The magnificent Lalo Kebba Drammeh: The world’s greatest kora player
Friday, May 18, 2012
born Kora player Lalo Kebba Drammeh, the legend was born in the village of
Kwenala in Kiang, Lalo Kebba lived most of his adulthood in Senegal cruising
between Cassamanse and Dakar, Kolda and many other parts of Senegal and The
Gambia and Guinea Bissau. He had two brothers Lalo Din Din Drammeh and Kabura
Drammeh. He lived and worked in Dakar with the Daniel Sorano Senegal National
He was favored by then President of Senegal Lepold Sedar Senghore. Lalo was named and christened under the eldership of Foday Burama Sagnia. Lalo Kebba was a heavy pipe smoker. He had a deep voice when he speaks and a sharp low soft tenor voice when he sing his music.
He was a master of the Kora instrument who tune
his kora only one time and never tune his kora between songs as done by mostly
all Jalis when the switch from one song to another. With Lalo Kebba he would
only tune once and that will serve any of the varied Kora tuning for making
codified music scale rules of the many kora scales that form the many songs of
play his kora, he would lose all the strings from previous tuning and re-tune
the Kora tightly well with a special technique in a tune pattern that will
allow him to play fluently all kora tunes according to the four Kora scale
four Kora scale pattern used in playing the varied Kora notes to make a
coordinated tune. They are the Silaba, the Swauta, Hadirin and the Tomoroba.
All these four kora scales are in cooperated in Gambian Kora music, unlike the
kora sound of Mali, Guniea, Guinea Bissau and Senegal. In these countries they
only play one scale and use it as a national sound symbol identified as the
national local tune. This made the Gambia Kora players more versatile than
others and makes more songs and anthems much more than others.
Drammeh married to Njai Bah as his first wife and granddaughter of Wandifing
Joberteh. Wandifa Joberteh was a Kora player and a renowned griot. He always
traveled on horseback and would never get off the horse except when he is asked
to play and he will set his demands. His demands were high prices that he would
set and upon acceptance he would come off the horse to play.
He was the composer of many epic kora songs including Alla la ke and Tare Jatta and many more. He played for a king and requests the wife of the king for his gift demanded, the wife and the king agreed. Wandifeng Joberteh was like the Holy saint St. Francis of Asisi. When he play and sing the birds would flock around him whistling and singing in his songs. Wandifing Joberteh was a grandfather in law to Lalo Kebba Joberteh.
was a mystical person who derived his powers to spirits and prayer. He
disappeared from his family for eight days and no one could find him and on his
appearance again he said that all he could remembered was that his friend
Malang Sabally appeared to him and asked him to sit on his back, eyes closed
and he flew off with him. All he knew was that he stepped on water and the rest
he couldn’t remember and he believer that he was taken by the Jinns and
anointed with special powers.
The spiritual journey made Lalo Kebba to compose the epic song Djembaseng. The Djimbaseng rhythm is a Yeyengo Rhythm, it is rhythm pattern used by Cassamance Kora player but made popular by Lalo Kebba Drammeh. Lalo Kebba made huge success with the Yeyengo swing rhythm and blended it with his soft sharp high pitched voice to claim the kora throne as the ultimate kora king that ever lived.
Lalo Kebba playing and singing hypnotized President Leopald Sedar Senghore who requested Laklo Kebba to naturalize in Senegal and become a citizen. Lalo Kebba never agreed to this. President Senghore knew that The Manding Conference in London was fast approaching and he was artistically aware he demanded that Lalo Kebba should perform under the banner as a Senegalese. He was also approached by his musicians he knew and worked with for years as Samba Jabare Samb, Ndye Mbaye” Jitma” and many other Senegalese professionals of the Senegalese National Troupe but Lalo respectfully disagreed.
