| Take a trip through West Africa. Start along Senegal's "smiling coast,"
and travel overland past villages full of cows, chickens, round,
thatched-roof huts and local farmers hard at work. When the road edges the
shores of the Gambia River, travel east, up-river through The Gambia's hot dry
countryside, to rejoin Senegal at its frontier with Mali. At the border
town of Kayes, catch the train to dusty Bamako, Mali's capitol and
one of the richest musical cities in Africa. From there, travel north on the
slow, meandering Niger River past the cliff-dwellings of the mysterious
Dogon people and the ancient market city of Djene to arrive at the fabled
outpost of Timbuktu, at the southern edge of the Sahara Desert.
Then move south from Bamako, out of the dry Sahel and into the rugged, green mountains of Guinea's Fouta Djallon. At the bustling port city of Conakry, head north along the Atlantic coast, into "Portuguese" Guinea Bissau where tropical rain forests, cool breezes and sandy beaches await you. Along the way, soak in the rich variety of traditional music played by the Bambara, Mandinka, Sousou, Fulani, Jola, Wolof and many other peoples. [Click here to see reference map]
The Mandinka are especially famous for their jalis or griots, traditional historians, praise singers and master musicians. Among the instruments they play to accompany their epics and songs is the 21-string kora.
|Many Mandinka live in The Gambia.
This small, former British colony
stretches along either side of the River Gambia, which extends
295 miles inland from the Atlantic Ocean. The Gambia is
surrounded on three sides by French-speaking Senegal.
Every day, people travel north from Banjul (Gambia's capitol) to Senegal's large cosmopolitan capitol city, Dakar. Starting early in the morning, you take the ferry from Banjul, crossing the Gambia River to reach the north bank.
As you leave the ferrry at Barra, you join a stream of travelers crowding into busses and minivans. Drivers hustle to fill every last space before departing on the all-day journey to Dakar.
Ferry crossing at the River Gambia.
|The Casamance, Senegal's lushest region, is just over Gambia's southern border. In the Gambian village-town Brikama (home to many kora jeli families like Konte, Jobarteh and Suso) you can get transport to the small fishing village of Kafountine, just one of many tourist destinations in the Casamance. This is the homeland of the Jola people, known for their boukaribou drumming style and their flashy dance moves. Throughout these travels, you traverse ancient and modern histories as diverse as the changing landscape. In Gambia, English is the official language. In Guinea Bissau, it's Portuguese. In Senegal, Mali and Guinea it's French. These colonial languages simplify life for travelers and West Africans share literally hundreds of dialects and most speak at least a little of four or five languages. The more languages you speak, the more you can travel.|
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