Galaxy is a Finland based band playing a mix of Senegalese mbalax (a local genre of pop music) and international pop music styles. The band was formed in 1992 by three Senegalese musicians residing in Finland: singer and saxophonist Rane Diallo, bassist Pape Sarr and tama drummer Yamar Thiam. They all had come to Finland as members of the band Asamaan that had been formed by Finnish rock guitarist Hasse Walli, consisting entirely of Senegalese musicians except for Walli himself. The first line-up of Galaxy included three Finnish musicians, but soon drummer Ousseynou Mbaye and guitarist Libasse Sall were invited from Senegal to join the band in Finland. All of the band members were well known musicians in the pop music scene of Dakar before their arrival in Finland.
In the early 1990’s Galaxy recorded three cassettes that were only released in Senegal. Their first CD Nobeel was published by Global Music Centre (a publicly funded institute) in 1997. It was well received and got high ratings e.g. in the British world music magazine Folk Roots. Especially in the late 1990’s Galaxy performed regularly in Helsinki, being at that time one of the very few bands playing African style pop music in Finland. The band has also toured widely in different jazz and world music festivals, mostly in the Nordic countries and Estonia. They have also performed, taught and presented Senegalese culture to children, after participating in a pilot project aiming to introduce multi-cultural music education into Finnish schools.
From the mid-1990’s Galaxy members have also been performing under the name Galaxy Drums or Senegalese Drums, playing only traditional sabar and tama drums. This percussion ensemble has been collaborating many well-known Finnish musicians and bands: In 1994/95 they toured together with jazz guitarist Raoul Björkenheim’s band as Krakatau & Senegal Drums. In 1998 they recorded an album and toured with jazz saxophonist Eero Koivistoinen. The collaboration with Eero Koivistoinen continued with Koivistoinen producing Galaxy’s second CD L’Insécurité. Galaxy members also featured as percussionists on the album Brooklyn – Dakar (1999) by Pelle Miljoona, a legendary Finnish punk rocker who nowadays plays reggae.
In August 2003 Galaxy Drums appeared as one of the guest stars in the “Global Balalaika Show” of the Leningrad Cowboys on the Senate Square in Helsinki. Leningrad Cowboys is a cartoonlike Finnish rock band created originally by film director Aki Kaurismäki for his film Leningrad Cowboys go America (1989). The other guests of “Global Balalaika Show” included e.g. the Red Army Air Force Ensemble from Russia, singer Angelique Kidjo from Benin and UMO Jazz Orchestra from Finland. This huge open-air concert was also released as CD and DVD later the same year.
Galaxy’s second CD L’Insécurité was published after a long recording process in 2003, and the next the band was chosen to perform in a Scandinavian showcase program in WOMEX (World Music Expo). In 2005 Galaxy was awarded the Finland Prize of the Finnish Ministry of Culture – the highest governmental prize in the field of art, given to a few artists each year as recognition for a significant artistic career. Despite the visibility of the band, Galaxy has been struggling for finding opportunities to perform. For years the biggest obstacle has been the lack of a capable manager. Also the band’s location in Finland has not been favorable when it comes to touring, especially compared to bands based in Central Europe.
Since 2004 Galaxy members have participated in the band/project Groovy Eldorado led by Alvar Gullichsen, who is better known as a painter. Groovy Eldorado is actually a performance art project for which a band with a very flexible line-up was created, playing funk and reggae with African influences.
In recent years, Galaxy has not been performing very often. They are planning a new CD, which will hopefully also increase the demand for concerts. One of their latest projects as a band has been a concert called “Sufi Music Night” together with the Finnish-Turkish band Nefes in 2008. Lately several Galaxy members have been involved in the project Hum’balax led by saxophonist Sakari Kukko, a world music pioneer and one of the first Finnish musicians to be influenced by Senegalese music. The principal idea of the project is to mix old Finnish dance music (humppa) with Senegalese mbalax, but it also includes a singer from the Philippines.
