Sunday, September 28, 2014


Sweet Georgia Brown, I’ve been waiting for this meal for quite some time. I was supposed to cook last weekend, but it was my daughter’s 9th birthday, and we were invited to a cookout. And I’m still on the search for a job – who knew having a bachelor’s degree would be such a liability? Apparently, I’m “not qualified” for anything, except corporate jobs I don’t want, which may be something I have to seriously think about doing. So, if something doesn’t happen soon, then I’ll have to put my blog on hold until I either get a job somewhere, someone gives me proofreading work to do with the business I started, or I can get the money together to get published. But, let’s forget about all that for a just minute while we indulge in some fabulous food!

It's a pyroclastic cheese flow!!
The first food I made today is khachapuri, or Georgian cheese bread. I started with mixing my yeast in warm water and adding a tablespoon of flour. While that was setting up, I poured more flour, salt, and an egg in a bowl, and then added the yeast mixture.  Once I made the dough and kneaded it, I formed it into a ball and covered it in plastic wrap, letting it rest for about an hour. At that time, I kneaded it again for a couple minutes before re-wrapping it for another hour’s rest. During this time, I coarsely grated 4 oz each of havarti and mozzarella, forming the shavings into a compact ball. Once the dough was ready, I spread the dough out to about an 8” circle and placed the cheese ball in the middle. Carefully, I pulled the edges of the dough up and over the cheese ball, making a topknot on top of it. Then I smashed the whole thing down with the palm of my hand, making another 8” disk.  I then look my cheese knife and cut an X into the top of the dough, so that way the cheese is exposed. The recipe calls to put this on a floured pizza pan, but for some reason, we lost ours in the move five years ago, and I never bought another one. So, I put mine on a cookie sheet instead and placed it into a 500ºF oven for 10 minutes. At that time, I brushed it with melted butter and sprinkled the top with a little bit of mild cheddar, putting it back in the oven for about three minutes in order to brown the top and melt the cheese.  This bread was so incredible good. It’s definitely a comfort food. It was a little oily, but it didn’t stop me from getting seconds.

A little nutty, a little crunchy, a little savory.
I made this next dish purely because it intrigued me.  I’ve had stuffed mushrooms, stuffed tomatoes, stuffed peppers, stuffed celery, stuffed potatoes, and even stuffed chicken. But I’ve never had stuffed cucumbers. This recipe called to take about ¾ cup of walnuts and some garlic and smash them up with a mortar and pestle. Then I added some fenugreek, turmeric (in lieu of marigold), coriander, crushed red pepper, parsley, green onions, and a little white wine vinegar.  I cut my cucumbers lengthwise (after cutting off the ends), and then routed out the middle and placed the spiced walnut paste in the middle of the cucumber. I kind of liked it. I think I should’ve ground up my fenugreek seeds in my coffee grinder though. But otherwise, it was pretty good. I may play around with the recipe. My son liked it, and he doesn’t normally like anything. 

Do you need anything else?
The fried potatoes with dill were probably the best part of this meal. The recipe actually called for new potatoes, but I didn’t find them at the grocery store where I was, so I bought red potatoes and cut them into bite-sized pieces. I fried them in some vegetable oil, then I just added salt and pepper. The dill I had was starting to go bad; I was luckily able to get enough to top the potatoes with. The flavor was definitely not as pronounced as it was when it was fresh. But it was still good. 

Little packages of perfection.
And finally, we arrive at khinkali, or Georgian dumplings.  I didn’t realize I was running low on all-purpose flour, so I cut the recipe in half, and then I had to use half white flour and half whole wheat flour, so I knew the dough wasn’t going to be the same from the beginning. After I put the flour in a bowl, I added some salt, and some water and made the dough. I kneaded it then wrapped it in plastic and put it in the refrigerator for about a half-hour.  In the meantime, I made the filling: combining ground beef (the recipe calls for half-beef, half-pork, but I used all beef), chopped onions, cilantro, salt, pepper, and crushed red pepper in a bowl. Once the dough was done, I rolled the dough out and used a biscuit cutter to make round circles (I was only able to make eight).  Spooning in a little bit of the filling into the middle of the dough circle, I then folded it up and pinched it altogether at the top, making a topknot.  I dropped them into a pan of boiling water, and when they floated, they were finished.  I really liked these, but I think I would’ve liked them more if they were made from only all-purpose flour.  They reminded me a little of pierogis.

