Senegalese fans of praise singer Thione Ballago Seck were stunned and confounded over the recent arrest of their musical icon associated with Senegal’s religious heroes. Police who raided Seck’s luxury home said he was hiding 50 million in counterfeit euro notes at the time of his arrest.
According to the police account, Seck sat down on a large gray sack stuffed with bank notes in his living room when police arrived and refused to get up until persuaded with “fierce exhortations”, according to the arresting officers’ report.
Seck was the nation’s second-ranking star after famed singer Youssou N’Dour. He came from a family of griots or traditional praise singers and was once a lead singer in Dakar’s legendary Orchestra Baobab, which fused soulful Afro-Cuban rhythms with the brassy sound of saxophones.
Media reports described near chaos as the singer was brought to court. “Cries echoed everywhere,” wrote L’Observateur. “Tears broke the electric silence at the Dakar Criminal Court’s entrance.”
In addition to the tears, rumors of influence-peddling on behalf of the celebrity prisoner have circulated. “Members of government, and members of the president’s cabinet, with no regard for the sacredness of their duties or respect for the principles of the Republic, have even been down to Police Headquarters to try to extract Thione (pronounced “John”) Seck from prison,” the local paper charged.
But as Seck’s fans in Senegal lamented his arrest, there were cheers in neighboring Gambia where Seck’s close relationship with the Gambian leader, Pres. Yahya Jammeh, has hurt his popularity.
Jammeh is widely considered a repressive leader whose treatment of the opposition and media has been condemned by rights groups.
According to Reporters Without Borders , there is “absolute intolerance of any form of criticism” in The Gambia, with death threats, surveillance and arbitrary night-time arrests the daily lot of journalists “who do not sing the government’s praises”.
Last year, Jammeh shook up the rights community when he announced that all prisoners on death row would be executed, ending a moratorium that had been in place for 27 years. Nine prisoners were executed, including a former army lieutenant who had planned a coup against Jammeh in 1997.
This year he issued a warning to the homosexual community, threatening to “slit their throats” if apprehended. “If you are a man and want to marry another man in this country and we catch you, no one will ever set eyes on you again, and no white person can do anything about it,” the online newspaper VICE reported Tuesday.
Writing a comment on the online Gambian publication, Banjul Focus, one Sambujang Kinteh wrote: “I vividly remember when Thione Seck was asked to be mindful of the legitimate feelings of the poor and suffering Gambian peoples in his dealings with Jammeh, he rudely snapped that no one should tell him what to do and he would continue to praise sing whomsoever he chooses.”
“Let Thione Seck now face the music.”