Yesterday we went to the capital, Banjul, formerly Bathurst; built on an isthmus in the mighty Gambia River. The overcrowded taxi van wobbled and lurched through wide streets lined with two storey Creole type buildings to ‘ferry terminus’: the bustling river crossing point for the north bank and Senegal.
We had been directed to ‘Emporioum’ for dress fabrics. Well named, an exotic enchantment of colour and cloth where we got lost for an hour squeezing between thousands of rolls of fabric. The waxed cotton prints I was looking for were in a separate boutique franchise, and the stall holder absent. The Indian owners directed us to another part of the city to find the man’s original shop and although being more than half way across town it was less than 10 minutes walk. Or it would have been if we had not been hustled into every other wholesale fabric shop lining the wharf. Eventually I bought some fabric, later to discover I had overpaid, by quite some amount. It is OK though as I bought 12 metres of colourful waxed cotton for £20.
We braved the Albert Market and wound through the souk like stinking stalls to find the craft market and one particular stall holder: Lamin Kuyateh, a griot and Kora player. A member of one of the few families who keep the Senegambia oral tradition alive, Lamin has played at WOMAD. This gentle man gave us a private recital for more than an hour; playing a traditional welcome song, his own composition about the evils of money and a rite of passage song. He explained that at 14-16 years young men are taken to bush school for a month, where they are circumcised and undergo their transition to manhood. The song included the myth of the Ninky- hanky a one horned monster that lives in the river; a sighting portents death. This polydactyled musician made my day!