Senegalese griot singer Coumba Gawlo Seck is a rising star both in her native country and in Europe. People also occasionally ask her about her political opinions. What makes Coumba Gawlo interesting is that she is a supporter of embattled Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade. (He is so unpopular that he has been forced to face a second round of voting against a divided opposition later this month.) The thing about Coumba Gawlo is that she feels compelled to defend Wade at all costs. This is certainly at odds with the political stances of most of Senegal top musicians (if you don’t include Akon).
In a recent interview on Senegalese TV, she quoted her grandmother about the meaning of true friendship and loyalty. Coumba Gawlo was asked why she’s not part of the musicians and opposition’s Y’En A Marre movement in protesting president Wade’s run for another term: A man wants to know who his real friends are, so he goes knocking on a first friend’s door. “I’ve killed somebody,” he says. The friend responds he doesn’t want anything to do with it. The man goes over to a second friend’s house, knocks on the door and says: “I’ve killed somebody.” The friend gets angry and shouts he should go the police, but he won’ let him in. So the man goes to a third friend, knocks on his door and says: “I’ve killed somebody.” The friend hears this and invites him in. “You’re my friend, no matter what happens in life.”
She defends her loyalty to Wade because of his supporting and looking after her from a young age, which pushed her career and made her into the popular singer she is today. “He’s like a father to me.” But, she also says, “the fact that Y’En A Mar exists, is a sign of Senegal being an open, free and democratic country.” She’s a praise singer, after all.
The news that demonstrators were killed by Wade’s police force, gives her answers an eerie edge.
Asked for her opinion on N’Dour’s candidacy, she’s defensively evasive.
Which brings me to a recent special on Senegalese music broadcast on CNN’s “Inside Africa” program. This is of course part of CNN’s ongoing “discovery of the real Africa.” Journalist Errol Barnett traveled to Dakar where he met a few musicians, including Daara J Family (more on that later), Doudou N’Diaye Rose and Coumba Gawlo. Barnett’s insert on Coumba Gawlo amounts to “a bizarre interview” (in his words). He is basically forced to wait hours outside her dressing room at the National Theater and when he does get to talk to her, he’s covered in glitter dust. Anyway, what was interesting is that given that he seems to be in Dakar during these tumultuous times (elections anyone?) he asks her about Senegalese drums. I’m not sure if it’s the glitter or the struggle to get the interview.
To talk to musicians about their instruments is fine, but given today’s circumstances in Senegal, an insight into the “real” part of Africa they’re so eager to cover, a different approach might have given us a more interesting picture.
Watch the full CNN documentary here (in which he also pays a visit to the Daara J Family hoping to learn something about Senegal’s music — there’s a nice diversion into their engagement with South African choral music — but can’t resist zooming in on Nigeria’s Afrobeat two minutes in).
Also over the weekend, Arte interviewed Didier Awadi. He was more to the point: “we’ve killed the youth’s hope; listen to the rap albums to understand what’s happening.”