Spotlight on Ousman Sosseh (Chex): Showman of The Gambia’s Magadan band
Friday, June 01, 2012
Legend Ousman Sosseh alias CHEX, " was a prolific singer, songwriter and bandleader
and one of the most iconic figures in Gambian music and best known for his
powerful and versatile voice. The Gambian singer and showman Ousman “Chex”
Sosseh was born in Banjul at 3 Hill Street, a place that was a centre of music
His uncles were Paps Touray, Laba Sosseh, Jody Laity Banga Faye, Alieu Njie Lewen, Max Njie, Mam Tamsir Njie (teacher/musician) and his brothers are Mass Sosseh, Pa Jabel Sosseh, alias Pies,( a phenomenal guitarists) Ala Sosseh, Malick Sosseh,and sisters Bassin Sosseh, Maimuna ,Marie Samuel and Ya Anna Sosseh. Chex was very much more than an important musician; he was a major African-Gambian icon. Explosive musician, loud, screaming singing voice, dramatic phrasing, and swift vocal turn and charismatic persona.
In the same
compound were Chex was born lived Paps Touray of the Super Eagles/ Ifangbondi
and Solomon Cole a musician/flutist and a school teacher. Chex was born in the
eyes of maestros. Chex as a youth could not play in the band of his uncle’s and
brother’s who top notch musicians were at his premature age of musicianship, He
decided to join the Ballet African-Guinean at an early age.
He was a dramatic acrobat and singer and dancer in the ballet. A fantastic gymnast and a flamboyant singer who became the Eye catcher for the ballet. He began singing Paps Touray songs and started imitating Paps Touray moves. Paps Touray, his uncle stated inviting him to sing his song during show intervals to please the audience. He developed his unique, compelling voice by singing in concert intervals as a youth musician.
musician considered it a right to perform during dance Interval breaks using
the electric instruments of the bigger bands to showcase their compositions.
They composed their own music and formulate a beat and music sound brand
similar to none. The interval break during parties and dances were a part of
the evening program and the band hirers would also hire an amateur band to play
during intervals while the big bands take a break to refresh and change into
new costumes for the second part of the show. These breaks were the last stages
in becoming a professional band. They were worked to perfection, both the music
and the stage show.
The stage craft was perfected and each youth band had their own sound technician who knew the music perfectly. You may remember Omar Khan ‘John’ of Ifangbondi), James Eagleton of Gelewarr, Ebou Sanneh ‘Dolleh’ of Magadan and there were dancers just like the dancers at the Apollo in New York, these were the best dancers with the likes of Nabi Bensouda, Bob Thomson, Mass Sosseh, Dodou Njie (Rick), Dodou Manneh, Assan Bopa, Njaga Pooh, Abass “Temsa’ and so on and not forgetting E.C, Sam Pierre and the late Gibou Joberteh. There were Youth band competitions each year at the Odeon cinema and the winner takes all to perform on stage with visiting bands from Senegal.
Chex was a
member of the youth band called The Magadan Band. Most members of Youth bands
had an uncle or a brother in a Famous big band. The concept of youth Bands was
a grooming place for upcoming young musicians for creating successions and
progression in the big band such as the, the African Jazz Band, the Ambience
Band, Rock-A-Mambo Band, Black Star Band and the Foyer Band. The second
generation of Musicians were the Eagles Band later the Super Eagles, The
Fabulous Eagles, The Whales Band, and the Ritz Band. For example Oussou Njie
Senor was a junior at Foyer where he was groomed as a young musician to join
the Black Star Band before qualifying to join the Eagles Band.
As Kids the boys would start playing music at an early age with hand-made instruments because of their passion for music and they would give free shows to popularize the formation the formation of their bands. All members of previous bands had to progress from being a street musician until discovered by one of the professional musicians and senior patron of the music and introduce you to a youth band. The youth bands were many but to name o few were The Wildcats, the bags of Fame, The Oliver’s etc.
These band would practice five days a week, from 9 am to 6pm expect on weekends when they will be filling up the smaller venues like the Mask Club, Kanku-Jeri, Lousiest Bar, Q-Club, Sahara Night Club, Talk of the Town, etc. These musicians had band costume uniforms with blazers and high fashion hair styles. The Magadan Band was formed in this era with a blend of the finest musicians from the Bags of Fame and the Wildcats but most profoundly from the Bags of Fame. His frenzied approach to music was fuelled by a genuinely outrageous personality.
Chex was incorporated into the Magadan band as the best in both youth band arenas into a one ‘Ousman Sosseh show’. He was a great stage showman and the most magnificent dancer, with the microphone in his hands, gliding across the stage proto-moon-walking, athletically daring performances.” he was mercilessly reducing every instrument to a percussive role to foster his dancing and stage show manoeuvres. Increasingly the Magadan Band abandoned melody and harmony, focusing on rhythm in their songs, such as ‘Nyo Rak Lu-Burr Daly”, “ Ana Ba Yalie Bana- Gorr Daii Baah, Peace Makers, Afro Reggae, I don’t Want to be a Millionaire and Saney Bilike Jamba.
