Towards a new Gambia National Troupe

Thursday, April 05, 2018

On Thursday last week, the minister of Tourism and Culture inaugurated a technical committee to advise on the formation of another Gambia National Troupe. Although we are not privy to the time this committee has to submit its report and findings, we are indeed optimistic that the committee will do a good job and that in the coming months The Gambia will have a new troupe worthy of the rich culture and performance traditions of this country.

The Gambia has had two previous national troupes: the first was established in 1974 under the eye of the then Minister of Education, Youth, Sports and Culture in the PPP government. The troupe comprised of the best talents in Gambian music and song at the time. It rehearsed and performed a rich repertoire of songs in all the major national languages. Some of the songs were from the rich folkloric traditions of our country, while others were composed to address emerging and current issues at the time such as environmental protection and tesito, the PPP philosophy of self help and community based development.

The Troupe exhibited the best and brightest aspects of Gambian dance and music here and overseas. It performed as far as Russia, Libya, USA and became a powerful tool in promotion of the then nascent Gambian tourism. In fact, in 1977 some members of the Troupe spent many weeks touring USA and the Caribbean promoting and marketing Gambia as a tourist destination in the wake of the publication of Alex Haley’s bestseller Roots. The troupe’s formidable artists such as the korist jali Nyama Suso, Abdoulie Samba of xalam fame, Mamudou Suso, Banna Kauteh, Nurse Kanuteh, Madam Sakiliba and others cut a triumphant troupe on stage at the famous 1977 Lagos FESTAC, festival of African Arts. Sadly, the 1985 IMF induced Economic Recovery Programme(ERP) forced the government of Sir Dawda Jawara to axe the ensemble as part of its cost cutting measures.

When the AFPRC junta came in 1994, they were desperate to gain legitimacy and they were advised to form a new troupe. It came, but was a flash in the pan as it soon dissolved itself due to financial constraints, and also may be it has served the parochial purpose the junta had in mind.

Now, after 22 years absence, the government has decided to remedy the anomaly of having a country without an official national dance and son ensemble. The work which started last week is to be saluted. It shows that this government has the interest of promoting Gambian cultural diversity. A new National Troupe will help to promote national reconciliation and improve our image as a country coming out of 22 years of image battering due to tyranny.

Now it is left to the committee to learn from the past and forge a new Gambia National Troupe. Significantly, the new troupe should be treated as a body corporate with requisite government subvention and be given enough room to make its own money and spend it in its welfare. Just as government employs civil servants and clerks, so it should be ready to employ the troupe members with fixed salaries and benefits including retirement plans.

We must treat our artists with utmost respect and decorum.

A Guest Editorial