#TrueOpenMicFestStories: Written by Ya Mallen Jagne

We have gathered many stories during the journey with Open-Mic Fest. Some are awe-inspiring, some are solemn and some, absolutely hilarious. This story is one of the funny ones.

We all were prone to mischief in our younger days. But some of us, I suppose, were more prone to mischief than others. And as much as our mischief tended to draw exasperated superficial curses from our loved ones and malicious foredoom from –umm, our less-loved ones, you’ll find, amusingly, that some of us had held on to the art of mischief and actually put it to good use in our adult years. Most of us discarded it as we grew, a few of us even walked the full length of the spectrum and took life too seriously, unfortunately.

But this story is about one who carried his mischief well into adulthood and built his brand around it. We’ve decided to dub him “the ticket snatcher of Kairaba Avenue”  for the sake of anonymity. He is quite well known in the Gambian music industry despite having gone MIA for a few years.

Back in 2011, the FiiLa bar was still operational. It was right opposite the Kairaba Police Station. It was the usual hangout spot, where folks just gathered to kick it and chill. It also used to serve as a ticket and tag distribution center when Open Mic Fest drew close. This was your typical, chilly December night with the crew—food, laughter, and good vibes. There were tickets and tags on the tables waiting to be picked up.

The ticket snatcher of Kairaba Avenue strode casually into FiiLa Bar. If you know him, you would know that he knows how to stir up a room. He was witty and boisterous. I’m sure he still is. This guy, in actuality, had nothing of relevance to say but he succeeded in riling up a fully-fledged ruckus in the bar. And while the commotion was at its peak, he snatched a handful of tickets and tags from the table unnoticed and strode out as casually as he strode in. This was a man who knew the art of mischief and wielded it to serve his purpose. Back in FiiLa bar, befuddled Waagan was left searching in vain for a pile of tickets that were long gone, while the guy who was there to pick them up looked on awkwardly. It would take Waagan 2 years to solve the mystery of the disappeared tickets.

 Back then, the ticket snatcher of Kairaba Avenue went by a different stage name and wasn’t as well known as he was soon to be. Maybe he had wanted to ease his conscience or maybe he thought Waagan would appreciate the humour of the entire incident, but one day, he walked up to Waagan and half-confessed, half-cackled his way through the entire story.

This was his personality—witty, mischievous, naughty, “ngewelleh”, if you may. He was able to translate his personality into his art, and it paid off. He made a mark in The Gambian music industry and found his way beyond. This is to say, perhaps the best way to build your brand is to stay true to who you are; to wield what you already have at your disposal as opposed to attempting to simulate what you perceive to be working for the next person. Perhaps authenticity is the key. Do you not think?

What this certainly is not: an excuse to play tricks on Kotos like Waagan and blame it on your personality—especially if you can’t make it all fun and jokes when you confess later. Ha-ha!

But, seriously, you should always ask yourself if you are representing your true self when you make your art because art will only be truly meaningful if it comes from the center of your being. Otherwise, it would be soulless and without essence. Success without authenticity is short-lived and glitch-ridden.

A Life Transforming Tale: Alieu “Arlvin” Ceesay

For as long as birds have been flying in the skies and fish swimming in the sea, we have seen and heard of different life changing stories. Tales have been told about different factors changing zeros to heroes, grass to grace and peasants to kings. 

ST – Brikama Boyo

Growing up in the bustling and diverse Brikama metropolis, ST has grown to be the most popular Gambian artist. To date, he holds the record for pulling the biggest crowd at an event by a Gambian artist. But do you know that once upon a time, he could barely make his raps known past the borders of his home town?

I sat down with the man who also goes by Brikama Boyo (a tribute to his hometown) and he explained how his career as a musician started taking shape with the exposure afforded him via the OpenMic/OpenMicFest platform.

ST narrates how almost impossible it was for a musician from one community or region to be recognized in another community before the hood-hood OpenMics. He further explains how OpenMic hosted shows in different communities while featuring artists from other communities giving them exposure to a different crowd, a different society, a different vibe. “The Gambian music scene didn’t have that body that would bring different artists and fans together” he said. 

Brikama Boyo continued to explain how the OpenMicFest  brought a link not only between artists and fans but also between different Gambian artists. This link has given birth to many collaborations and networking between lots of artists in The Gambia. This was a much needed platform for the music scene because coming from Brikama as an artist and having your songs play in Bakau neighborhoods was something that didn’t happen on regular days of the week.

