Tribute:Jali Alagie Mbye, Gambian master Korist, historian and cultural ambassador

Thursday, December 13, 2018

The demise yesterday, December 12, of Alagie Mbye has robbed our country of a powerful voice of culture, history and tradition, and left a void which will be hard to fill. Jali Alagie Mbye was a multitalented musician, orator, instrumentalist and historian.

Alagie knew and loved the Kora. His was well known for his virtuoso Kora skills which have won him respect and admiration in The Gambia, Europe, America and neighboring countries. He  travelled widely in the Greater Senegambia (Guinea Bissau, Guinea Conakry, Mali, Senegal) to research and study the kora which made him to develop a theory that Kora originated from The Gambia through a Mande prince called Korin Musa. For this, Alagie had planned to hold a Kora Festival here to celebrate Gambia’s kora heritage.

He  represented The Gambia in numerous international cultural events. In 2009, he was part of The Gambia delegation to the Algiers Pan African festival; in 2011, I travelled with him and a group of talented Gambian griots to a big cultural festival in Taiwan. There he mesmerized the crowds with his wonderful kora skills and tunes.

Alagie was a professional historian. Most recently, through the support of Momodou Sabally while he led the GRTS, Alagie hosted a successful and very popular series of programmes on radio and TV on aspects of Gambian pre-colonial history.

Alagie studied music. In 1989 he was a student at Malmo College of Music in Sweden for about a year, making him one of the first Kora players to seek formal training in western music styles, and has also collaborated with established Swedish and Norwegian musicians such as Arne Fosen. For many years, Algie ran the Maalis Music School in Nemakumku, where he teaches the Kora to foreign and local students.

Alagie had a large repertoire of his own compositions and Gambian folkloric tunes. In a special studio rendition of the famous traditional song Fode Kabba for the NCAC, he praises the exploits of the revered and powerful Mandinka ruler Foday Kabba Dumbuya (1870-1901), who also fought holy wars in The Gambia, and Cassamance in the Republic of Senegal to spread Islam until his death in 1901. The song celebrates Foday’s bravery and charisma.

He had a solid base of international contacts. In Sweden, he ran summer music lecture tours every year, and used this contact to bring a digitization project to the NCAC in 2011. Through this project funded by the Swedish Folkmusik hus, hundreds of rare tapes of Gambian folklore music in the NCAC oral archives were digitized. In 2012, and 2015, the NCAC produced two albums from the digitized sounds titled GEMS OF THE GAMBIA VOL 1 and VOL 2.

Alagie was a good and generous man. He shared his knowledge of Gambian history and culture generously. He was always primed for patriotic duty. To his family, friends and followers, I convey my condolences.

By: Hassoum Ceesay

Jali Alagie Mbye, Gambian korist, historian and griot died 12 December 2018.

By Hassoum  Ceesay