Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Kebba Taylor; The Musical Genius Who Never Went to Music School

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Kebba Taylor is a musical genius, multi-instrumentalist, producer and composer, who learnt how to play musical instruments from his father and uncles.

He epitomizes his father cum legendary multi-instrumentalist Senemi Taylor (Kunanjarjutay) of Ifangbondi.

He began his musical sojourn when he was very young.

Growing up in a family where it was not only fun to listen and play music, but where it was also a way of life, young Kebba felt in love with music at an early age and abandoned his dream of becoming a pilot when he finishes school.

This sublime musician, who became a semiprofessional at aged 8, used to sit and watch his father play the keyboard, while his two uncles (Sam Bidwell and William Davies) play the guitar.

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Unlike his age mates who used to spend their leisure time playing games, young Kebba used to spend his time rehearsing how to play the guitar.

This is why his journey to stardom did not surprise those who know him.

At aged 8, Kebba played at public concerts and was paid for his service.

“From the first day my dad came from Germany with a guitar and I saw him playing it, I felt in love with the instrument (guitar),” Kebba said with a smile on his face.

His uncle, Sam Bidwell, encouraged and motivated him to do well in his common entrance exam in order for him to be enrolled at St. Augustine’s High School for them to form a musical band.

Luckily for him, he was fortunate to score the cut of mark for him to be enrolled at Saint Augustine’s High School and winning a Government scholarship in the process.

Attending St. Augustine’s, he joined and played for the school band.

“Sam Bidwell played the major role in forming the band. He went round for donations to secure the equipment and Alfred Manneh (my history teacher) was the teacher in charge of the band. He loves and plays music” he said.

Kebba and his band mates including Pa Bahoum, Musa Jawara, George Njie and Mass Lowe played different genre of music ranging from reggae to Mbalax.

During his days with the band, he was a formidable stage performer and a source of inspiration for young people.

In a bid to carve a niche for himself as a guitarist, Kebba moved to Senegal in 1988 where he played alongside the late music legend Musa Ngum and others.

Describing his trip to Senegal as an eye opener for him, he said: “When I arrived in Senegal, I met so many young people like me, who were very skillful and could even do things better than me, but that did not discourage me. It instead motivated me to work harder.”

He spent three years in Senegal and in 1991, he returned to The Gambia.

His home return coincided with Ifangbondi’s European tour and Babou Jobe (his father’s friend and former band mate) took him on this trip.

Following a successful tour with Ifangbondi, Kebba returned home and formed the Xam Xam band.

When his band recorded their first album; he went to Europe to book the band for performances, but the quality of their recording was below European standard.

He wanted to come home and do it all over again at Senegal, but there was not much time so he had to do it all by himself.

“I played all the live instruments except for the ‘Sabarr’ (percussion). I did not sing any of the songs,” he said.

The band members including Mass Lowe, Amadou Ceesay (alias Zito), Ebou Cout, Charles Cole and Alagie Faye (of Boubou Ngarreh), who were at home then, recorded their voices at George Christenson’s Radio 1 FM.

In 9994 Kebba took the band on a European tour. His biggest lesson in these tours was that ‘once you could travel, you learn things and it was left to you to absorb them, or discard them’.

The band disbanded in 1996. Later he started backing artists; the first time he did this was when Saul Sowe the owner of Jollof Arts brought him 13 artists and 26 songs to do within 4 days.

The new band called Kebba and friends ( Kebba Taylor, Sankung Jobarteh, Olu Leya and others) was at the epicenter of different music genres including Mbalax.

During his career, Kebba at some point found himself at a cross road where he contemplated quitting the musical scene. He began selling his equipment.

While sitting at home one day, one Pa Jallow (a friend) came to him and asked him if he could help him sort out some studio materials a brother sent to him.

In the process of identifying to Pa the things he had and what he needed to have a studio, the idea of producing an album for the Bakau based Born Africans was conceptualized and the deal sealed by him and Jallow.

This project was eventually implemented by the duo leading to the production of Born African’s debut album at the Galand Studio in Bundung.

Kebba felt the process of producing Born African’s album was cumbersome as intermittent power supply at the time made it very difficult for him to produce the album without problems.

He was forced to resort to the use of candles and other forms of energy to do the work.

He said: “Galand Studio is where I also did the Dancehall Masters’ album and many other singles.”

Following the successful production of the Born African’s debut album known as Praises, Kebba shuttled between studios producing songs for different musicians.

Kebba went on to produce Penchami’s first album at Elli Nacif’s studio in Pipeline.

Sequel to the production of these masterpieces, Taylor went on to produce an album for Ousu Njie Senior at the Elli Nacif studio.

“Right now I am contracted to back different singers. Sometimes I back them during festivals.”

Kebba is now working on producing quality sounds for the globe to know that the tiny West African nation of Gambia can produce products that are of international standard.

He does not mind even if the tracks are not going to be hit songs locally.

Heaping praises on Gambian musicians, Kebba said: “The young musicians are doing very well. What the kids are doing was once our dream. I respect the kids for their hard work.”

The musical maestro is proud that Gambians are now listening and consuming their own music, but was quick to add it was now time for the country to create a music genre that will go beyond its borders.

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