The “Gambiana” artist goes on to discuss the significance that OpenMicFest  has had in his own career. “I have been to the very first OpenMic at Christian Council Hall. “Sharing a platform with different artists from other communities and being exposed to that huge number of fans from other hoods was like being in all these communities at one time and this gave me a chance to come out and show my talent.” ST goes on to further explain how he sees the OpenMicFest as an inspiration. His fan base started to grow, his career started to pick up and his music was now beyond the borders of his home town Brikama.

The multiple award winning artist who is known in every corner of the country and beyond, who has performed on so many stages in his career went on to say that the most sensational moment he has had on stage was at the OpenMicFest  in 2013 “I will never forget that” he added. It was in the aftermath of that historic performance that the wildfire anthem “Aling Domo” was released by the artist. At that moment in time, the heatwave he brought to the OpenMicFest stage simply surpassed all previous levels of performances he had ever given. For the first time ever, ST had an entire stadium singing along with him. 

Aling Domo!!!

People from different parts of the country went home with one image and one phrase in their heads. A shirtless ST dripping in sweat and performing his heart out on an open mic stage and the phrase of the year “Aling Domo”. Soon enough, this news was on media sites and the ST syndrome which happened to be quite contagious had already been passed around the whole country.

This turned out to be the speed booster for the young rapper. Those minutes on stage in 2013, that phrase, those fans, the OpenMicFest s platform were the flames to his skyrocketing career. Change is constant and growth should be the only change one aspires to get. 

Saluto!!!”

written by Ya Mallen Jagne

It was 2007. Waagan had just come home from the USA, exuberant and optimistic. He met a hibernating music scene which Xmyls and the newly formed Black Lynx movement was trying to resuscitate through their gigs and radio show. Waagan and Xmyls met through DJ Pisces and worked together in the AfricAlliance crew, organizing club parties. Their conversations would constantly revolve around a common passion, music, Gambia – Gambian music and the creation of a platform where none existed. At the time, Xmyls had already begun to transform his radio show from a mostly American hip-hop show to a strictly Gambian music show. That was something, but that wasn’t enough. So they thought and they talked and they thought some more. By the end of 2007 they had it all laid out. They would hold their very first open mic event at the Christian Council Hall. News got out through radio, flyers, and text messages and by word of mouth.

On the night of November 16 2007, the energy was electric, the air throbbed with anticipation. No one was exactly sure what to expect, perhaps not even the organizers. This concept was relatively new to The Gambia, it was a hope-driven experiment. A line-up of 10 acts pumped full of raw talent and energy got up on stage that night – most of these were names that were only starting out but will eventually become names that will dominate the Gambian music scene in the years to follow.

The first Open-Mic event was beyond expectation, setting the pace for what was to come. It took off, bringing together young Gambian musicians, lovers of Gambian music and music producers every fortnight, for five months. Then it got even better. Open Mic moved into the streets of urban Gambia, setting up stages and propping up sound systems every month, in random neighborhoods in Fajikunda, Banjul, Brikama, Pipeline, Manjai, Talinding (and the place that just popped into your head).

Monthly OpenMic Flyer from July 2009

This was like nothing ever seen before in The Gambia. It was a calculated step towards a greater vision – the annual “Open Mic Festival” (now compounded as OpenMicFest), a name which was settled on after much debate.

The first OpenMicFest happened on 26 November 2008. It brought together the best 10 acts from the previous open mic shows, sold over 800 tickets and left both the crowd and organizers hardly able to wait for the next one. In 2009, Jakaarlo, which had a 5000-person capacity, was so full that the crowd spilled out into the street. There were more people outside than inside the venue.

The next year, the festival was moved to the Independence Stadium, the only venue that could accommodate the rapidly growing Open Mic audience. The crowd hit 10,000 in 2012 and steadily grew each year after that, launching careers and forever changing the face of Gambian music.

Audience at #OMF2012 – Independence Stadium

In 2019, for the first time ever, the OpenMicFest opened its doors to international acts as an exchange platform (AfriCourage). This was made possible through partnership with the Goethe-Institut and brought in renowned musicians such as Baaba Maal, German composers Ensemble Moderne, Finnish duo Wimme and Rinne, Burkinabe HipHop artiste Smockey, Xuman & Keyti of Journal Rappe performing alongside Gambian artistes such as ST, Gee, Tata-Dinding, Jali-Madi Kanuteh, Killa-Ace, Jizzle and many others.

Yet another small step on the path of growth, an opening for Gambian Music industry to show itself off to the world.