Gambia, President Jawara was also planing to send a troupe to England and also
had Lalo Kebba on his list. The battle for Lalo Kebba was on, nail and tooth
both countries were hoping that he will perform his YenYego style under their
banner. Lalo Kebba married his second wife before going to the Manding
Conference, a young girl from Bwiam by the name of Kura Mbissan. He went to
London with Kura Mbissan with a line up Gambian musicians including the great
Falaba Kanuteh, Nona Sakiliba, Nyama Lali, and Balabo Jeng as the Gambia
They were joined by the late Alhagi Sankung Bayo who flew into
London by jet and another young Gambian by the name of Solo Darboe flew from
Congo to London to boost the morale of the Gambian troupe. The played at the
Manding conference and straight away the BBC world service broadcast on air
that the Gambia troupe was the winner of the musical presentation.
knowledge of the BBC producers discovered that there was more variation and
substance in the Gambian style of Kora music than the single tone of the well
dressed Senegalese troupe, the Malian and Guinean troupes. They were voted
unanimously as the best and the most exciting group in the conference festival.
The world new media engulfed Lalo Kebba and the syndicated world press published the Gambian musicians lead by Lalo Kebba as the undisputed mystic revelation of the Manding conference that gave The Gambia the number one position as the best group present in England at the Manding conference in all the contesting cultural ensembles.
The group played a song called Silatenyaling, the song was even miss-placed and called Massanneh Ceesay but it was later clarify when he played the same scale but different configuration which means that he took a slice of Massanneh Ceesay and blend it with a new improvisation to produce Silatenyaling.
Lalo goes beyond the mere imitation of
ballads, theme technique to create more varied and complex structures. The
result is that while on one level his ballads are simple and direct and another
level they are deeply ironic and complex, both in technique. Thus through
infusing of ballads, inter-version of syntactical structures is also common,
perhaps to maintain earlier narratives.
Lalo meet the demands of two ostensibly
audience, the Jaliya audience with the emphasis on family values, genealogy,
social and moral message structures. In the process Lalo recovers the kora
phrasing tradition by using theme and technique, he re-invigorates the
tradition by infusing it with new themes and variation and finally he critiques
the tradition by new techniques.
He used refrains and repetitions of phrase or parallel, often a refrain is repeated with only slight change creating what is called in musicologist language an incremental. There are many variations and exceptions to the rules of music but for the purpose of transposing and interfacing these core conventions serve as a guide in assessing how Lolo Kebba Drammeh uses authentic songs and how he departs from it in some of his most powerful epic compositions.
For most of
his life, Lalo Kebba was married to Kura Mbissan until his death. The day of
his death, he seem to know, he woke up in the morning and asked his brother
Kabura to bring him the Kora to play some of his favorite tunes, after playing
he called Kura and gave him something to swallow and then whispered in her ear
followed by a prayer (for guidance and protection) and then he went to sleep
and never woke up again.
was buried in Dakar and his tomb was made into a shrine under the directives of
the Gambian President Yahya AJJ Jammeh to then Ambassador Antouman Saho to
build the most magnificent tomb for Lalo Kebba as an honor and a tribute to the
Kora King by the people of the Gambia.
Then Ambassador Njogu Bah together with Buba Senghore, 13 Badjie, and Sana Bojang approached the widow of Lalo Kebba Drammeh and extended an invitation to Kura Mbissan to come to the Gambia to meet with the President. She came to the Gambia and on her return to Senegal she was offered a number of gifts by the President including bags of rice, sugar, lloour, financial and non fanacial assistance to sustain the welfare of the Lalo Kebba Drammeh family and to uphold the legacy of the supremo Kora Maestro.
In my interview with Kura Mbissan She asked me to express her thanks to President Jammeh in my article. The songs of Lalo Kebba are well alive in the beautiful voice of Kura Mbissan which can be heard on her performances with RTS and the National ensemble of Senegal.
Lalo Kebba‘s Kora music is anonymous, transmitting oral traditions, and tell stories, often about events well known to his audience. Whatever affects the thoughts and emotion of a community may become a subject in his music composition but most frequent themes are pleasantness, unfaithfulness, mysterious happenings, and good over evil, genealogy and praises to the almighty God.
Author: Oko Drammeh