A culmination of comfort.
Overall, the meal meshed. It all came together in a perfect balance of comfort foods. It’s too bad I didn’t have any Georgian wine to go with it. I guess I’ll have to depend on my $2.87 pinot grigio from Aldi’s. So, even though things are über-stressful right now, we at least got to sit down and share a meal together, full of comfort foods. They were mostly made from a few simple ingredients and generally didn’t take that long to make.  Yet, they were full of flavor and filled you up.  I’ll definitely have these recipes handy again. This was one of those meals that went over well with the whole family, even my youngest and most picky of eaters. 

Up next:  Germany

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Musically speaking, Georgia is divided into two regions: east and west. However, both regions share many of the same styles and are known for their vocal polyphony. 

Polyphony is when each line of music has its own individual line, as opposed to harmony lines. No matter the region, a cappella singing is generally the form of a lot of vocal music, especially music before the 20th century. Typically, this vocal style consists of two to four voices sung in a polyphonic fashion, but it’s also based on an ostinato bass and rhythmic drones. You’ll also find the use of the drones a common practice throughout much of the Balkans. In Western Georgia, they have their own type of yodel called krimanchuli that utilizes many of these contrapuntal and polyphonic features.

Another key feature is the use of dissonant interval notes. These include 2nds, 4ths, 7ths, and 9ths. They often make use of suspended chords, which gives a dissonance between the 4th and the 5th notes of the chord.  I remember reading about Albanian and Bulgarian music that these dissonant chords were often used in shepherds’ songs as a way of communicating to other shepherds in neighboring fields. The dissonant notes carried farther.

Tuning was originally based on perfect fourths and perfect fifths. This goes back to Medieval music traditions. If you listen to Gregorian (or other) chants, you’ll hear the how the music is based on this. However, traditional Georgian music is tuned slightly differently than the twelve evenly-spaced half notes that comprise an octave used in most of the rest of Europe.

Georgians view music as a social or community event. Whenever there is any call for a celebration –a birth, a wedding, a birthday– people gather to sing. Many times, small groups of singers are more popular, especially trios. Dancing is also tied in with social events. They have several types of dances performed in a number of situations: Kartuli (a romantic dance danced by a couple, slow and dignified movements), Khorumi (a men-only dance performed by as many as 30-40 men as a pre-war dance), Partsa (fast-paced, rhythmic, characterized by dancer’s ability for quick movements, incites a party atmosphere), Khanjluri (men dress in traditional red chokhas, the dance is performed with daggers and knives), Jeirani (a type of hunting dance), Davluri (a type of city dance), and Mkhedruli (a type of cavalryman’s dance).

Their music isn’t all vocal music however. They do play instruments as well.  Some of the most commonly played instruments in Georgian music are the larchemi (a Georgian panpipe), stviri (flute), changi (harp), gudastviri (bagpipe), chonguri (four-stringed, unfretted, long-neck lute), panduri (three-stringed, fretted, long-neck lute), and several different types of percussion instruments, such as the doli, daira, and diplipito.

One of the most well-known bands from Georgia is called The Shin, which means “home” or “going home” in Georgia. (Not to be confused with The Shins, an American indie rock band.) They represented their country in this year’s (2014) Eurovision Song Contest; however, they got last place and didn’t advance.  But I like their style. It’s a mix of jazz and blues with minimal vocals.  They have some interesting chord changes, something that stems from traditional Georgian music, yet it all seems to mesh quite nicely.

Another band that seems to find inspiration in some of their styles is called 33a. Minimal to a degree, at times it reminds me of Phil Collins or Sting. He also incorporates jazz elements into him music, and with his bass voice, it adds a unique quality to the music. He's actually pretty versatile. 

And of course, Georgians are not exempt from girl pop music. The band Candy fulfills it to every extend needed. Singing in a mix of Georgian and English, they remind me of Japanese pop music groups. A few moderately catchy tunes sung by cute girls is probably enough to draw the attention of teenagers across the country. It’s as my dad used to call pop music: bubblegum music.