OpenMicFest / AfriCourage 2019

This year’s festival will be different, as we, like the rest of the world, adjust to the special circumstances we find ourselves in. As you countdown with us to Open Mic 2020, stay healthy, watch out for your neighbor and listen to good music.

Peace!

From the Stands to the Center Stage – by Alieu “Arlvin” Ceesay

The Dream – View from the OMF2014 Stage

One of the biggest things a man can have is his dreams; and every great dream starts with a dreamer… 

It was a weekend in late November 2014 and the news had already spread around town. The billboards were up, flyers were being distributed, ads were running on every radio frequency, it was trending on the internet and the only topic at the “Campeh” was about that year’s impending OpenMicFest. The excitement ran across the coast of the country, finding its way into the hinterland as expectations were high for that year’s event. In addition to looking forward to the more established acts, the prospect of watching new coming-of-age acts on the platform was high on the agenda.

Everyone was anxiously waiting for the list to come out so they’d see their favorite artists on it. If the artiste in question didn’t make the official bill, then it was inevitable that their fans will take to the internet and other mediums to ask questions and debate about the eligibility of the different artists that were on that list. As controversial as it gets, this is expected as far as the OpenMicFest is concerned because everyone wants to see their favorite artiste showcased.

Festival Crowd at #OMF 2014

The OpenMicFest is the people’s event, it is the biggest event in The Gambia. This is our version of Glastonbury. Our Summerfest. This is our Coachella. Performing at the  OpenMicFest is one of the biggest dreams of every young artist in The Gambia. It is one of the biggest pedestals you could find yourself on as an entertainer in The Gambia and the journey to achieving that could be an intriguing one. 

In the midst of all the celebrations and controversy surrounding the list for the 2014 OpenMicFest, was a young man who felt low. This is his story.

This young artiste, who after performing at several monthly hood-hood open mic shows and after asking family, friends and the fans he had then to send text messages to a phone number belonging to one of the organisers to nominate him for that year’s list, was still not chosen and that made him really sad. 

Jizzle,  like hundreds of other young talents, had a dream to perform on the OpenMicFest stage. To him this was going to be his biggest achievement but unfortunately for him, it turned out that he had to attend the OpenMicFest just as a regular fan and watch the show from the stands. That year, there was an electric wave in the crowd, of good vibes, great songs and masterclass performances. 

After that night, Jizzle knew he had a task, he knew he needed to put in the work and put on some extra muscle to be on the biggest stage in a Gambian musician’s career with tens of thousands of people singing your songs word for word. The  young artist was ready for what was ahead, he released songs that played in every store, every hood, every market place and on everyone’s audio players. He released amazing visuals and also pulled off a sold out show that year. The streets sang his praises and his name quickly grew and he was finally getting the recognition that he so desired. 

When the official list came out in 2015, as expected by most fans, his name was on it. While his fans celebrated joyfully, it was a moment of mixed emotions for the young artist. He was not only filled with excitement that he was finally going up on that stage on his own and not as a backing or support artist like the previous years but with the fears of not delivering to expectation in front of tens of thousands of fans. 

On the night of the 2015 OpenMicFest, in the presence of tens of thousands of fans, uncountable waving hands and a great amount of echoing voices. The young artist Jizzle brought his heart and might, sang until he couldn’t sing no more, danced his feet sore and left the stage while the entire Bakau stadium chanted his name.

It was from that very moment that he knew this was his home.

Jizzle performing at #OMF2019

An unusual year has taken the world through very unusual circumstances. Most of what we regarded as ‘normal’ no longer is. What is important is to not allow ourselves to be subdued by the situation but rather find ways of working around it until such time ‘normal’ becomes normal again.

To this we say expect no less than ‘unusual’ for the 13th annual OpenMicFest (#OMF2020). Scheduled for December 2020, it is highly likely that you will not be able to physically experience the mass-gathering live event given the unclear timeframe of the pandemic which sadly, as predicted is recurring in waves around the world.

With these factors at play, the organizing committee for #OMF2020 after having held consultations with various stakeholders, intend to remodel this year’s production and take you through a virtual experience which in spite of the unusual situation, is expected to enrich and elevate your vibe.

So! Expect the 13th OpenMicFest #OMF2020 experience to be “different yet fulfilling“. Stay tuned for more information.

A key highlight of the pre-festival activities is the release of the official performance line-up better known to fans as the “List”. The release of the List ranks high amongst the most anticipated aspects of the OpenMicFest experience.