Chex's personal life was full of tragedy. Chex struggled, very publicly, with personal demons, Police problems which lead him to write a song for the Police and the police cells called “NYOR RAG LU”. In 1988; he travelled to Libya for two years, where he sold wine as a health drink to pious Libyans, he was convicted and deported back to the Gambia. He had a short spell in Europe but returned to the Gambia after a brief stay. Chex is undoubtedly complex, sometimes misunderstood, but always absorbing figure.
Chex worked his way to the top of the Gambian music scene with Magadan Band music including Ebou Touray (Lead Guitar), Pa Boy Cole (Drums & Vocals), Michael Blell succeeding Pa Njie Bass and Pa Ngum on ( Bass Guitar), Charles Campbell (Keyboards & Guitar), Ebou Njie Poti (Sabarr), Adama Nying alais Gran Leese (Percussion),Boy Njie salsa (singer), Bye Jow Ngum (Singer), and ChexSosseh (Lead Singer) earning him the name "Best Gambian Showman" His unique vocal and musical style influenced many artists. His performances belie his septuagenarian physique.
His uncanny ability to “scream” on key, to sing soulful slow ballads as well as
electrifying up-tempo tunes, to plumb the rhythmic possibilities of the human
voice and instrumental accompaniment, and to blend blues, Pop, and cultural
vocal styles together made him one of the most influential vocalists in the
Gambia. His extraordinary dance routines featuring deft deployment of
microphones and articles of clothing, acrobatic leaps, full-impact knee
landings, complex rhythmic patterns, dazzling footwork, dramatic entrances, and
melodramatic exits redefined public performance within Gambia music and
inspired generations of imitators.
The music he cut in his prime, as well as
his idiosyncratic screams and squeals, have formed the bedrock of Afro Mbalax.
He’s subsequently become Gambia's most imitated artist by Senegalese artists.
Chex was Youssou Ndour’s best musical friend because Youssou’s admiration to
the Super Eagles, we would frequently visit Paps Touray and Paps asked Chex to
introduce Youssou Ndure to the Magadan band manager, Tapha John alias Njays to
include him in the band. Magadan already had three singers and there was no
space for Youssou Ndour.
But subsequently Youssou Ndour returned with a guy called Edward Valroy a guitarist in a band called Jamano (not Super Diamano), and Magadan would allowed them to use their instruments and they would play their famous songs as apprentices to the Magadan band. Youssou later returned to Senegal to join Star Band Kasse.
bands in the music scene that time were the African Jazz Band, the Ambience
Band, Rock-A-Mambo Band, and Black Star Band which later melted into many
different Bands but with more musicians and music bands spawned into the
Gambian music scene. Most musicians in big bands graduated from this process
and started their own bands in the Gambia including many youth bands like Mask
band, the Lovers Band, Sangamar (Musa Ngum’s Band), The Balafong Band (Ousman
Beyai & Manka Suso), Sofa Nyama Band, Lords band, Sayer Nabbaw of Serekunda
and an endless list of bands but in most cases roughly put together and short
The stable Bands of the time incorporated these qualified younger musicians from the youth street academy into their bands to fill in the missing link when a musician leaves to start his own band there was an automatic replacement from the catalogue of young and famous street musicians to spark new energies into to new bands. The faces of replaced musicians may be varied but the music of the bands only improved with the new intakes.
Chex is unquestionably one of the most charismatic Gambian musicians. An irrepressible performer, ruthless but highly proficient bandleader, awesome dancer, and, unquestionably, the man who turned Gambian music on its head to create the Wollof Funk with the tune ‘We are the Peace Makers’ and with this Chex became a huge Gambian musical symbol in the 70s.
The music he cut in his prime, as well as his idiosyncratic screams and squeals, have formed the bedrock of Afro Mbalax. He’s subsequently become Gambia's most imitated artist by Senegalese artists. The Magadan Band toured ceaselessly gravitating throughout the 1970s, often performing five or six nights each week. Whether you love him for his music, his style, or his “dance graze”, there is no denying that Chex was the boss of Gambia stage.
attention to every aspect of his shows, from arranging songs to supervising
from selecting costumes, high level of professionalism every show and
established a precedent in artistic autonomy. Outrageous,
flamboyant, explosive, and excessive, Chex was the man who put the fire in The
His charismatic persona and over-the-top sing-dance style of showmanship inspired many. His Uncles Laba Sosseh, Jody Faye and Paps Touray were the epitome of style, grace and finesse. At an early age, they taught him the importance of looking good and being prepared for what life has in store for him. He was considered a master showman, one of the most dynamic and influential singers and performers in Gambian music history; an inimitable reminder of the joyful and frenzy.
May his beautiful soul rest in eternal peace
Author: Oko Drammeh