Sofia Nizharadze sings entirely in English on the album I listened to called We Are All. When I listened to this album, I felt that it would fit right in nicely with early-to-mid-1990s albums, even though it was produced this year. She actually represented Georgia in the Eurovision Song Contest back in 2010, which brought attention not only to Georgian musicians, but pushed her own music career as well. In fact, she was a judge on the “Georgia’s Got Talent” TV show. Needless to say, she’s pretty popular.

I also listened to Lela Tsurtsumia’s album Yamo Helessa. She’s been performing since the late 1990s. I found her music unique because it’s a fusion of pop and folk. It’s a pretty good example of listening for the drone I talked about earlier. I actually really like this album.  I found the combination of strings and harp with the hollow vocal harmonies of the perfect fourths and fifth mystifying yet relaxing. In other songs, the traditional rhythms and moving flute lines reminded me of Renaissance dance music. It definitely made me feel as if I were part of something very ancient.

Up next: the food

Thursday, September 25, 2014


Since the earliest civilizations, Georgians have been honing their artistic talents. Every group who came in and controlled this area left a piece of their own culture when they were here which stayed when they left. Because of its location, early influences on Georgian art include that of the Mesopotamians (now Iraq, Kuwait, and parts of Syria, Turkey, and Iran), Anatolians (now mostly Turkey, but parts of Georgia, Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Mesopotamian lands), Greeks, Persians (now mostly in Iran), Romans, and Byzantines (Bulgaria, Greece, Russia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, Romania, Ukraine, Moldova, and Belarus).

Early art included paintings and mosaic arts of religious figures and scenes. Calligraphy and religious iconography were especially coveted skills in the church. Religious-based sculptures of prominent saints and Biblical characters fill not only churches but some more well-off people’s homes as well.  Goldsmith work was also very popular, especially in both jewelry and in small sculptures and reliquaries.

Towards the late 19th century and into the 20th century, Georgian art began to be influenced from other areas of Europe, namely the traditions coming out of the art capitals of Europe: France, Italy, Spain, and elsewhere. Russian art also had a huge impact on Georgian art, especially while under Russian rule. 

Some of the major Georgian artists include Gia Bugadze (muralist, painter, Rector of the Tbilisi State Academy of Arts from 2003-2012), Gigo Gabashvili (painter, first major painter to paint all different kinds of subjects in both oils and watercolor), Lado Gudiashvili (painter, used a lot of mythological influences), David Kakabadze (avant-garde painter, graphic artist, scenic designer), Shalva Kikodze (expressionist painter, graphic artist, theatre set designer), Niko Pirosmani (known simply as Nikala, primitivist painter, portrait is on the 1-gel banknote), and Sergo Tbileli (painter, sculpter, and designer).

by Niko Pirosmani
The earliest literature from the pre-Christian days was in the form of epic poems. Historical accounts, hymns, and stories about the royalty were also commonly written during the early periods of Georgian literature. After Christianity was introduced to the Georgian people, hagiographic and other religious writing dominated the canon of literature in the early centuries of this era.

from a Georgian-Italian dictionary
Secular epic poetry and odes were still probably the most commonly written works during the Middle Ages. Contributing to the world of prose with Book of Wisdom and Lies, Prince Sulkhan-Saba Orbeiani also created the first Georgian language dictionary during the 17th century. The Georgian language borrows words from many other languages, but its grammar is unique in and of its own. (I wish someone would explain Georgian names to me, though. It seems that many last names either end in “–dze” or “–vili.” Does this have a particular meaning?)  Soon after dictionaries of Georgian to other languages began to be produced as well. 

Nineteenth- and twentieth-century writing shows many influential characteristics from styles that are commonly used in Russian literature.  During the Soviet period, Georgian writers and other intellectuals suffered greatly in Joseph Stalin’s “Great Purge.” Eclectic poetry and prose seemed to dominate Georgian literature during the post-Soviet years.  Donald Rayfield, a London professor of Georgian and Russian, wrote a book called The Literature of Georgia: A History, chronicling the influences of Georgian literature throughout the centuries. It’s the first of its kind written in the English language and a great reference in Georgian literature.

K Gamsakhurdia -- not a happy guy.
Konstantine Gamsakhurdia is considered one of the most influential Georgian writers of the 20th century. Although he was highly opposed to the Russian politics of the day, he somehow managed to escape the fate of most other writers and intellectuals. He is most famous for his novel The Right Hand of the Grand Master and his post-WWII works The Flowering of the Vine and David the Builder.

