"The base of all music in Senegal is traditional," says Baaba Maal, one of the finest contemporary musical artists in Africa; and, traditional Senegalese music may be the foundation for much of the music of the Western world. Aficionados of country blues, calypso, reggae, beguine, and rap, whether or not they recognise it, hear echoes of the musical rhythms of the land of Teranga, the gateway to Africa
Existing traditional Senegalese rhythms, such as the Yela, which come from the old Empire and predate all colonialization of Senegal, still resound thanks to musicians such as Baaba Maal. Senegalese kings used Yela to call the people of the Empire together so that they could listen to important events.
Yela is the music of women, as it mimics the sound they made when pounding grain. When performing the Yela, some women would hit the stressed third beat on their calabashes, while others carried the weaker first beat by clapping their hands. It is the Yela Jimmy Cliff heard when he visited Dakar; and it is reputed to be the primary influence for the development of reggae in the Caribbean.
Some of the traditional musical instruments still being used to make music in Senegal are the twenty-one stringed kora, the violin-like riti, the hoddu and the seven-stringed African guitar.
Asly Fouta, a group of seventy musicians, is, according to Baaba Maal, "a university for the traditional African music" being central to the education of many great music makers. It is with this group that many have learnt to play most or all of the traditional instruments.
Today, the Pekan songs of the northern fisherman, the Gumbala chants of ancient warriors, the Dilere ditties of weavers plaiting their threads, and Yela sung by women, can still be heard, beautifully integrated with the modern musical rhythms. Music in Senegal carries the country's art, history, and dance all wrapped up in one. To know Senegal, and to understand some of it's impact on the rest of the world, listen to its beautiful music.
Many occasions are pretexts for a dance party: after a wrestling victory, after the harvest, at a baptism, etc. Dance and wrestling parties offer a magnificent opportunity for singles, lovers and friends to meet in their best presentation. Usually, every suburb, village or age group has some kind of organizing committee.
The most important things are the date, the band, and the invited patrons. The date, because some days are not allowed, for instance there are no dances during the farming season. The band is a group of at least 3 professional drummers, ordinarily between 5 and 7. Sometimes, another instrument, African or European joins them. The venue is a sandy area in the middle of the village or at some crossroads in the town. The youngest sit on the sand in the inner circle. Behind them, the women sit on chairs and benches, or stand up. Finally, on the outer circle, men stand up. Boys and females do the clapping, sometimes using wood or metal clappers. The band plays at a corner of the inner circle, facing the most distinguished patrons dressed in their best clothes, and who will give money to them and to the best dancers.
The dancers relay each other almost continuously, in a jubilant disorder. Normally, only women, girls and young boys dance, but men usually dance in the Wolof country. Elsewhere, in the South and the East, religious and age related ceremonies, such as initiations, will offer the opportunity for men and boys in their teens.
Mohamed Mbodj Associate Professor
New York NY 10027