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Gokh-Bi System (a.k.a. GBS)
Like reggaetòn which emerged from the barrios of Puerto Rico, African hip-hop is joining it as 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, ironically giving hip-hop renewed legitimacy. While the debate lingers in the U.S. over the fate of hip-hop, the music is very alive in Soweto’s townships in South Africa, the favelas of Rio de Janeiro, the shantytowns of Haiti’s Port-au-Prince, the trench towns of Jamaica, and the slums of Ghana and Senegal. 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 with every street repped by a home crew.
Considered leaders of the emerging African hip-hop movement and one of the most popular African groups in U.S. today, GOKH-BI SYSTEM (pronounced Go-Bee) has created a style of music which fuses together “Ancient” African traditional rhythms with contemporary “Urban” America beats in a style which they’ve dubbed, Ancient Meets Urban. The result is a sound that appeals to traditional music enthusiasts while at the same time reaches younger audiences seeking a more contemporary sound.
Born and raised in the slums of Dakar, the capital of Senegal in West Africa, Gokh-Bi System was formed in 1995 by three childhood friends Mamadou Ndiaye, Diasse Pouye, and Pape “Bathie” Pouye who grew up together in one of Dakar’s poorest villages, Pikine, Guinaw Rail which translates literally into “the other side of the tracks.” Bathie and Diasse are brothers and when they were young; their parents welcomed Mamadou and his family into their home. The three grew up in the same room.
Like most young people born in the 80’s hip-hop is the music of their generation. Mamadou introduced his childhood friends to rap music. The three boys were transfixed by the conscious lyrics & powerful messages of The Last Poets, KRS-1, Chuck D, and Dead Prez. 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 their freestyles turned into original compositions and the boys from the other side of the tracks christened themselves Gokh-Bi which means “neighborhood.” Their manager/music director, Pape “Bathie” Pouye explains how they came up with the name, “In Africa, if you live in the same neighborhood, you are like family. 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.” He adds, “Our purpose with GBS is to use music to bridge cultural gaps, to rock the party and raise consciousness at the same time.”
In alignment with their ancient meets urban theme, the member of GBS are themselves a fusion of traditional & contemporary - Mamadou Ndiaye (MC), Diasse Pouye (MC) - Backa Niang (percussionist/vocals) and Sana Ndiaye (ekonting/vocals). A distinctive component of GBS’ authentic sound is the ekonting played by Sana. An ancient and extremely rare three-stringed gourd instrument, the ekonting (which looks like a large banjo) 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. Additionally, drummer Demse Zullo and bassist Garrett Sawyer add modern instrumentation while an African dancer adds energy & movement to the stage performance.
Known for creating music overflowing with positive vibrations, like the ekonting, Gokh-Bi System’s music resonates in the face of the violence, sexism, and misogyny prevalent in popular hip-hop. In the title track for their Mission Of Music EP which climbed to #4 on the Global Rhythm Top 10 Charts, Diasse rhymes, “It seems like people forget the mission of music. Let’s remember our mission. We have to be responsible for what we say in our songs because so many people are fans of ours.” Although the lyrics are simple, the message is powerful. On “Mama Afrika,” from the same EP, he rhymes “So many things have happened to you, but we still hope the day is going to come when you will smile again. It’s time to see the sun of peace shining on everyone’s head in Africa and around the world” and as you listen, you can visualize the resilience that has sustained the spirits of Africans despite war, genocide, poverty, famine, colonization, slavery, and apartheid.
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, the brainchild of Tony Vacca, a Valley-based percussionist and Massamba Diop, a Senegalese percussionist who has played for Baaba Maal, one of Senegal’s biggest pop superstars. In 2000, they were selected by CNN to represent the African hip-hop scene in a documentary on music around the world. Over the last five years, GBS has been invited to several high schools, universities, and community groups as part of a cross-cultural workshop/initiative to expose American school children to African music, dance and culture.