M Javakhishvili
Mikheil Javakhishvili often shares the podium next to Gamsakhurdia as the other most influential writer from Georgia. Javakhishvili tended to incorporate folk language into his writing and his topics ranged from the differences between country and city life, rebellion, violence, sexual passions, and other taboo subject matter. This didn’t put him in the Russian’s good graces. He’s best known for his novels Jaqo’s Dispossessed and Arsena Marabdeli. Unlike Gamsakhurdia, Javakhishvili was not able to escape the grip of Stalin’s Great Purge; he was executed in 1937.

Up next: music and dance

Sunday, September 21, 2014


I had to carefully word my search criteria this time because I kept getting recipes for Georgia Pecan Pie and Georgia Peach Pie. While those sound absolutely divine, it’s the wrong Georgia. The Georgia I’m talking about used to be part of Russia when I was in elementary school. And since I loved the food from neighboring Armenia and Azerbaijan, I’m presuming I’m going to love the food from here too.

While native Georgians call their country Sakartvelo, the name Georgia is named after St. George, a revered saint from the 12th century. (In contrast, the US state of Georgia was named after King George II of Great Britain.) Unlike many countries, Georgia doesn’t have an official long form name: it’s simply Georgia. Simple like that. No need for unnecessary words and complications. The world is complicated as it is.

Georgia lies in the South Caucasus Mountains, surrounded by Russia, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Turkey, and the Black Sea. The northern border doesn’t lie far from the Russian city of Sochi, where the 2014 Winter Olympics were held. Offshoots of the Caucasus Mountains stretch their way through much of the northern regions of the country, giving some of the most spectacular views ever. These mountains also allow for the perfect breeding ground for volcanic plateaus, earthquakes, hot springs, and cave systems. In fact, Krudera Cave, located in the region of Abkhazia, is the world’s deepest known cave. Even though the country isn’t that large, has an incredible range of climates. The northern and western regions generally have cooler climes, having snowy winters, while the southern and eastern regions are more or less warmer in nature, categorized as humid subtropical. It also allows for a wide variety of flora and fauna. They are particularly known for the Caucasian Shepherd Dog, the Caucasian Leopard, brown bears, lynxes, many varieties of mushrooms, and the common pheasant.

The first time people wrote about Georgians was in the 12th Century BC. Several empires and kingdoms switched hands at ruling these lands. In Greek and Roman history, this area was called Colchis, which is also the area attributed to where the Golden Fleece was located that was sought by Jason and the Argonauts. Georgians spent much of the first century trying to figure out who was actually ruling the country as well as turning it into a cultural center at the same time. East of Colchis was Iberia, different from the Iberia most people think of as being where Spain and Portugal are (I just read about this last week in James Michener’s book about Spain called Iberia.) During the Middle Ages, this area was divided between the Persians and the Ottomans at the same time. During the late 1700s, Russia began to move into the region and defeated the Persians, opening the way to take the country for themselves. Georgia declared independence in 1918, but soon after, they entered the Georgian-Armenian War and this time, found themselves as a British protectorate for the next two years. Once again, Georgia was invaded by the Russian Red Army, only to be later lumped in with Armenia and Azerbaijan to form the Transcontinental SFSR and then later renamed Georgian SSR.  Joseph Stalin came to power in 1917 and was also an ethnic Georgian. It’s still not uncommon to see statues of Joseph Stalin around the country. A 1989 peaceful demonstration ended in bloodshed, and that pushed the people to fight for independence once again and winning it in 1991. Their independence has been dotted with a civil war in 1995 and a conflict with Russia in 2008 in the South Ossetia area.

Located on the banks of the Mtkvari River, the capital city of Tbilisi is also the largest city in Georgia. With a population of about 1.5 million people, Tbilisi has taken advantage of the east-west trade routes since ancient times, making this a prime city for both business and cultural arts. Because of Georgia’s and Tbilisi’s long history of being a part of various empires and kingdoms, the city is multi-ethnic while Medieval, Classical, and typical Soviet architecture can be seen throughout the cityscape.

Georgia has historically relied on the land and trade for the brunt of its economic stability. Gold, silver, copper, and iron mining camps were established in the Caucasus Mountains, and wine making has been an old tradition Georgians take pride in. After the break-up of Russia, war and conflict has taken its toll on their economy. Trade with Russia also became icy: Russia raised the price of oil being sold to Georgia and also banned the import of Georgian wine, a trade relationship Georgia depended on. However, the country is grateful for a rise in tourism, especially to World Heritage sites such as monasteries and their numerous mineral springs resorts. 

