The Interview Proper: Suntou and Jalex
Suntou: Why are you called Jalex?
Jalex: The name is a nickname given to me by a close friend. I am always into music, hence the phrase, Jaliya (singer), which later became Jalex. It is an emphasis to my love of singing.
Suntou: What about the second name you are known by, Akuntu?
Jalex: This is more a club circus name. When a cool music is playing, revelers will usually shout, ‘cut it’ which in Mandinka means, Akuntu.
Suntou: Do you have any special message in your music
Jalex: Yes, because music is a soothing remedy. It heals the heart and calm people down. It also excites and creates an atmosphere of joy, elevation. As musicians, we have to warn, and also entertain. We shouldn’t be agents of the devil.
Suntou: We share one thing in common, which is our surnames. We are not traditional musicians, what makes you choose the music route?
Jalex: Music for me is because of ambition and the gift I have. Therefore, family heritage is not an important element. Jaliya should be open to all those who can perform.
Suntou: No to Caste barrier, will you agree?
Jalex: Very much, it restricts the growth and potentials of people unnecessarily.
Suntou: Is there anybody in your family who was a musician?
Jalex: Yes my grandfather is Jali Fodah Touray. He was the pioneer of the Daa Jalo tradition (male singer accompanied by drummers). Jali Fodah travel all across the Gambia and Senegal. He left a legacy that is very much imitated today.
Suntou: Jali Fodah was a renowned figure in the Mandingo music circle. My grandmother use to always talk about him. What can you tell us about him?
Jalex: Jali Fodah was an only child. In those days, fathers will send their children away to learn under grand Marabous. Jali Fodah was no different. However, his master was a learned Fula teacher. It is narrated that, he gives him a charm for learning. However, he warn his father to make so, Jali Fodah remains in pursuit of education, if not he will become a singer.
Suntou: Did he abandon learning at any point?
Jalex: Yes he did. Sadly, his father passed away and his master also passed away. Jali Fodah then became the breadwinner in his family being an only child. The condition laid down by his teacher was broken.
Suntou: Jali Fodah therefore became a musician, is it that simple?
Jalex: Oh no, in fact, he remain in their village for a long time doing the normal things that men do. However, there was a drummer in the village, Buran Darboe who happens to die. His drums remained at his house with no one able to use them. They said, Jali Fodah one day took them and started playing them. This is how he slowly started his music career.
Suntou: Fascinating story. Where did Jali Fodah perform his trade?
Jalex: all over Cassamance and The Gambia.
Suntou: Do you know any of Jali Fodah’s songs?
Jalex: Yes I do, but in future I will try to compile them.
Suntou: Which modern day traditional musicians can we say imitate Jali Fodah’s music?
Jalex: The late Jalang Demba, the late Buteh Boy, Sajou Band and Toure Kunda (Samala song), Foday Musa Suso, his farming songs, and many others.
Suntou: Is there any place that Jali Fodah was not allowed to perform considering the old strict local cultures?
Jalex: Yes, he was not allowed to perform in Gunjur.
Jalex: Because Gunjur was a strict Islamic settlement. No drum was allowed to sound there. This is why Jali Fodah sang the song (sita turukuntu tibiu bantaba, ateel yankoli ten nna dala jela) Gunjur barako banta, meaning here is that, he prophesies that, a day will come when drum will sound in Gunjur day and night..
Suntou: Now back to Jalex, when did you start your musical career or take us through your career before Music
Jalex: You seems to be into the past. Yeah, I started playing music at an early age, however to make it a full time career, that is 1997. But before taking music full time, I am a train professional carpenter. I have worked for well known Gambians like Col Sam Sillah and many of his friends. Music was always going to take over, because even when I started working in the hotel industry, music is always at the background.
Suntou: What is your fan base like
Jalex: I play music internationally, so it is a mix fan base. But wherever I go, I remain true to my roots.
Suntou: How do you describe your music?
Suntou: You sing in Mandinka with reggae bits, do your fans like it?
Jalex: Yes they do. Look the important thing to understand is that, if you sing in a foreign language, you will be sort of competence. What you are is what describe you. My home language is what I can communicate better with.
Suntou: What is life as a musician like?
Jalex: well not bad. We speak for the voiceless, the poor, the rich, the young the old. Music doesn’t have barrier, I like it when fans enjoy themselves in a tranquil environment. You travel a lot and learn from everything.
Suntou: What advise do you have for parents whose children follow your music?
Jalex: Children are the leaders of tomorrow. We should set them good examples. In my music, I try to communicate these values. If you listen to songs like Wulula (Parents), the song encourages parents to be fair between their male and female children. Children are very observant of how parent treat them, imbalance treatment can cause stubbornness and rebellion.
Suntou: Is the song Akuntu Telendanw Dinaa anything to do with your name?
Jalex: No, it is reference to sharing. People should stop greed, because lack of caring and sharing brings our society down.
Suntou: Why sing a song about Badiyaa?
Jalex: Good and cordial relations should always be maintain in the family no matter what.
Suntou: In Sambi mbina, you convey a powerful message. In that all of us away from home long to see our parents. Are you echoing our desires here?
Jalex: Yeah, I travel frequently. I always long for home, and all the Gambians I meet, the all remember home. We cannot forget about home.
Suntou: You have won several awards, has this change you in any way?
Jalex: No, not all. I am still the humble young man from Baa Kunw Kan (Bakau).
Suntou: Who normally book to perform for them?
Jalex: I play at social functions like New Year party, Kanilai cultural festival, fund raising event for companies and schools. As for schools, when I play for them, all the money they get at the gate is there’s. The Gambia Television promotes our music enormously. We are thankful to them and all those who work there. The Kanilai festival also brings together many Gambian artists, that is good.
Suntou: Finally, will you continue on the traditional Mandingo songs in reggae bits?
Jalex: Yes that is the plan. I will always stick to what I understand.
Suntou: Thank you Jalex for the time
Jalex: Abarakah, I am happy that, Gambians will find out something about me through the interview.