base of all music in Sénégal is traditional," says
Baaba Maal, one of the finest contemporary musical
artists in Africa; and, traditional Sénégalese 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 Sénégalese rhythms, such as the Yela, which come from the old Empire and predate all colonialization of Sénégal, still resound thanks to musicians such as Baaba Maal. Sénégalese 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 Sénégal 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 Sénégal carries the country's art, history, and dance all wrapped up in one. To know Sénégal, and to understand some of it's impact on the rest of the world, listen to its beautiful music.