Filed under: Gambia
Anyone who has heard the song Love’s A Real Thing from Luaka Bop’s World Psychedelic Classics volume 3: Love’s A Real Thing will know why that song’s title was selected for the title of the compilation.
The Gambian band Super Eagles were pioneers of popular music in the Senegambian region at the end of the 1960s / start of the 70s, delivering a progressive blend of afrocuban, pop, soul, bluebeat, Congolese rumba, highlife and ndagga music. Using Wolof lyrics and rhythms, ndagga is the basis of what was to become ‘mbalax’. During their five year existence, the Super Eagles became one of the best travelled bands in West Africa.
In Bathurst (now Banjul), the capital of this ex-British colony, the first modern dance band was a loose collection of musicians who played under the name African Jazz. Members included Badou Jobe, Paps Touray, Laha Sosseh (later to join Afrocuban outfits such as Africando), Modou Cham and Oussou Njie.
Jobe, Cham and Njie had started their careers with the Foyer Jazz Band, formed by veteran, partly classically trained musicians, which provided a rich cocktail of European & Latin ballroom music, light classical, old jazz and the hugely popular ‘morna’ from Cape Verde. The popular music scene, catered for by modern dance hands, had no connection with traditional music, which remained the exclusive domain of the hereditary musicians caste known as griots.
In 1965 seven of the African Jazz musicians turned full-time professionals as The Eagles of Banjul. They played regularly in Banjul’s dancehalls and throughout the country and their patron Malick Seck took them on international tours to Senegal and Sierra Leone. After Sammy Ndami left, Badou Jobe took over as bandleader, and increasingly defined the band’s repertoire by composing original music.
Eventually the core members regrouped in 1967 as the Super Eagles. Helped with a generous gift from diamond dealer Solo Darboe, they ordered instruments, amps and a PA from England. this independence enabled them to travel and play what they liked for whom they liked.
The front men of the new Super Eagles were solo guitarist / bandleader Badou Jobe, lead vocalists Paps Touray (seen in this photo) and Datida Njie (a.k.a. Edu Haffner) and guitar / keyboard wizard Francis ‘Senami’ Taylor. Other members were Modou Cham (tenor sax and congas), Oussou Njie (singer and lyricist), Charles Valentine (bass) and Malan Gassama (drums, percussion), who was one of The Gambia’s finest drummers.
Jobe assisted by Taylor formed the creative team behind most of the compositions and arrangements. The songs were mostly in Wolof or (broken) English with Touray providing some belting vocals in the style of Otis Redding – he was voted best soul singer of Africa – and the band’s compositions melded elements from the indigenous music of The Gambia, specifically Wolof and Mandinka.
The Super Eagles’ use of amplifiers, effects and electric keyboards to interpret African music laid the foundation for mbalax, which was popularised a decade later by Youssou N’Dour. In 1968, while touring all over the larger neighbouring country, the band earned acclaim as the top group in Senegal.
In 1969 they visited Europe and were the first Senegambian band to tour England, where they recorded their album Viva Super Eagles, the title track of which called on Gambians to unite in support of the group. At a memorable concert at the Commonwealth Institute in London the band was joined by Teddy Osei and Mac Tontoh, founders of Osibisa. The album was a hit throughout West Africa but, typically the musicians claim never to have seen a penny of the royalties.
Jobe and Touray deliberately disbanded the Super Eagles in 1972 at the height of their popularity. As pan-Africanists and music pioneers they felt the urgent need for an authentic African identity which led to the creation of the seminal roots hand Ifang Bondi (Be Yourself), since grown into one of West Africa’s leading bands.
Catalog number FN28 Ghana Films Label FNS, manufactured and distributed by Decca. No release date given.