Free The System!

31/10/20Dutch/Gambian/Senegalese Collective DANDANA Releases Positive, Mbalax- And Synth-Powered New Album

"It's the year 2020. The world has been in lockdown. The system has failed and the future is unknown. Only imagination will be the path to everywhere. It's time to set the system free!" There, now we've set the tone to DANDANA's latest album "Free The System!" that released on Rebel Up Records back in September. The album was preceded by an eponymous EP single in June, accompanied by an eye-opening music video. We made sure to add the single to our "Greedy for June" Spotify playlist, curious to see what the album would have in hold for us. Needless to say, it did not disappoint. 

DANDANA is a musical collective with members hailing from the Netherlands, Senegal and The Gambia, blending rhythms and grooves from West Africa to mesmerising effect. Their sound is a contemporary amalgam, "combining traditional instruments from [the Senegambian region] such as sabar, xalam and balafon with percussion, electronic drum pads and a range of vintage synthesizers," that verges on the psychedelic. Their songs are edgy and reconciliatory at once, "an ode to those who dared to stand up and create a different sound, the griots of the Gambia and the synth space travellers of the '60s, '70s and '80s", as they try to bridge the manifest gap between today's older and younger generations.

Founded by Bas Ackermann (NL), bass, keyboards, synthesizers), DANDANA includes percussionist and singer/songwriter Ebou Gaye Madafrom (GMB), drummer Jackson Loman (NL), composer and keyboard player Modou Joof (GMB), guitarist Filly Dioma (SEN) and jazz bass student Joop de Graaf (NL). With Ackermann and Joof in charge of compositions, most of the album was recorded in The Gambia and Senegal and produced alongside Tijmen van Wagenringen. 

"'Free The System!' is about the gap between the older generation and the younger generation. The old system can’t easily deal with young or new ideas. This system needs to be changed, we have to free ourselves from it," the liner notes read. Indeed, DANDANA are on a mission to propagate friendship and new ideas, to broaden our musical horizon and channel positivity through music, as we face these trying and uncertain times head on. 

The album's seven tracks ebb and flow marvellously behind driving Mbalax rhythms and vintage synthesizer sounds: "Yo Lor Chi Ham" is Wolof for 'what do you know' and challenges people to question their own opinions. "Guelewar" derives its name from the eponymous, highly influential Gambian psych group, but is also an ode to late Senegalese film director Ousmane Sember and features blind Gambian singer Pa Mboob. "Ndanka Ndanka" – which is also accompanied by a gorgeous music video – means 'easy easy' in Wolof and reflects the mentality of taking things day by day. "Baye Fall" is an interlude voiced by a local Baye Fall singer from Serekunda (GMB). "Mon Afrique" is about experiencing beautiful Africa as a whole and the Senegambian region specifically. "Ever Living" is a peaceful ode to Dutch/Surinam and African art-inspired artist Guido Johanns (Studio Afric) who passed away in 2019. And, finally, "Free The System" invokes our capacity for wonder where childlike imagination brings creativity and happiness.

You can stream the full album and/or watch the companion video to "Free The System" below.

              AUTHOR: Lev Nordstrom