To celebrate Juneteenth — a national celebration which actually marks June 18-19, 1865, when slaves were emancipated in Texas — the Ships of the Sea Museum is putting on a global block party.
Savannah, Georgia, meet hip hop from Senegal, West Africa.
The Gokh–Bi System (it’s pronounced Go–BEE) performs, with akonting master Sana Ndiaye, on a makeshift stage in the SOS parking lot, on the corner of Martin Luther King Boulevard and W. Bryan Street.
The akonting is a three–stringed African instrument, the forerunner of the banjo, traditionally made from gourds and animal skins.
It’s a familiar sight and sound at the Ships of the Sea Museum. For four years, director Tony Pizzo has been bringing Ndiaye in for performances, and for akonting–making workshops. In fact, he’ll conduct a workshop Friday, the day before the parking lot concert.
“It’s virtually impossible to get an akonting that’s been made in Senegal or Gambia, for a number of reasons,” says Pizzo, who came here from Vermont in 2001. “You’re almost forced to make one out of available materials, or have an instrument maker or a craftsman make it for you.
“It doesn’t do you very much good to know about the instrument without having something to play. I look upon what we make as kind of student–model akontings.”
Sana Ndiaye is one of the few, if not the only, America–based akonting players who was actually trained in the old style, among the Jola people in Senegal.
Born in the village of Djembering, Ndiaye first played akonting as a small boy. “Sana was taught by his grandfather, in the traditional fashion,” says Pizzo. “He was playing akonting and doing traditional songs, and when he moved to Dakar, when he was younger, his friends were interested in hip hop.”
Mamadou Ndiaye, Diasse Pouye and Pape Bathie Pouye were neighborhood chums in Pikine Guinaw Rail, a neighborhood in Dakar. They picked up American hip hop through imported cassette tapes, and – like so many others, in virtually every corner of the world – they began freestyling, and then creating their own lyrics to go with the beats, blending English, French, Arabic and several other Senegalese dialects including Wolof (the country’s official language).
They call themselves the Gokh–Bi System; their lyrical message is one of positivity and hopefulness. Sana Ndiaye was brought in when it was decided to add a more traditional African sound.
The Gokh–Bi System also includes Backa Niang on percussion and vocals, drummer Matt Garstka, bassist/keyboardist Joe Sallins and guitarist Greg Garstka. There’s usually an African dancer or two in the crew, too.
Pizzo has become an expert on the akonting, its African history and the revival of interest in it amongst aficionados of world music.
This new hip hop/akonting blend has him worked up. “You’ve got an instrument that came over at one point in the past, to America, and eventually became an instrument that we’re familiar with,” he says.
With Sana Ndiaye
Where: Ships of the Sea Museum, 41 MLK Blvd. (parking lot at MLK and Bryan), Bring sunscreen, headgear and water.
When: 5 p.m. Saturday, June 19
Opening Ceremony featuring Aunt Pearlie Sue, June 14, 6:30 pm, Telfair Academy
Tour/Talk: “How the Owens-Thomas House got the Thomas Name”, June 15, 5 pm, Telfair’s Owens-Thomas House
Lecture by Farai Chideya June 17, 7 pm
Second African Baptist Church
Akonting Workshop, June 18, 6 pm, Ships of the Sea Museum
Juneteenth Family Day, June 19, 10 am–1 pm, Telfair’s Jepson Center:
10-10:10 am Welcome – Majied /J’miah
10:10-10:50 am – J’miah’s Storytelling
Carolyn Guilford, Consulting Nutritionist
11:10am-11:40 am –Puppet People
11:40 am-12 pm – World Music Interlude: “Hanif aboard the Black Star Liner”
12-12:30 pm - Sana and Tony Pizzo
12:30 pm – World Music Interlude and Broom Jumping with Sista V and Jahwalks