The Beginning

written by Ya Mallen Jagne

It was 2007. Waagan had just come home from the USA, exuberant and optimistic. He met a hibernating music scene which Xmyls and the newly formed Black Lynx movement was trying to resuscitate through their gigs and radio show. Waagan and Xmyls met through DJ Pisces and worked together in the AfricAlliance crew, organizing club parties. Their conversations would constantly revolve around a common passion, music, Gambia – Gambian music and the creation of a platform where none existed. At the time, Xmyls had already begun to transform his radio show from a mostly American hip-hop show to a strictly Gambian music show. That was something, but that wasn’t enough. So they thought and they talked and they thought some more. By the end of 2007 they had it all laid out. They would hold their very first open mic event at the Christian Council Hall. News got out through radio, flyers, and text messages and by word of mouth.

On the night of November 16 2007, the energy was electric, the air throbbed with anticipation. No one was exactly sure what to expect, perhaps not even the organizers. This concept was relatively new to The Gambia, it was a hope-driven experiment. A line-up of 10 acts pumped full of raw talent and energy got up on stage that night – most of these were names that were only starting out but will eventually become names that will dominate the Gambian music scene in the years to follow.

The first Open-Mic event was beyond expectation, setting the pace for what was to come. It took off, bringing together young Gambian musicians, lovers of Gambian music and music producers every fortnight, for five months. Then it got even better. Open Mic moved into the streets of urban Gambia, setting up stages and propping up sound systems every month, in random neighborhoods in Fajikunda, Banjul, Brikama, Pipeline, Manjai, Talinding (and the place that just popped into your head).

Monthly OpenMic Flyer from July 2009

This was like nothing ever seen before in The Gambia. It was a calculated step towards a greater vision – the annual “Open Mic Festival” (now compounded as OpenMicFest), a name which was settled on after much debate.

The first OpenMicFest happened on 26 November 2008. It brought together the best 10 acts from the previous open mic shows, sold over 800 tickets and left both the crowd and organizers hardly able to wait for the next one. In 2009, Jakaarlo, which had a 5000-person capacity, was so full that the crowd spilled out into the street. There were more people outside than inside the venue.

The next year, the festival was moved to the Independence Stadium, the only venue that could accommodate the rapidly growing Open Mic audience. The crowd hit 10,000 in 2012 and steadily grew each year after that, launching careers and forever changing the face of Gambian music.

Audience at #OMF2012 – Independence Stadium

In 2019, for the first time ever, the OpenMicFest opened its doors to international acts as an exchange platform (AfriCourage). This was made possible through partnership with the Goethe-Institut and brought in renowned musicians such as Baaba Maal, German composers Ensemble Moderne, Finnish duo Wimme and Rinne, Burkinabe HipHop artiste Smockey, Xuman & Keyti of Journal Rappe performing alongside Gambian artistes such as ST, Gee, Tata-Dinding, Jali-Madi Kanuteh, Killa-Ace, Jizzle and many others.

Yet another small step on the path of growth, an opening for Gambian Music industry to show itself off to the world.

OpenMicFest / AfriCourage 2019

This year’s festival will be different, as we, like the rest of the world, adjust to the special circumstances we find ourselves in. As you countdown with us to Open Mic 2020, stay healthy, watch out for your neighbor and listen to good music.


The Journey

From the Stands to the Center Stage – by Alieu “Arlvin” Ceesay

The Dream – View from the OMF2014 Stage

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.

Festival Crowd at #OMF 2014

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.

Jizzle performing at #OMF2019

The #OMF2019 “List”

A key highlight of the pre-festival activities is the release of the official performance line-up better known to fans as the “List”. The release of the List ranks high amongst the most anticipated aspects of the OpenMicFest experience.

We have no idea how it became referred to as such but for something that people have taken ownership of, it’s inevitable that we adopt terminologies crafted by the fans without knowing the origins.

This brings to mind the “Dem Rek” movement that started as an OpenMicFest campaign slogan and eventually, as with many things related to Gambian music, became a slogan for all. We credit the coinage of that term to Cherry Fatou Njie who suggested it in one of the OpenMicFest online forums.

So back to the List release. Its… About… To Go Down…

If you’ve lived it, you can definitely attest to the fact that it’s an experience laden with excitement and controversy as fans try to make justifications regarding who deserves to be on or shouldn’t be on. The debates centered around the List are a telling example of how close to their hearts, the people regard the event.

As we already know, #OMF2019 is scheduled to run for two consecutive nights for the first time in its 12 year history. Expect a very exciting line-up presenting Gambian music from the contemporary and urban to traditional and everything in between.

#OMF2019 presents homegrown talent on the biggest platform available to all, it also brings on board, artistes and musicians, DJs, sound engineers and broadcast journalists from halfway around the world as part of the AfriCourage to the Smiling Coast for the Gambian music and cultural experience.

Stay tuned for the announcements…

The Expansion is Here!

What has been a long time coming has finally arrived!

When a long held vision begins to clearly unravel and manifest into reality, there is the expected excitement but that also comes tinged with anxiety and countless what ifs. But what if we never decided to start hosting monthly Open Mics or the annual OpenMicFest. What if the event was still hosted at Jakarlo and never moved to the Independence Stadium? What if we never believed in the vision and the process to achieve it?

At Black Lynx Entertainment, it has always been part of the grand plan to extend the OpenMicFest beyond one night of entertainment. Here we are in 2019, steady working to give you an unforgettable experience.

The Gambia’s biggest venue, the Independence Stadium in Bakau, shall, from Friday 27th to Saturday 28th December, 2019 bear witness to this new chapter in the second coming of the Gambian music renaissance. Twelve years of successful programming and showcasing of Gambian talent has helped grow the #ThePeoplesEvent from a sideshow to becoming what is undoubtedly, by far, #GambiasBiggestEvent. We look forward to celebrating with you.

#OMF2019 is engaged in a collaborative project called AfriCourage in partnership with the Goethe Institut and the European Broadcasting Union (EBU). With AfriCourage, the OpenMicFest platform will for the first time ever, open up to international performers. The LIVE broadcast by the EBU’s member organizations is expected to draw in a much sought-after non-Gambian audience. The AfriCourage project is also bringing in sound technicians / engineers, journalists, broadcasters on a knowledge exchange and skills transfer mission. The team will be hosting hands-on training workshops to that effect.

In keeping with tradition, programming for Night 1 will capture the spirit and essence of what the OpenmMicFest was built on, the much anticipated All-Gambian line-up. This showcase has for the past 11 years, attracted more attendees than any other event in The Gambia approximating 12,000 to 15,000 fans. This looks set to double with the introduction of a second night.

Night 2 will feature AfriCourage programming with a diverse repertoire as it is meant to give an international face to the festival. The billing will feature a mix of some of the best known Gambian artistes alongside a host of acts from West Africa and Europe. DJ’s will also be included in the line-up for the first ever so expect a real party atmosphere. Stay tuned for the release of the official line-up.