The vast majority of the people practice Georgian Orthodox Christianity, one of the most ancient of Christian churches. There are also a sizable number of Armenian Christians, Muslims, and Roman Catholics. Strangely enough, there are also a small number of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Georgia as well; however, they are also the target of some religious discrimination.

The Georgian language is really unique. They use three alphabets whose invention has widely been attributed to King Pharnavaz I of Iberia. It’s the official language of Georgia and belongs to the Kartvelian language family. The really weird part of the Georgian language, is that there are actually words where there are eight consonants in a row: gvbrdgvni, "you tear us"; or, gvprtskvni, "you peel us."

If you’re into winter sports like skiing or snowboarding, then Georgia is your place. The second-highest peak in Europe is Mount Shkara, beating the famous Mount Blanc by over 1300 ft. These soaring peaks even found their way into ancient Greek mythology. It was considered the place where Zeus tied up Prometheus so that eagles could eat his liver. That’s pleasant. The Greeks also considered Mount Shkara as one of the peaks holding up the world. But that part may be true.

Family is huge in Georgia. While the people are generally friendly, conservative religious values are closely held, especially against homosexuality.  In a country with unreliable social services, people rely on family members to help them out. The food seems spectacular; I had a hard time narrowing it down. But I did manage to eventually get that accomplished.

Up next: art and literature

Saturday, September 6, 2014


This search for a bread recipe proved to be harder than I thought. And I thought Gabon was difficult (well, Bhutan was kind of difficult, too)! I searched, and I searched some more, but to no avail. There simply weren’t any Gambian bread recipes on the Internet. I found many references to local breads such as tapalapa and senfur, or even references to bakeries in Banjul, but no useful recipes. And of course, I found all sorts of articles about how tapalapa has a bad reputation now: a few years ago, local street vendors who were making tapalapa in The Gambia weren’t exactly clean about the way they were making the bread to sell in the mornings, and it was making a lot of people sick. They don’t quite have the same sanitation regulations that other countries have.  But you know what? The US has all sorts of regulations on food safety, and we still have items recalled all the time, and moderately upscale chain restaurants still have people who get sick from their food.

Regardless of whether it's authentic or not, it was still good. And you can't go wrong there. 
Since tapalapa bread is also commonly eaten in Senegal as well, I started doing Internet searches in French as well. I did come across some information describing how it’s made, albeit it wasn’t exactly a recipe. It was the closest thing I could find. So, I ran it through Google Translate, and then made up the amounts of the ingredients based on breads I have made in the past. I have no idea if it’s even close (I had to make some substitutions). But without further ado, here’s the recipe: 

Beth’s Faux Tapalapa

1 ¼ c wheat flour
½ c millet flour (I used quinoa flour)
1 ¼ c corn flour
½ c cowpea flour (I used yuca/tapioca flour)
1 yeast packet
1 tsp salt
1 ¾ c (plus a little more if needed) warm water

-- Mix the flours together. Add in the salt, yeast, and water. Mix and knead until it
       comes together as a flour. I added in a little oil into the bottom of the bowl and
       rolled the dough ball in the oil before covering it in plastic and letting it rest.
-- Let the dough sit for about 45 minutes. Then knead it for about 3-4 minutes,  
       putting it back in the bowl to rest for another 45 minutes.
-- Form the dough into moderately thin 12” sticks (the size of a standard ruler),
       molding it with your hands, similar to a baguette. Then I placed them on    
       parchment paper on a cookie sheet. I let it rest for another 5-7 minutes while the
       oven preheats to 450ºF.
-- Once the oven is ready, bake for about 15 minutes until they are firm when you
       tap on the top.

It was so good, although it had an earthy quality because of the quinoa and corn flours. It had a definite crust that wasn’t too hard but was soft on the inside. I could definitely taste the wheat but it almost had the aftertaste of rye. I can see why tourists keep coming back to the tapalapa. (And yes, my kids laughed at the word “cowpea” and were glad I didn’t put it in.)

