Like reggaetòn which emerged from the barrios of Puerto Rico, African hip-hop is the new international music gaining global recognition. For twenty years or more, American hip-hop has influenced the music of the younger generations across the continent. Motivated by the cultural & political power of the music, African youth have adopted and adapted the music and its lyrics to their own struggle. Largely overlooked by international media and record industries, Senegal has developed into one of the continent's largest hip-hop markets. Dakar estimated to be the center of Sene-Rap and boasts over 3,000 local hip-hop groups.
GOKH-BI SYSTEM (pronounced Go-Bee), has emerged as one of the leaders of the African hip-hop movement. Born in the slums of Dakar, the capital of Senegal in West Africa, GBS was formed in 1995 by three childhood friends Mamadou Ndiaye (MC), Diasse Pouye (MC), and Pape "Bathie" Pouye (manager) who grew up together in one of Dakar's poorest villages, Pikine, Guinaw Rail which translates literally into "the other side of the tracks."
Raised in Senegal's deep, rich musical culture, Gokh-Bi System, like most urban youth born in the 80's were heavily influenced by hip-hop. Bathie and Diasse are brothers and when they were young; their parents welcomed Mamadou and his family into their home.
Transfixed by the conscious lyrics and powerful messages of The Last Poets, KRS-1, Chuck D, and Dead Prez, Gokh-Bi System started out imitating what they heard on the cassettes, combining English, French, Arabic, and several other Senegalese dialects including Serer, Jola, and Wolof (the official language of Senegal), into their own flow and ultimately into a unique style dubbed “Ancient Meets Urban” which blends "Ancient" African traditional rhythms and contemporary "Urban" America beats, a sound which appeals to traditional music enthusiast and hip-hop purist at the same time.
Soon their freestyles turned into original compositions and the boys from the other side of the tracks added Backa Niang (percussionist/vocals) and Sana Ndiaye (ekonting/vocals) and rechristened themselves as Gokh-Bi System which means "neighborhood system." "In Africa, if you live in the same neighborhood, you are like family," explains Mamadou, one of the lead emcees. "Through our music we want to spread that sense of family we share in Senegal around the world. Even though we live in different countries and speak different languages, we are all part of a universal family. If countries across the entire world respect that our fate is linked, there would be no conflict or war. We would all live in peace."
After producing a number of recordings in Senegal and reaching #1 on the charts, in 1999, Gokh-Bi System came to the U.S. as ambassadors for the Senegal-America Project, a cross-cultural workshop/initiative founded by Tony Vacca (American percussionist) and Massamba Diop (Senegalese percussionist for Baaba Maal) to expose American school children to African music, dance and culture. The program included a tour through several high-schools, universities, and community groups and created the underground buzz which eventually led to their performances at a number of major festivals including: Montreal Jazz Fest, Bumbershoot in Seattle WA, National Geographic's All Roads Film Festival, The International Festival in Louisiana, The World Music Festival in Indiana and Chicago, Festival Nuits d'Afrique in Montreal (Quebec), Sunfest (London, Ontario), Colors Fest Detroit, Floyd Fest Virginia, Leaf fest North Carolina, Celebrate Brooklyn African Festival in New York………….
Since their arrival in America, they completed 10 US tours through 30 states opening for and sharing the bill with Kanye West, Damian Marley, Tribe Called Quest, Dead Prez, Last Poets, Angelique Kidjo, Femi Kuti, Culture, Toots and The Maytals, Toni Blackman, Michael Franti (Spearhead), Erykah Badu, Youssou Ndour and Grammy winning artist Patti Labelle who hosted a special tribute concert to the honor of a legendary singer songwriter John Whitehead at the kimmel center in Philadelphia PA, Joining GBS at this momentous evening were Gerald LeVert, Jaguar Wright, Floetry, Angela Bofill, and many more friends of John Whitehead.
