Ghana 1970. The auditorium of Legon University in Accra was filled to capacity.
There was an environment of restless expectation awaiting the arrival on stage
of the Super Eagles of The Gambia. The devastating performance of highlife, soul,
Cuban music, reggae and western pop songs which followed,
faultlessly delivered by the men in sharp suits,
revealed why this band from The Gambia had become West Africa's number one superstar attraction.
This was to be the last time most people saw the Super Eagles,
leaving only the legacy of their all-time classic album 'Viva Super Eagles'.
Unknown to their thousands of fans, this was not the end of the story,
but just the end of the first chapter in one of the longest-running sagas
in African musical history. The truth is that the founders of the band,
leader Badou Jobe and vocalist Paps Touray had taken a deliberate decision
to end Super Eagles at the height of their popularity.
they had become increasingly disturbed by the music they were playing
and the image they presented. Despite the greater fame and fortune
that was theirs for the taking. They radically gave it all up
to go back to square one, back to the roots, to create something African for Africans,
to challenge the cultural imperialism of the west which still gripped the continent.
After two years of exhaustive research and hard practice,
Badou Jobe and the few musicians like Paps Touray and Ali Harb,
who had felt inspired to join, came back with unique new music,
born from their amazingly rich heritage.
They proudly coined their music the Afro Manding Sound
after the legendary Manding empire, cradle of the West African culture.
By 1973 the group had shed its eagles' feathers to reappear as Ifang Bondi ('Be yourself),
a fearsome Manding spirit that puts the newly initiated to the test and seeks out
evildoers within society. The band's first public performances were greeted with dismay
and disbelief by their devoted fans, who were outraged by the 'bush' sound of mbalax
and jambadongo rhythms, although the musicians had been careful
to hide the sabar (drums) under the British flag.(!)
At that time this type of music was considered to be played
only at weddings and family-gatherings and not for big audiences.
But bandleader Badou Jobe, veteran of an earlier bade against caste taboos
to become a musician in the first place, stuck by his guns through the sticks
and stones of this initial period. The only support at this time came from fellow musicians,
later to form Toure Kunda and Super Diamono,
who appreciated the Afro Manding Sound for the momentum
it was bound to give African music. Gradually their revolutionary ideas got accepted,
and this was the birth of the popular West African modern music
The role of Ifang Bondi has been pivotal - by rehabilitating the traditional musicians
they made people aware of their own heritage, and they offered new dimensions to African artists
in search of an authentic sound.
To rigorously deprive a devoted public of their pop idols,
the ultimate symbol of modern western cultureto induce them to set their own cultural values
and to get rid of the inferiority complex, a lingering legacy of colonialism,
had not been a venture for the faint-hearted. But in the end the effort proved to be worthwhile.
Ifang Bondi have achieved their goal - to create something African for Africans - beyond expectations.
Throughout the years, Ifang Bondi has continued to develop
its unique music which reflects the enormous variety and richness of authentic styles,
be it Wolof, Mandingo, Fula, Jola or other.
by Charles Easmon
by Charles Easmon