Since their arrival in America, Gokh-Bi System has opened for and shared the stage with Kanye West, Damian Marley, Tribe Called Quest, Angelique Kidjo, Femi Kuti, Culture, Toots and The Maytals, Michael Franti (Spearhead), Erykah Badu, and with 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 9 US tours through 27 states including performances at a number of major festivals including 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), and the Celebrate Brooklyn African Festival in New York.
They filmed two videos, “Mission Of Music,” and “Mama Afrika,” both directed by Joshua Atesh Litle which led to another experience, Furious Force of Rhymes, which has not been released. The video for “Mission of Music” made its world premiere at The National Geographic All Roads Film Festival in Washington, D.C. and Los Angeles, CA.
While GBS divides their time mostly between Senegal and the U.S., they spend a majority of it touring and in the studio. GBS is putting the final touches on a live studio recording which includes crowd favorites from their recent North America tour. In 2007, they will also release their first full length studio disc called Rap Tassu. “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.” On Rap Tassu, GBS combine the rhythm of the bougarabou, djeme, and sabaar drums, with the melodic ekonting infusing modern sounds of the western guitar, bass, vocals, and emceeing into a sounds that distinctly hip-hop grounded in 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 greed and jealous of African leaders has affect the continent.
While GBS divides their time mostly between Senegal and the U.S. , they spend a majority of it touring and in the studio. GBS is putting the final touches on a live studio recording which includes crowd favorites from their recent North America tour. In 2007, they will also release their first full length studio disc called Rap Tassu. “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.”
On Rap Tassu, GBS combines the rhythm of the bougarabou, djeme, and sabaar drums, with the melodic ekonting infusing modern sounds of the western guitar, bass, vocals, and emceeing into a sounds that distinctly hip-hop grounded in 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 greed and jealousy of African leaders has affected the continent.
In 2007, GBS will be joined by other acclaimed hip-hop, dancehall reggae, and R&B hybrids from and nearby their village in Dakar as part of a new "Ancient Meets Urban" subsidiary record label of A Round World (ARW). A ROUND WORLD Music Productions, Inc. was launched in 2001 with a mission of leveraging the universal language of music to stimulate children’s curiosity about world cultures and empower them to explore and discover their world, igniting a spirit of global awareness and appreciation. GBS joined on as Musical Ambassadors from Senegal to record original songs for ARW and lead an exploration of their culture, experiences and perspectives in a variety of media formats. The label is currently laying the foundation for GBS to introduce other talented acts rising out from Senegal including As Malick, Fafadi, African Akhlou Bi, Alpha Kouyate, Waflash and Rahmanne Diallo and plans to release a compilation disc titled Ancient Meets Urban Experience featuring GBS along with these artists.
In addition to raising funds for African relief effort, GBS’ goal is to expose more African-Americans to their African heritage using the art of music and dance. Their booking agency, In The Pocket Artists (www.inthepocketartists.com), is currently lining up dates for a national tour that will take GBS out on the road again in 2007.
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.myspace.com/gokhbi, www.ancientmeetsurban.com and www.aroundworld.net.
1999 - Featured on Tony Vacca's album Rhythm Griot (World Rhythms, USA)
2001 - Message From Home (World Rhythms, USA) featuring The Last Poets
2001 - Featured in an international hip-hop documentary for CNN (USA)
2002 - Africa Rap Compilation (Trikont, Germany)
2002 - Raise Your Hands (Ladiaz Production, USA)
2002 - 411 (Debut album for Gokh-bi System in Senegal)
2003 - Furious Force of Rhymes (Hip-Hop documentary, USA)
2004 - Pour Mouy Leer (Siga Productions, Senegal)
2005 - Mission of Music EP (A ROUND WORLD Music Production, USA)
2005 - Mission of Music music video (A ROUND WORLD Music Production, USA)
2005 - Mama Afrika music video (A ROUND WORLD Music Production, USA)
2005 - John Whitehead Tribute CD (GBS performs "Wake Up Everybody")
2205 - "Adjoua" selected for Festival Nuits d'Afrique CD Compilation - 2005