Since I’ve arrived here in the Gambia, I’ve been searching for music. Unfortunately, I’ve come up dry every night. Last Thursday, I heard music from behind the research compound, but was too tired to pursue it and, really, you can never be sure. Sometimes things sound cool through the echoes, but you might follow the sounds only to find Kenny Rogers being played for tourists.
Last night, I heard it again, and decided to chance it. It was so loud and chaotic, it sound like it might be a live band. I leave tomorrow, so this is my only chance.
I followed the sounds out to the back of the compound and found a group of old ladies gathered on plastic chairs around a giant stack of speakers, blaring out some kind of ultra hard beats. A kid with a laptop was DJing but it looked like people were just arriving. The scene was bizarre. Old ladies and grandkids politely chilling out to heavy beats through a wall of speakers.
I decided to go back later. I was wary. It could be some religious thing. It’s Islam here, but still…
When I went back, it was total chaos. This is definitely NOT a religious event (in the Abrahamic sense) and most certainly NOT a tourist event.
More people had arrived and were standing in a circle watching young dude do impossibly athletic dances while an old man MC egged them on and called other people to join. I had heard stories of dancing in West Africa and I have to say the stories are absolutely true. The young guys were the craziest, but kids, old ladies, women in fancy dresses and old men all got in the circle and showed their moves off and every time, people would go nuts with approval.
All to an energetic soundtrack that would get the cops out in a second in the US. I had never seen anything like it.
At one point, a blindfolded guy dressed as a woman comes out hold a dead chicken in one hand and money in the other. He does his chicken dance over a money pot and starts handing out notes to whomever is brave enough to get close to him. After the money runs out, he starts doing this thing where he leans over just barely touching the ground, seemingly suspended in air. Eventually, he disappears and returns out with a giant cinder block balanced on his back and does the same thing again. I have no idea what it was about but it’s clear that there’s order to this chaos.
After people start showing their moves again, a guy tries to get me to go into the circle. I’m like “no way.” I’m not going to be that bad dancing white guy. Some kids are egging me on trying to show me moves and cheering and laughing when ever I try. I should have tried harder. Music is a wonderfully great thing.
Unfortunately, I didn’t have a camera on me, but I did get an audio recording and a couple of pictures with my cell phone. I’m am most certainly coming back to West Africa.
I’m eating my dinner and checking out some dinner time tunes and this came up. I had forgotten what a jam this song was. The Police were like Venom. Both were from Britain, both had three people, both had singing bass players, and both had drummers that looked like they just walked in from the track meet.
Unfortunately, the Police didn’t have any “bulldozer bass” and probably wouldn’t have felt comfortable singing “Welcome to Hell” or “Red Light Fever” but damn, they could play.
This clip contains the footage that was shown in Urgh: A Music War, but preserves the raw mix of the show.
I included a clip from Venom for comparison. You can see clearly that they are almost the same band.
So.. I usually listen to some tunes on the way home from school. Recently, it’s nothing but Goatwhore and Carcass, but today I set my mp3 player on shuffle and on comes a tune from the classic “Double Nickels on the Dime” by San Pedro’s the Minutemen. For those too young to know, the guitarist, D. Boon, died tragically in a senseless car accident at the age of 27.
I can’t think of a bad Minutemen record, and I have them all. I was a die hard punk fan in high school. The Minutemen were certainly in that scene, but defied every punk standard out there. When it was considered almost a capital offense to be into classic rock, the Minutemen were covering Blue Oyster Cult, paying homage to Steely Dan and producing fantastic renditions of CCR tunes without a hint of irony.
The Minutemen were the true adults in the room in the punk rock scene. Their playing was absolutely top notch and they stuck to a hard and spartan working class work ethic that put quality over everything else. D. Boon’s lyrics possessed a political depth that was rarity in the often sophomoric rantings so ubiquitous in early 80’s hardcore. When Jello was screaming Saturday morning cartoon politics, Boon was championing poverty along the Mexican border and calling for the US to dis-involve in Central American conflicts. It’s very unfortunate that I never got to see them.
Though they did soften at the end, they got nothing but better with age. I often think about what they might have accomplished had D. Boon been wearing a seatbelt that day. D. Boon was one of the greatest guitar players who ever lived (and amazingly light footed given his size). Certainly, D. Boon’s accomplishments by age 54 would have been formidable.
So here are the Minutemen covering Van Halen’s classic “Ain’t Talkin Bout Love” and a trailer from a documentary on the band, “We Jam Econo.” Enjoy