21 September 2012

Gambia: The Banjul Wild Cats - the Youth Band That Took Gambian Music to International Stardom


The Wild Cats is a Gambian pop band that performed music under its original incarnation between 1966 and 1970, with subsequent reunion of friends and musical shows in the decades that followed. Assembled in Banjul South at 3 Hill Street in 1965 by Pa Jabel Sosseh and Dodou Manneh for the Gambia concert goers, which aired from 1966-1968 over Radio Gambia, the musical acting quintet was composed of Gambians notably,Pyes (Pa Jabel), Alagi Sosseh, Dodou Manneh, Habib Foon, Baboucar Fofana and master musician Burang Arthur Oliver. The band's music was initially supervised by producer Burang Arthur Oliver.

The Wild Cats instrumentalist were Pa Jabel (Pyes) Sosseh on Rhythm guitar, a rhythm Guitarist who played a right handed guitar with a left hand. Even Jimi Hendrix, the king of guitar played a right handed guitar but the strings were placed in an order for him to play it as a left hand string arrangement whilst Pyes would play it as a right handed sting arrangement but played it naturally. Dodou Manneh was on Bass and backing vocal and the showman of the group, Alagie Sosseh a good fellow who has a memory for chewing songs into his lead vocal repertoire and Burang Arthur Oliver lead Guitarist.

The drummers of the band were at first the flamboyant Habib Foon and later replaced by Baboucar Fofana commonly known as Entrée. Enterr was his nick named because of his affection to Radio Senegal Channel 2, a station geared towards youth music. The competition was fierce between the two drummers. Babucarr Fofana was only known for playing drums on a box guitar while Habib Foon already started with the Wild Cats on professional trap drum. The test came when the band progressed so much and had to sign a club deal as a resident band at the Mask Club and the stage was set for the two drummers to compete for the job. The club owner at that time was a Swedish man by the name of Lenard Jensen who was the judge for this contest.

Habib Foon first played his part and played extremely well and after him came Baboucar Fofana.This was the first time that Baboucar had to sit on a professional drum set. As soon as he hit the drums with a variation of Drum rolls and drum solos Mr. Lenard Jensen decided to hire Baboucar as the permanent Drummer for the wild Cats. Baboucarr would later joined the Super Eagles after Malang Gassama commonly known as Malando left for Sweden to joined the World Famous musical group Abba. Baboucar Fofano tour the Unted Kingdom with the Super Eagles. He later travelled to Norway to visit his elder brother but he did not return to England to rejoin the band and sadly he died of pneumonia in Oslo, Norway.

The Wild Cats got their names from the genius Pyes, a master in creation and an innovative youth leader of his time. He was one of Banjul's most inspirational of youth leadership. Pyes was a superb guitarist, he was more than a musician, he is a music icon. Pyes was an all round artist both in traditional cultural music and urban pop culture. He is an acrobat on bicycles and he was the only African who challenged the Champion Bike acrobat from Zaria in Northern Nigeria Called Mama Zaria. This Mama Zaria can ride a bike backwards and can twist himself under the bike and play with the wheels bending from the seat.

He was a flexible magic man of bicycle. When he came to the Gambia on an tour of Africa, Pyes was the only Gambia to face him and it was a neck to neck competition. Pyes performed at the July 22, then McCarthy Square to a huge crowd and demonstrated monster moves that shocked the Magic Bike Master of Nigeria and African Champion. Pyes is a mystery man and has millions of secrets that all youths in Banjul learned from him including myself.

Pyes also known as Pa Jabel was also a ballet drummer. He was one of the first Gambia drummers to play the Djembe in a ballet group. He played the Djembe even better than the inventors, the Guineans. There was a branch of the Guinean national ballet in Banjul resident at Hurst Street. They decided not to return to Guinea after visiting the world festival of Negro arts in Dakar in 1966. Their presence in Banjul was the introduction of the Djembe in the Gambia. The group indoctrinated the young Momodou Mustapha Leigh and later the Maganda band lead singer Ousman Sosseh alias Chex, a gymnast and brother of Pyes as a mascots for the group and this was how Pyes associated himself with the group which was composed of Sams, a choreographer, Tez, a percussionist and lead Djembe player and Edi a magnificent dancer.

