In 2008, radio producer and journalist Sue Bowerman traveled to Senegal, with West London hip hop and bruk beat pioneer IG Culture, for a project called Bring The Noise. The intention was to explore local music scenes, put together a band, and showcase the results over two concerts in Dakar. What they came across was a bourgeoning network of musicians, separated between griot traditionalists, mould-breaking modernists and forward-looking emcees.
Although the weight of tradition bears down heavily on Senegal and its music, history also shows an innovative and improvising culture. On the one hand, Senegal music is heavily influenced by griots and oral traditions, those stories and values passed down for centuries, commanding all members of society to “dance, sing, jump and be possessed by history through music.”
On the other hand, progress sweeps through the country at an alarming rate: as demonstrated not just in the piles of debris that litter the streets, but also in the way that young Senegal has taken hold of music for themselves: from the Mbalax music of Youssou N’Dour, the Etoile de Dakar Band, Omar Pene and Super Diamono, through to ’90s hip hop influenced styles spearheaded by groups like Daara J and Pee Froiss.
By bringing many of the twenty musicians together for the first time, Bring The Noise posed several questions about living in Dakar. The griots that feature in the Bring The Noise band, Mamadou Kouyaté and Lamine Konté have been playing together for over 40 years, and are master musicians. But they’re also vital figures in the community, from fighting to bring electricity to the neighborhood, and enrolling the children in school, to distributing vaccines or just providing some counsel to their neighbour’s problems. They’re the sacred holders of the keys of knowledge, and it’s a responsibility that’s inherited through family.
One of Mamadou’s main achievements was to start the very first kora school in Senegal – an initiative which shook up the griot community and introduced the idea that non-bloodline musicians, like Lamine’s student Edu, can also play these sacred songs. Edu faced much vocal opposition against his pursuit of the kora, because he comes from the Dyula people, while griots usually come from the Mandinka people. But because he loved the kora so much, he pursued learning it, and he managed to unshackle himself from his family history. Throw young rappers like Xuman, Waterflow and Keyti into the mix, and the Bring The Noise band became a mixture of young and old, rebels and gatekeepers, historians and innovators.
This audio documentary follows IG Culture and the Bring The Noise Band as they fuse the old with the new, and prepare for a special concert the likes of which Dakar has never heard before. Despite the challenging conditions, from 40 degree heat and power cuts, to cramped studios overflowing with balafons, koras and other instruments, together they created new music, and hopefully opened a few ears in the process.
Produced and presented by Sue Bowerman. A Blanket Production.