We have no idea how it became referred to as such but for something that people have taken ownership of, it’s inevitable that we adopt terminologies crafted by the fans without knowing the origins.

This brings to mind the “Dem Rek” movement that started as an OpenMicFest campaign slogan and eventually, as with many things related to Gambian music, became a slogan for all. We credit the coinage of that term to Cherry Fatou Njie who suggested it in one of the OpenMicFest online forums.

So back to the List release. Its… About… To Go Down…

If you’ve lived it, you can definitely attest to the fact that it’s an experience laden with excitement and controversy as fans try to make justifications regarding who deserves to be on or shouldn’t be on. The debates centered around the List are a telling example of how close to their hearts, the people regard the event.

As we already know, #OMF2019 is scheduled to run for two consecutive nights for the first time in its 12 year history. Expect a very exciting line-up presenting Gambian music from the contemporary and urban to traditional and everything in between.

#OMF2019 presents homegrown talent on the biggest platform available to all, it also brings on board, artistes and musicians, DJs, sound engineers and broadcast journalists from halfway around the world as part of the AfriCourage to the Smiling Coast for the Gambian music and cultural experience.

Stay tuned for the announcements…

What has been a long time coming has finally arrived!

When a long held vision begins to clearly unravel and manifest into reality, there is the expected excitement but that also comes tinged with anxiety and countless what ifs. But what if we never decided to start hosting monthly Open Mics or the annual OpenMicFest. What if the event was still hosted at Jakarlo and never moved to the Independence Stadium? What if we never believed in the vision and the process to achieve it?

At Black Lynx Entertainment, it has always been part of the grand plan to extend the OpenMicFest beyond one night of entertainment. Here we are in 2019, steady working to give you an unforgettable experience.

The Gambia’s biggest venue, the Independence Stadium in Bakau, shall, from Friday 27th to Saturday 28th December, 2019 bear witness to this new chapter in the second coming of the Gambian music renaissance. Twelve years of successful programming and showcasing of Gambian talent has helped grow the #ThePeoplesEvent from a sideshow to becoming what is undoubtedly, by far, #GambiasBiggestEvent. We look forward to celebrating with you.

#OMF2019 is engaged in a collaborative project called AfriCourage in partnership with the Goethe Institut and the European Broadcasting Union (EBU). With AfriCourage, the OpenMicFest platform will for the first time ever, open up to international performers. The LIVE broadcast by the EBU’s member organizations is expected to draw in a much sought-after non-Gambian audience. The AfriCourage project is also bringing in sound technicians / engineers, journalists, broadcasters on a knowledge exchange and skills transfer mission. The team will be hosting hands-on training workshops to that effect.

In keeping with tradition, programming for Night 1 will capture the spirit and essence of what the OpenmMicFest was built on, the much anticipated All-Gambian line-up. This showcase has for the past 11 years, attracted more attendees than any other event in The Gambia approximating 12,000 to 15,000 fans. This looks set to double with the introduction of a second night.

Night 2 will feature AfriCourage programming with a diverse repertoire as it is meant to give an international face to the festival. The billing will feature a mix of some of the best known Gambian artistes alongside a host of acts from West Africa and Europe. DJ’s will also be included in the line-up for the first ever so expect a real party atmosphere. Stay tuned for the release of the official line-up.

#OMF2019 brings you the extended OpenMicFest and with it, AfriCourage.

AfriCourage is a project designed by the Goethe-Institut to support culture and the relevance of music in the social and political environment in West Africa. It could be best described as a wave bringing into the Smiling Coast, a planeload of journalists and broadcasters from member institutions of the European Broadcasting Union, musicians, performing artistes, sound technicians and culture enthusiasts.

The OpenMicFest/AfriCourage expansion is a collaborative exchange between Black Lynx Entertainment, local organizers of the OpenMicFest for the past 11 years; The Goethe-Institut Senegal and The European Broadcasting Union with Rundfunk Berlin-Brandenburg (rbb) as the main broadcaster of the festival. It also provides access for our artistes to exploit the opportunities yielded by the exchange to perform for and reach audiences outside of their immediate Gambian fanbase, an opportunity most Gambian artistes have not experienced.

The AfriCourage project enables transcontinental media exposure and enhances the awareness of cultural values. It also seeks to strengthen cultural relations between young African musical protagonists by building a bridge of understanding and respect between African youth and the European media, enabling extensive media coverage.

In addition to the festival, AfriCourage shall include hands-on training in sound engineering, workshops on radio and print journalism, international networking and mentoring, sharing of experiences and knowledge transfer for cultural activists.