They were all Guineans. Pyes played the Djembe as a professional drummer, thought by the master Tez and later started his own group as a tourist attraction and the first ever Gambian group to entertain the first tourist from Sweden to visit the Gambia accompanied by one Mr. Yester and Berthel Harding known as Mr. Harding who introduced tourism in the Gambia. Pyes was the only one with a ballet group after the Guineans left for the United States. He had a contract with Harding and formed a ballet group which included his brother Ala Sosseh, Oko Drammeh, late Modou Musa Joberteh, Late Modou Jaiteh known as Jais, Alhagi Kabirr Mboob, Chex Sosseh, Gibril Cham, Abdoulie Samba Piti (the television theatre artist), Buha Samba, Ousman Cham (Golo), and many more. Pyes had a monkey called La Fran which was also a part of the theater. Pyes incorporated his artistic qualities, abilities these and artistic ideas into what would become the Wild Cats.

3 Hill Street in Banjul was where the music of Ifangbonmdi and the Super Eagles came from. This was the home of Paps Touray, the lead singer ofSuper Eagles, Ifangbondi and the Soto Koto band. He was Gambia's Mozart, Ludwig Van Beethoven, and Handel. He was God's gift to Gambia for the introduction of contemporary music. Solomon Cole also lived in the same compound with Paps Touray, Solomon Cole another veteran musician, a footballer, a vocalist, a talking drum player and a flutist.

This compound at 3 Hill Street in Banjul attracted many youths to the gathering during band rehearsals and fashion sittings. Many youth clubs were started there including Les Dix Copin and The Top Ten Vous. It was the Apollo of Banjul, a meeting point and outside the gates of the compound was where you had the Bicycle repairman the veteran late Sang Jatta and his close brother and one of Banjul funniest man Bernard Tamba alias Amata. This was opposite Hassan Farage's house and soft mineral drink factory. Hassan Farage also played a significant part in motivating the youths who gathered under the shadows of his building.

He formed the Sterling Football Club, a club that produced many good footballers who moved to the Foyer F.C after its demise. Here bands and youth groups were formed at the junction corner of Hagan and Hill Street called the "Pabeh", a meeting point (today you would call it an Ataya vous). The Super Eagles was formed here as a meeting point, and also the Fabulous Eagles which included Bye Janha, Churchill Drammeh, Dan Joof, Kebba Njie, John Campbell, Laba Sosseh, Paps Touray, Oussou Njie Senor, Malando Gassama, Senemie Taylor, and the late Jode Fye. Even the Wild Cats was formed at this meeting point. The Boys clubs with their loud explosion of noise was heard on every hour of the day. Here the Wild Cats lived and worked to perfect their music. This was where Pyes and Dodou Manneh learned their craft.

Dodou Manneh, a pro artist and Rock and Roll dancer was a friend of Pyes since Childhood. They grew up together and you hardly see one without the other. These two were known as the Dynamic-Duo. Dodou Manneh was a fashion icon and was very keen on looking goods at all times. He actually invented the word called "Nehass" meaning Neh (Tasteful) in wollof with a Latin accent pronounced NEHASS. This word was referred to as the fashionable youths, a word which they also incorporated into the band.The Wild Cats Dodou Manneh was a stage man who was called on stage by Paps Touray to dance the Super Eagles Hit song 'Feeling You Got'. From there on he became one of the best Rock and roll dancers in the history of Gambian Pop music.

In Banjul there were lots of fashion, music and fashion competitions. Music shows were a weekly affair organized by clubs and social organizations. The famous Odeon Cinema and the famous Ritz Cinema were the concert halls of Gambian Show Biz. The school halls were also famous concert halls where many boys became professional. We had great show people like the great Mass Sosseh who brought into the Gambia many music singles from Dakar from the French Pop scene, the likes of Johnny Halliday, Adamo, Micheal Palnareff and Clo Clo. Mas Sosseh was known as Jazz because of his affection to American Blues and Jazz which he used to sing with the Super Eagles on stage encouraged by Paps Touray.

There were other show people in Banjul who would perform on every concert at the audience including Nabi Bensouda, Dodou Njie (Rick). Assan Bopa, Bunama Grand Sol Njie and Dodou Manneh. They dress in flamboyant pirate shirts, false hair, makeup and high hill boots with flower power clothing. To be on the stage with Paps Touray mean that you must be exceptionally good. Paps was classified by the Ghanian press as Africa's answer to top American Soul singer Otis Redding. He was simply the best soul singer in Africa.

The big break for the Wild Cats came when they decided to visit Arthur Burang Oliver at his house at 7 Kent Street in Banjul. Arthur Burang and his brothers already had a family band in Banjul like the Jackson 5 in America. They were called the Olivers. The band played exclusively pop music and the leader of the band was Galandou Goree Njie formerly known as Solomon Oliver. They were talk of the town and the played all popular tunes from world class groups of that time including the Beatles, the Hollies, Spencer Davis group, the Troggs, etc. You cannot keep your eyes away from Arthur Burang when he stated playacting his Solos. He was a young kid with a magic touch.