It seems like texture issues were the biggest complain, but I didn't think it was that bad. 
The second dish I started was Gambian dessert couscous.  I normally serve couscous in place of rice, and I usually top it with some kind of savory stew of meat and vegetables on top.  So, this was different to put something sweet on top. And it was actually pretty easy to make: I mixed together vanilla yogurt, sour cream, evaporated milk, crushed pineapple, nutmeg, and vanilla extract in a bowl and beat it until it was smooth. (I realized later that I forgot to put in the evaporated milk, but it was fine without it.) I put this in the refrigerator to chill while I cooked the rest of the food. Just before it was time to serve the food, I made instant couscous according to the directions on the box. It’s meant to be served with the fruit-yogurt mix on top of the couscous (or it can be served separately). I really liked this, but the kids weren’t so sure about it. I think it was a texture thing. And I have to admit, the texture threw me, but if I concentrated on the taste, it almost tasted like a pastry or rice pudding, or something. 

Now THIS was awesome. I still think it would be better with some added shrimp.
The main meal for today is Gambian Benachin. This particular recipe calls for chicken, but there are many other recipes that call for different kinds of meat to be included. First I browned the chicken and then set it aside. In the same skillet, I sautéed onions, minced garlic, and chopped bell peppers, adding some chili powder and two cans of tomatoes (mine were the tomatoes with lime and cilantro) a few minutes later. After about five minutes, I added in a little bit of tomato paste with a little boiling water and stirred everything together. I threw in a bay leaf, left out the Maggi cube (since it contains MSG), added in a can of sliced carrots, a quarter of a cabbage (shredded), some diced eggplant (just to make my husband gag, even though you really can’t taste it once it cooks down with everything else), and some salt and pepper. I let it simmer for about 30-40 minutes covered until all of the vegetables were tender. I served this on a bed of rice. I liked this, but I wish it had more spices in it. (I did throw in a little ground cayenne pepper, but it wasn’t much.) I loved how all the flavors came to together. I wish I had some shrimp to throw in there as well.

The final product. 
I was really happy that I came up with this tapalapa recipe myself and that it turned out really good. It made me wonder why no one has put this recipe up on the Internet yet. Perhaps because tapalapa was considered a “bush bread,” made primarily by the people who lived in the rural areas who probably don’t have Internet access or even reliable electricity in some places. And this bread is also typically baked in a wood oven; I had to guess at the temperature since I was making this in a conventional oven. But it turned out pretty good, even if it may not be truly “authentic.” But what is? As long as it's tasty.

Up next: Georgia


Traditional music in The Gambia is very similar culturally to that of its neighbor, Senegal.  Certainly the most prominent part of Gambian music is the percussion traditions of the Wolof and Serer people.

The sabar is not only a specific type of drum, but it has also lent its name to the style of playing using this drum.  In saber music, the ensemble includes the saber drum as a rhythmic drum, but it also includes the nder drum that is used as the lead drum, and the tama drum (also called a talking drum – it has different pitches and timbres when you squeeze the sides of the drum, almost sounding like it’s talking).

In both njuup and saber music, styles commonly performed by the Serer tribes, music is divided into smaller motifs, each with its own meaning.  Tribes used to use this style of drumming as a means of communication between themselves and other tribes; these rhythmic motifs could be heard for up to 15 km (about 9.3 mi) away.  That sounds incredible, but I suppose perhaps the lack of noise pollution and their location near the river help the sound travel. 

The Mali Empire influenced Gambian music with the role of griots (sometimes called jelis). Griots were a type of historian-musician-praise singer-storyteller-poet.  They’re sometimes likened to what a bard was in British and Celtic history. 

Mbalax is a type of dance music that mixes Western style music with the sabar and other traditional musical styles of the Wolof and Serer peoples.

Gambian musicians started venturing into modern musical styles during the 1960s and 1970s. Among the first notable musicians include Guelewar (I can hear influences of jazz, reggae, American rock, African styles, and maybe even early ska, relies heavily on African drums and percussion.) and Laba Sosseh. I listed to two albums of Laba Sosseh and absolutely love it. It’s heavily influenced by jazz and reggae, and Latin music. I listen to his music while I work.

