros and in Audio CD format; they rarely use the more economic MP3 file type. Locals tell me that CD copies should be no more than 1,3 Euro, but I never get to that price – but then my CDs are burnt on European Philips raw CDs, not on the much cheaper and wide spread Princo Budget raw CDs. They call their CDs and DVDs "cassettes".
At least at Lang Recording Studio (see below), you could bring your external hard disk and copy the Audio CD files straight from their to your memory, which saves a lot of work, time and maybe money. You might of course catch a virus.
Dodou Joof seems to be the boss at Kerewan Sound, a CD shop and Gambia's long running, busiest music producer. Dodou's scribblings on the copied CDs leave wide space for interpretation. He wants to meet me somewhere outside his shop to give me the ordered CDs, but I prefer to visit his shop.
Dodou is phantastically connected and calls me several times to inform me about live concerts. That's very helpful, but he always wants to join me (see West Africa 22 for live concert experiences in The Gambia).
Half an hour before the important Thione Seck concert in the Kairaba Hotel's garden, Dodou calls me if I will be there. I say I will be there, but will have to take care of my female company; not at all catching my drift, because he's a West African male, Dodou promises to seek me out – as so often in the region, a highly disturbing behaviour. (Finally I don't see him there.)
I had pressured Dodou Joof a bit to find me all available CDs by Gambian mbalax/ndaga star Pa Omar Jack.
On the beach, I receive a phone call from an unknown number.
Caller: "Hi, how are you?"
Hans: "Thanks, I am fine, and you?"
Caller: "I'm fine too."
Hans: "That's great. But who are you, then?"
Caller: "Why, I am Pa Omar Jack. I wanted to invite you to my CD launch next weekend in the Kairaba Hotel."
Reader, it's true: Gambia's top artist Pa Omar Jack stalks stray white tourists by mobile phone on Saturday afternoons. He has my number from the Kerewan Sound record store. I tell him that I saw his guest appearance at the Alioune Mbaye Nder concert (see last submission) and that I will see his other guest appearance at the Djiby Drame concert at Jokor Westfield later on the very day of this call. He is very impressed and wants to talk to me at Jokor Westfield.
He calls me several more times, including ten minutes before his guest appearance with Djiby Drame, while we are both in the Jokor Westfield concert garden. I don't answer his calls and I don't seek a conversation at Jokor Westfield because I feel stalked (or "bumstered", as Gambians would say). I also don't attend the CD launch, because my Gambian visa is running out and it will be a stiff affair in a smelly carpeted hotel hall with Gambian president Dr. Yahya Abdul-Azziz Jemus Junkung Diliu Jammeh probably present.
Lang Recording Studio
Banjul's other interesting CD store, Lang Recording Studio, is in the inner maze of Royal Albert Market between stalls for wigs, shoes and plucked chicken. Call them at 7928362 to pick you up at the main gate.
My first visit is fruitful: I get good recommendations for lesser known, but great musicians like Sekouba Bambino from Guinea-Conakry or Malian Kandia Kuyateh. Shop owner Omar seems to be an expert in all-African music and promises to introduce me to music from Ghana on my next visit (for an account of serious Senegalese Music hunting in West Africa, read Mark Hudson's entertaining Music in My Head).
Some days later, I call Omar of Lang Recording Studio that I would be there half an hour later.
"Okay, no problem."
I call him again from the market gate to be picked up.
"Ok, no problem, I come."
He doesn't come for ten minutes. But I am discovered by the do-no-gooders who hung around the CD shop last time and who all remember me.
They call him from my phone. We learn that Omar attends a funeral in Serakunda, but will arrive at his shop shortly. (This sounds like a contradiction to the previous paragraphs, but it unfolds like that.)
With one of the male chatterboxes, I am forced to drink café Touba for half an hour until Omar appears.
He has none of the promised Ghanaan music, but we select 17 other albums. He promises to copy everything within two hours.
I pay an advance and go for a city walk. After two hours I call him. He says he needs another 30 minutes.
I appear at his stall after 30 more minutes and he says there are only two more albums to copy. When I actually look onto his monitor and the pile of CDs, he quickly concedes that nine more albums are left to do.
I sit on a bench next to his stall and wait. Several do-no-gooders happily join me.
Omar's progress is minimal. He claims he burns with slow 1x speed to avoid any errors. He wants everything to be best for the valued customer. He also discusses intensely with other valued customers.
I still sit on the bench next to the record stall. One of the do-no-gooders says he has a German girlfriend from Hamburg-Bilstedt. He frowns, "she likes beer and sex in the daytime". Both habits deeply trouble him. With a worried face he inquires if I might be up to similar evils.
Omar produces another lie about the estimated time of delivery and I decide to leave. I will be upcountry for a few days, but my taxi driver Babucar can pick up the remaining CDs.
One day later, Babucar calls Omar and is asked to pick up the CDs in Banjul. When Babucar calls Omar from the market gate, Omar says he needs more time to copy the CDs.
That's a wonderful series of submissions on Africa, but as much fun as it is to read about the continent, I don't think I will be visiting any time soon!