Galaxy has always been a characteristically Senegalese band, both in the style of music they play and for the origins of its members. On the other hand, the band has frequently collaborated with other bands and musicians playing a diversity of musical styles. All band members have their own individual projects and collaborations; some are also working in other fields alongside of music making.
Pape Sarr (born in Dakar, Senegal, 1958) is the leader of Galaxy and responsible for many of the compositions in the band’s repertoire. Besides playing in Galaxy and other bands, he has been active in teaching Senegalese drumming to children and adults, e.g. in the Central Helsinki Music School and in courses offered by the multicultural art centre Kassandra. He has been involved in the activities of Kassandra in other ways as well, most importantly creating and performing music for theatre pieces such as Zambesi (2008–2009) and Antigone (2011).
Yamar Thiam (born in Malla, Senegal, 1962) comes from a family of tama (‘talking drum’) players and thus was practically born a musician. For Galaxy he has created pieces that present the rhythmic complexity of traditional Senegalese music in a form that is appealing also to a Western pop music audience. Apart from Galaxy, he is also a member in a band called Lyyran tähtikuvio ja Vega, a folk music band that interprets Finnish poetry with their own compositions. In addition to several Finnish musicians and bands, he has been collaborating for years with the Turkish virtuoso percussionist Okay Temiz, who also lived in Finland in the 1990’s. The city of Alajärvi, where Thiam lives, awarded him its annual cultural prize in 2006.
Rane Diallo (born in Rufisque, Senegal, 1951) is still famous in Senegal because of his participation in the band Étoile de Dakar, which is widely considered to be the band that created the style of music that later became known as mbalax. In Galaxy he is responsible for the song lyrics, singing mostly in Wolof (the majority language in Senegal).
Libasse Sall (born in Dakar, Senegal, 1965) is together with Pape Sarr the main composer and arranger for Galaxy. He has also featured as guitarist and bass player in other bands, such as the internationally successful pop/rock/rap project Beats and Styles lead by Finnish DJ’s Alimo and Control. He also appeared in a recent line-up of Arnold Chiwalala & co.
Ousseynou Mbaye (born in Dakar, Senegal, 1970) has been active in several multicultural music groups, such as Stilimba and Amura. Stilimba plays an original mix of West African and South American styles of music with lyrics in various languages. Amura brings together musicians of different origins to play together Finnish children’s and folk songs in new arrangements. The band was initiated by the Global Music Centre and the Music for Young People Association, and it was invited to perform at the 2008 children’s party in the Presidential Palace, a yearly event initiated by President Tarja Halonen.
In addition to the core group of the above mentioned five Galaxy members, the line-up has over the years included other Finland based Senegalese musicians, such as percussionist Ismaila Sané, singer Meissa Niang, kora player and percussionist Malang Cissokho, and bass/keyboard player Ndioba Gueye. There has however been continuous although limited participation by musicians of other origins, mostly from Finland but also from elsewhere. For several years the keyboard player of Galaxy was Goran Mrdja, from former Yugoslavia, who has lately often been replaced by Ghanaian Kofi Ata. In addition such changes in the band’s regular line-up, Galaxy has often invited guest musicians to join them on stage in their concerts.
Galaxy: Nobeel (1997), Global Music Centre. GMCD 9705.
Galaxy: L’Insécurité (2003), Global Music Centre. GMCD 0308.
Participation of band members e.g. in:
Eero Koivistoinen: Eero Koivistoinen & Senegalese Drums (1998), EK-Production. PROCD 009.
Leningrad Cowboys: Global Balalaika Show (2003), Leningrad Cowboys. LC 001.
Pelle Miljoona & Rockers: Brooklyn – Dakar (1999), Pyramid. RAMCD 3104.
Hasse Walli & Asamaan: Modern Mbalax (1989), Olarin Musiikki. OMLP 21.
Hasse Walli & Asamaan: African Sky (1990), Olarin Musiikki. OMCD 29.
Stilimba: Dale Stilimba (2006), Global Music Centre. GMCD 0613.
Sakari Kukko & Humbalax: Paratiisi (2011), RockAdillo. ZENCD 2139.