Other more contemporary musicians that I listened to are Ifang Bondi and Jaliba Kuyateh.  Both of these musicians tend to borrow from other African styles.  Ifang Bondi means “be yourself” in Mandrika, one of the languages spoken in The Gambia. They were known for incorporating traditional instruments, rhythms, and traditional styles into their music. Jaliba Kuyateh is extremely gifted at the kora, an instrument made of wood (originally, it was made from a calabash or goard), stretched with cow skin, and has 21 nylon strings. Eleven strings are played with the left hand and the right hand plays the other ten.  His use of the kora in his music has rendered him the nickname “King of Kora.” Foday Musa Suso is another kora player who performed years before Kuyateh. I love this instrument; it’s so beautiful. It almost has a harp-like or like a Russian balalaika even. I could listen to it all day. I highly recommend the album The Dreamtime for anyone interested in the kora. (It’s on Spotify.)

And The Gambia also has a sizable hip-hop scene, mostly influenced by the styles from the US, UK, and the Caribbean. And since I’m extremely interested in hip-hop music from other countries, I had to make sure I have some in my playlist. Unfortunately, I could only find one musician available on Spotify, and that honor goes to Singateh. There is a deep reggae influence in his music, and he also uses other featured singers in his music. I also noticed that his music isn’t strictly rapping; he also has many songs where he sings as well. I really like it. It’s pretty cool.  Like me.

Up next: the food 

Thursday, September 4, 2014


There isn’t a lot of specific information on the art traditions of The Gambia. Many of its traditions are similar in nature to a lot of other West African countries. I’m trying not to say that there really isn’t any outstandingly noteworthy about their art, because I think there is probably a significant amount of art created there. It’s just that there really isn’t much that has been written and expounded upon in comparison to other countries. Like other West African countries, each ethnic group has its own set of masks for various ceremonies and functions. They are mostly made out of wood and painted with plant and other natural-based dyes.

by Edrisa Jobe
by Baboucarr Etu Ndow
Gambians are also skilled in arts and crafts and a variety of other art medium. Sculptures, dolls portraying traditional wear, and jewelry are often displayed. When it comes to functional art, Gambians make a variety of sandals, handbags, woven mats and material, and tie-dyed clothes. They also have a lot of traditional European-style paintings, mostly of African landscapes and people depicting typical Gambian life. Artists' styles vary from modern, abstract doused in surrealism but with touches of  primitivism. Watercolors seem to be a common medium. Some of the most renowned artists coming out of The Gambia are Baboucarr Etu Ndow, Bubacarr Badgie, Edrisa Jobe, Momodou Ceesay, Moulaye Sarr, Njogu Touray, and Toyimbo. Several cities have art museums and galleries showcasing traditional and modern Gambian art for both locals and tourists to admire.

Literature in The Gambia is either in English or in Arabic. Although English is the official language of the country, many Muslim Gambians are also starting to learn the Arabic language to better understand the Qur’anic verses they recite.  Literacy still remains a difficult feat, mostly because The Gambia still has a large portion of its people living in rural areas.  This makes it difficult for the access of schools and supplies. There are a growing number of elementary schools, but not as much access to higher education. Attendance is not required nor is it free. This is one reason why many have difficulty continuing their education. However, in most cases, it’s not for lack of interest. Most parents of school-aged children see the value in having both their boys and girls educated. Despite all of this, literacy is on the rise, although many of the older generations remain among the least literate.

University of The Gambia

Since the 1970s, there has been an increase in the number of people attending university and going on into educational fields and writing. Gambian schools often use textbooks and literature from other areas of Africa and Europe.  With this surge of college graduates, there is a push to create Gambian textbooks written by Gambian educators.

Janet Badjan-Young
And there have actually been many Gambian writers contributing to English-language literature (as well as some Arabic-language literature). Some of the English-language Gambian writers you might come across are Janet Badjan-Young (considered one of the best playwrights in the country), William Conton (educator and novelist, born in The Gambia, but of Sierra Leone Creole roots in the Caribbean, did most of his work in Sierra Leone and Ghana), Ebou Dibba (educator and novelist, was made a Member of the Order of the British Empire), Hassan Bubacar Jallow (lawyer, Attorney General for Gambia, writer, member of several International Criminal Tribunals),  Hanna Augusta Darling Jawara (nurse, playwright, fighter for women’s rights), Alh. A.E. Cham Joof (historian, author, radio program director, lecturer, known for his Pan-Africanism), Lenrie Peters (surgeon, novelist, poet, educator), and Tijan Sallah (economist, short story writer, poet).

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