When the Two Rivers Met: a Chance Encounter between Bob Marley and...

When the Two Rivers Met: a Chance Encounter between Bob Marley and Lalo Kebba Drammeh

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When we initiated the Kora Programme on GRTS’s Radio Gambia on “The Life and Times of Lalo Kebba Drammeh” I never anticipated the scale and depth that this weekly Kora talk show would extend to. There have been many high moments of mind-blowing revelations as the late Lalo Kebba Drammeh’s widow Koura Mbissan narrated her experience in the life and times of Lalo Kebba. But this past weekend, she said something that brought to mind a famous Wolof proverb.

LALO KEBBAKoura Mbissan said that while on honeymoon with her late spouse in the United States in the 70’s, Lalo Kebba had a chance meeting with the legendary Bob Marley during a short trip to Canada. She spoke about Bob’s obsession with the Kora once he saw Lalo with this amasing musical instrument. Bob Marley reportedly asked Lalo Kebba to teach him how to play the Kora. Bob later extended an invitation for Lalo to visit him in Jamaica. At that point during her narration, Koura Mbissan broke into tears, expressing her wish that Lalo Kebba had lived longer.

This moment brought me to tears; my mind went rushing for scenarios of a possible meeting between two of the most gifted musicians of the black race. I kept wondering what would have happened if Lalo Kebba actually made that trip to Jaimaica and had a collabo with the legendary Robert Nesta Marley. What kind of collaborative music would they have produced? Would Bob have ditched his guitar for the truly African string instrument called the Kora? What kind of music would the two great minds have produced?

Would a Bob-Lalo combo have given us a mix of Bob’s “Little Darling Steer it up” and Lalo’s “Koura Mbissan yaama terreh nellew”? Or would it have been a fusion of Lalo’s “Musu Ballanta; bari ndandang nga taa jeebay” and Bob’s “I don’t wanna wait in vain for your love”. Now thinking about the two latter love songs decrying unrequited amorous quests, while Bob laments the wait (and perhaps condescension) of his woman; Lalo moves forward with his lyrics saying the woman may be refusing but he asks his listeners to come with him and pay a visit to the lady. Imagine the two legends fusing these two lyrics and the fusion of Kora and guitar going with it?

What kind of world tour would such a collaboration have created? What sensation would have been generated? Would the two have graced Zimbabwe’s Independence bash together?

These were the thoughts that raced through my mind last weekend as Kourah Mbissan spoke about the life her husband lived and the momentous encounter between the greatest man to have ever played the 21-string musical instrument called the Kora and the greatest voice to have sung reggae music. And all these thoughts kept the famous Wolof saying popping up in my mind: ‘xalam demon ha bai nex; bum ba dog…’

This moment of deep thought also brought to mind the timeless lyrics of Pan African Senegalese singer Ouza who plaintively sang “Sheikh Anta, Senegal naanut; Afrique naanut. Beh sowe ma tooru aandaag ndoh ma…”; here, Ouza was making reference to great Egyptologist Sheikh Anta Diop when he lamented that Africans missed the opportunities to drink some metaphorical pure refreshing milk; when the milk was poured and wasted away mixing with water.

The Lalo Kebba Programme continues on Radio Gambia on Sunday’s at 11am and as our extensive interview with the legend’s widow continues to be broadcast, every day brings us to a new climax in this seminal series. Surely this journey will take us places. Don’t miss the ride.

Momodou Sabally

The Gambia’s Pen