In 2000, they were selected by CNN to represent the African hip-hop scene in a documentary on music around the world. Their "Mission of Music," video directed by Joshua Atesh Litle made its world premiere at The National Geographic All Roads Film Festival in Washington, D.C. and Los Angeles, CA and was added into rotation on both VH1 Soul and BET J
In alignment with their mission to ignite the spirit of global awareness and appreciation and strengthen the ties between African and America, GBS joined A ROUND WORLD (ARW) Music Productions, Inc. as its flagship act in 2001. ARW's mission is to leverage the universal language of music to stimulate children's curiosity about world cultures and empower them to explore and discover their world. As Musical Ambassadors from Senegal, GBS hopes that their music will lead to an exploration of African culture, experiences, and renewed positive perspectives on its contribution to the world.
As further demonstration of their commitment to education, GBS was selected as ambassadors by the National Education Association (NEA) for the "I Love My African Child Campaign," designed to strengthen relationships with African and Caribbean communities in the U.S. On this campaign, GBS along with other African celebrities including actor Idris Elba, Joseph Addai of the Indianapolis Colts, and Atlanta Falcon's Ovie Mughelli will participate in radio and television public service announcements as well as several town hall meetings and performances in New York, Atlanta, and Miami in early 2008.
Today GBS divides their time mostly between Senegal and the U.S., spending a majority of it touring and recording new music with Their Crew (Joe Sallins on Bass, Matt Gartska on drums and Greg Gartska on guitar) .
GBS' upcoming live studio album which includes crowd favorites from their recent North America tour and their first full length studio disc, Rap Tassu, which will be released in 2012.
On Rap Tassu, GBS combines the rhythm of the bougarabou, djeme and sabaar drums with the melodic ekonting, infusing modern sounds of drummer Demse Zullo and bassist Garrett Sawyer whose modern instrumentation melds with the traditional griot singing of Backa and gentle strumming of Sana on the ekonting. A distinctive component of GBS's authentic sound which you'll hear throughout this album is the ekonting, the ancient and extremely rare three-stringed gourd instrument (which looks like a large banjo) that is virtually extinct in Senegal. Its sound is so soothing that historically it was used to bring peace to the villagers in times of unrest. On-stage, the music is accompanied by African dancers who add extra energy & movement to their live performances.
"Our new album Rap Tassu will enlighten people about the origins of rap music. For centuries in Senegal, we've had a style of early hip-hop called Tassu which sounds like drumming and clapping against a chant," explains Mamadou. "It's basically the music that stayed in the spirit of American-Africans that evolved into the rap music we hear today, so in essence Hip Hop is Returns Home through Rap Tassu." GBS' social messages are strong on Rap Tassu with "Bop Sa Bop" which shares a message of how real issues of humanity (poverty, misery) are universal maladies. "Broken Dreams," discusses how the greed and jealousy of African leaders has affected the continent.
The title track from Rap Tassu was nominated to win the John Lennon Songwriting Contest by a star-studded music panel which included Al Jarreau, John Legend, Bob Wier, D12 and Fergie of the Black Eyed Peas.
While GBS wraps up their recording projects, their label, AMU Music, is making plans for the Rap Tassu - HIP HOP RETURNS HOME Tour. The vision, in collaboration with the "right" sponsors is to initially launch the tour in the top African-American cities in the U.S. as a celebration of "the global black experience." The HIP HOP RETURNS HOME Tour is the first music tour where African Hip Hop artists join American Hip Hop artists to connect with youth in the U.S. and make the linkage between Africa and America.
Like the ekonting which defines their sound, Gokh-Bi System's music resonates in the face of the violence, sexism, and misogyny prevalent in popular hip-hop. As you listen to their music, you can visualize the resilience that has sustained the spirits of Africans despite war, genocide, poverty, famine, colonization, slavery, and apartheid. While the world waits for rap's next big thing to come from New York, Atlanta or the Midwest it may well be Rap Tassu straight from Dakar, Senegal, West Africa.
Until they reach your city, you can visit them online at gokhbisystem.com, www.ancientmeetsurban.com