Childhood friends from the Dakar, Senegal hood of Pikine Guinaw Rail—literally “the other side of the tracks”— Gokh-Bi System (pronounced Go Bee) reunite rap with its ancient West African ancestors in a style dubbed “ancient meets urban”. GBS was formed in 1993 by three childhood friends: Mamadou Ndiaye (Emcee), Diasse Pouye (Emcee), and Pape Bathie Pouye (Music Director/Manager). The three boys were transfixed by the conscious lyrics and powerful messages found in hip hop and began creating their own lyrics against the beat. They started out imitating what they heard on the cassettes, combining English, French, Arabic, and several other Senegalese dialects including Wolof (the official language of Senegal), Serer, and Jola into their own flow. Soon freestyle 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 christened themselves Gokh-Bi System which means neighborhood system. A distinctive component of GBS's authentic sound is the ekonting played by Sana. The ekonting — once used to calm social unrest — and Gokh-Bi’s positive message, inspired by rap greats from The Last Poets to Chuck D, transform the group’s sound into an uplifting yet hard-hitting African homecoming for hip hop that sounds like The Roots hanging with Baaba Maal. Drummer Matt Garstka, bassist/keyboardist Joe Sallins and Guitarist Greg Garstka add modern instrumentation while an African dancer adds energy and movement to the stage performance.
Since their arrival in America, GBS has opened for and shared the stage with: Kanye West, Last Poets, Damian Marley, Dead Prez, Tribe Called Quest, Youssou N’Dour, Angelique Kidjo, Femi Kuti, Culture, Toots and The Maytals, Michael Franti (Spearhead), Africando, Erykah Badu, and Grammy Award winning artist, Patti LaBelle, who hosted a special tribute concert in honor of legendary singer and 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. They have completed 11 North American tours through 35 states and Canada including major festival performances Bumbershoot (Seattle WA), Montreal Jazz Fest, Floydfest (Virginia), National Geographic's All Roads Film Festival (Washington, DC and Los Angeles), Festival International de Louisiane, Concert of Colors (Detroit), World Music Festival (Chicago), Lotus, Festival Nuits d'Afrique (Montreal) and Celebrate Brooklyn African Festival (New York).
After producing a number of recordings in Senegal and reaching #1 on the charts, in 1999, the group was discovered by U.S. producers visiting Senegal who recruited them for the Senegal-America Project, a non-profit organization that exposes American school children to African music, dance and culture. In 2000, they were selected by CNN to represent the African hip-hop scene in a documentary on music around the world. In their 2001 release Message From Home the band was united with The Last Poets. The lovely and mournful “Xaesel” which laments the use of skin bleaching agents made its way on Africa Raps, the first compilation of songs by African rappers. The New York Times reported “Gokh-Bi System sets positive thinking rap (in English as well as Senegalese languages) to handmade music, percussion, singing and riffs plucked on the ekonting, a Senegalese lute. Hip-Hop takes a joyful, respectful place alongside traditionalism.” Between 2002 and 2004, the band solidified their musical presence in Senegal with the release of 411 and Pour Mouy Leer which produced a number of hits for the band and a permanent home on the radio and cassette players of their fellow countrymen. In 2005, the band’s North American release Mission Of Music climbed to #4 on the Global Rhythm Top 10 Charts. They filmed two videos, “Mission Of Music” and “Mama Afrika”, both directed by Joshua Atesh Litle. The video for “Mission of Music”, an official selection of The National Geographic All Roads Film Festival, made its world premiere in Washington, D.C. and Los Angeles, CA and aired on BET J, VH1 Soul and The African Channel.
In early 2008, “In God We Trust” was featured on Germany’s Piranha Muzik compilation Many Lessons. In December 2008, GBS released Voice of the Jeli a live studio recording which includes crowd favorites from their North America tours. Voice of the Jeli is distinctively different from its predecessor Mission of Music with a decidedly more traditional feel highlighting the percussion of Backa and Sana’s ekonting. On Jeli, radio-friendly “Musica Del Mundo” (Music of the World) boasts that music is a universal language uniting people around the world. Jeli is available on CD Baby as well as digital distributors including itunes, Rhapsody, eMusic, etc.
In March 2009, GBS will release the single “Rap Tassu” which will enlighten people about the origins of rap music. “While it is well known that Hip Hop is an American creation, its origins are rooted deeper than the Boogie Down, Bronx. Historically in Senegal, the drum and rapping have been part of tassu, a system of communication used by jeli to spread news amongst villagers. Tassu survived the Middle Passage, crossed over oceans and time and found its rhythm reincarnated in the microphones of emcees who continue to ride the beat, send a message about what’s going down in the streets and tell their stories like the jeli of Senegal ", explains Mamadou. The band’s third music video “Rap Tassu” was shot in hi-def, produced by AMU Music/Hybrid Lounge Productions, vzw and directed by Ilse “Boogie” Rumes. “Rap Tassu” proceeds will be donated to the band’s village Pikine Guinaw Rails which suffers annually from major flooding resulting in malaria, death and extremely poor living conditions. The band will perform a number of benefit shows in 2009 to support this noble cause. In addition to raising funds for this relief effort and touring North America, GBS's will continue to expose more African-Americans to their African heritage using the art of music and dance. GBS continues to perform at high schools, universities, and community groups as part of cross-cultural workshops/initiatives.
Additionally, GBS’s 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.
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 www.gokhbisystem.com, www.ancientmeetsurban.com, and www.aroundworld.net or contact Jackie O. Asare, 4sight media at 212.730.1177 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.