He was actually the band's crowd puller. Burang was so good that sometimes the Super Eagles would invite him into their line up, a line up that was so musically strict and so accurate that only a master artist can join in the line. Arthur was an exceptionally extraordinary guitarist. He thought many Gambian guitarists how to play the guitar; since most of the boys started playing the guitar on their own using empty sardine tins with nylon strings before an actual professional box guitar. But when a boy graduate from the tin and nylon strings your next step is Arthur Burang. He played guitar from the Chord-book. Everything he does is from the correct guidelines for the masters and makers of the guitar instrument.

When Dodou Manneh and Pyes came to Arthur Burang after so many friendly gatherings and so many music talk-gatherings they decided to professionally pursue music as a career. This was how Arthur Burang formally turned the street boys from Hill Street into a modern music Band. They studied the notes and chords of music from the master and started to play cover music from the Beatles and the Rolling Stones by the book using the music book to find their way to accurately play cover tunes and later turned out to be the best youth band in the Gambia and Senegal. Burang was a guy who would listen to all the BBC world service music programs for new hits and would apply them to the chord books ready for the boys to practice.

The Wild Cats only lived for a few years from 1965 to 1970 but they left a big mark in our history by been the first band to win a music competition between Senegal and the Gambia. In the Gambia there were musical competitions almost every month. The band master and musical conductor of the Police band, Inspector Nichol was appointed to judge musical band competitions. He had a policy of losing the strings of the guitars and the drum set before a band would play. The bands were responsible for tuning their instruments and their vocal scales. Everything was based on notation music by the book. There was no nonsense or gimmick and no easy way for false notes.

Everything was properly done and all musicians were filled with music knowledge, music ability and willingness. They would cry if they do not come out as winners in competitions. The big win was when Senegal sent in The Merry Makers and Dreamers band of Dakar and the Gambia presented the Wild Cats and the runners up of the local competition the Bag of Fames. The Winners of this grand competition were the Wild Cats. They took the trophy home as champions. Later in 1990 Pyes was invited by the Gambia Transportation Cooperation at the Independence stadium with his solo group called Pyes Experience (named after his idol Jimi Hendrix experience) to play a show in the Gambia with Youssou Ndour and his Super Etoiles. He astonished the rhythm guitarist of Youssou Ndour's band Pa Omar Ngum after he used his right handed guitar and played it with his left hand on a right hand string assembly. After he left the stage Pa Omar chased him and asked him how did he do it. But Pyes just smiled and walk away.

The Wild Cats had a solid repertoire playing the Rolling Stones, the Beatles, Led Zeppelin,. Deep Purple including big rock cover hits like "Get out of my cloud", Satisfaction, Paint it Black, Viva Bobby Joe, Stairways to Heaven, Hey Joe, Hard Days Night, Any time at all, Child in time, and the biggest of Wild Cats numbers was VENUS by The Shocking Blue. They played this number so well that even the Super Eagles started playing it after the Wild Cats made it a hit after knocking the roof of the Q-CLUB off in one afternoon jump organized by the Super Eagles at the Mrs. Kah's Club now known as Radio Syd complex. The band was carefully looked after by Mr. Bye Mass Taal as manager and encouraged the band very well.

Pyes and Dodou Manneh left Banjul on the same day to venture music in Europe. They took a boat in Dakar called the Ancell-Ville, on a 48 hours journey to Las Palmas. From Las Palmas they travelled to Barcelona were they stayed for three months playing in tourist beach bars and club as a success story in the Cosata Brave location.

Pyes and Dodou Manneh later left Spain for Amsterdam in Holland. In Holland they did many shows and had the opportunity to meet the one time manager of the Ghanaian Afro Rock group Osibisa by the name of Stanly Kanhai. In Holland Dodou Manneh decided to return to Spain which he fell in love with because of the sun, sea and sand but Pyes decided to stay in Amsterdam and intended to work and record with Stanley.

The Wild Cats had a very successful run with their music. When they crossed over with the hit single Venus Pyes ones told me that they even played it better than the original, and when the Super Eagles wanted to play it better than them they faulted in the rhythm guitar crispy licks and the assorted flavored licks of the shocking Blue which sounded like xhaa queee,-xha qu-ee, xcha qu-ee (3X), while the Super Eagles sounded like "Boob bom xhe-quee- boom bom xch-quee".This is music, the sound must be written in words to show the difference. The wild cats was a classy band with a difference. As in music, So in life.

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