From the Stands to the Center Stage – by Alieu “Arlvin” Ceesay
One of the biggest things a man can have is his dreams; and every great dream starts with a dreamer…
It was a weekend in late November 2014 and the news had already spread around town. The billboards were up, flyers were being distributed, ads were running on every radio frequency, it was trending on the internet and the only topic at the “Campeh” was about that year’s impending OpenMicFest. The excitement ran across the coast of the country, finding its way into the hinterland as expectations were high for that year’s event. In addition to looking forward to the more established acts, the prospect of watching new coming-of-age acts on the platform was high on the agenda.
Everyone was anxiously waiting for the list to come out so they’d see their favorite artists on it. If the artiste in question didn’t make the official bill, then it was inevitable that their fans will take to the internet and other mediums to ask questions and debate about the eligibility of the different artists that were on that list. As controversial as it gets, this is expected as far as the OpenMicFest is concerned because everyone wants to see their favorite artiste showcased.
The OpenMicFest is the people’s event, it is the biggest event in The Gambia. This is our version of Glastonbury. Our Summerfest. This is our Coachella. Performing at the OpenMicFest is one of the biggest dreams of every young artist in The Gambia. It is one of the biggest pedestals you could find yourself on as an entertainer in The Gambia and the journey to achieving that could be an intriguing one.
In the midst of all the celebrations and controversy surrounding the list for the 2014 OpenMicFest, was a young man who felt low. This is his story.
This young artiste, who after performing at several monthly hood-hood open mic shows and after asking family, friends and the fans he had then to send text messages to a phone number belonging to one of the organisers to nominate him for that year’s list, was still not chosen and that made him really sad.
Jizzle, like hundreds of other young talents, had a dream to perform on the OpenMicFest stage. To him this was going to be his biggest achievement but unfortunately for him, it turned out that he had to attend the OpenMicFest just as a regular fan and watch the show from the stands. That year, there was an electric wave in the crowd, of good vibes, great songs and masterclass performances.
After that night, Jizzle knew he had a task, he knew he needed to put in the work and put on some extra muscle to be on the biggest stage in a Gambian musician’s career with tens of thousands of people singing your songs word for word. The young artist was ready for what was ahead, he released songs that played in every store, every hood, every market place and on everyone’s audio players. He released amazing visuals and also pulled off a sold out show that year. The streets sang his praises and his name quickly grew and he was finally getting the recognition that he so desired.
When the official list came out in 2015, as expected by most fans, his name was on it. While his fans celebrated joyfully, it was a moment of mixed emotions for the young artist. He was not only filled with excitement that he was finally going up on that stage on his own and not as a backing or support artist like the previous years but with the fears of not delivering to expectation in front of tens of thousands of fans.
On the night of the 2015 OpenMicFest, in the presence of tens of thousands of fans, uncountable waving hands and a great amount of echoing voices. The young artist Jizzle brought his heart and might, sang until he couldn’t sing no more, danced his feet sore and left the stage while the entire Bakau stadium chanted his name.
It was from that very moment that he knew this was his home.