When looking at The Gambia on the map, most people start with the obvious question: How the heck did Gambia and Senegal's borders end up with way they are? The answer, like most nations in Africa, has to do with meddling European powers. In this case, Britain and France were in conflict over the use and colonization of the Gambia River, it being an excellent way to establish trade farther in the West African region. Eventually, Britain won out, but France retained control of Senegal. And that's how you end up with *gestures broadly* this whole situation.
What's most curious to me is the difference between the perception and importance of national borders between these two countries and the USA. Particularly in recent years, border control in the USA has been a sore point in politics, and crossing from one country to into the states can be a hassle at best. One thing that became clear while reading, for a lot of Gambians and Senegalese, the border between the two countries fluctuates between permeous to non-existent. One local historian said in an interview that the borders are the result of European powers imposing differences where none existed, and the lines drawn up do not reflect any true ethnic or cultural boundaries.
True enough, The Gambia has a lot in common with Senegal. I suspect differences are becoming more pronounced in the cities, which are more under the sway of differences in local governance, but in rural populations, a good deal of trade, socialization, and intermarriage continues across the national borders. The Gambia, like Senegal, has a tradition of griots, musical families which operate as witnesses for important religious and historical events, conflict mediators, and carriers of family history. The common instruments are the same: the kora, djembe and dunun drums, and the dundun "talking drum." Heck, the way they decant their tea is the same. Incidentally, the way they pour their tea is also the same as Mauritania, and I'll be curious to see how far that tradition traveled.
One tradition I found in Gambia, but not Senegal (doesn't mean it's not there, I might have just overlooked it) is the "kanyaleng." These are women's music groups which started as support groups for women suffering from infertility, miscarriage, or the death of a child. In addition, kanyaleng provide performances for marriages and other important gatherings. One interesting part of kanyaleng history was their role in helping prevent the spread of ebola into The Gambia during the 2012-13 outbreak. A number of these groups were employed by health organizations to help communicate the transmission, symptoms, and treatment protocol of the disease.
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My composer for today is Sona Jobarteh (b. 1983). Growing up travelling between England and Gambia, Sona was born into one of the five griot families of Gambia. She studied kora first from her brother, Tunde Jegede, and then, at 11, convinced her father, Sanjally Jobarteh, to give her a full education in the kora. From what I have read, and what Sona confirmed in one interview, the kora is traditionally a male instrument. She also studied Western music, including cello, harpsichord, piano, and composition, at the Royal Academy of Music, the Purcell School of Music, and SOAS University of London. Afterwards, she returned to playing the kora, which she performs internationally.