Music in West Africa: Senegal Part I

by phil on March 16, 2011

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Previously, I covered Malian music: Part I, Part II, Part III, and Part IV.

In April, I will visit Senegal for the first time. While it will be my first trip there, I have long been familiar, and occasionally obsessed with, Senegalese music.

The dominant genre in Senegal is Mbalax, a blend of traditional polyrhythms and praise singing with Afro-Cuban and Haitian Kompa music. Much of Africa’s most celebrated contemporary music is a result of rhythms taking on new life in the Caribbean and Brazil and then making their way back to Africa. Mbalax is no exception.

These songs explore the roots of the genre.

Orchestre Baobab

This multi-ethnic super group took every musical style that was popular in Senegal at the time (Mandinga, Wolof Griot music, Afro-Cuban, Casamance) and combined them. Turns out, it was a really good idea.



10 seconds of this song will put a smile on your face. Listen to the whole thing for full out therapy. These guys reunited in 2001 and they still tour every now and then. Check out their myspace page here.

Étoile de Dakar

Another super group. In fact, many of the members later joined Orchestre Baobab. The leading member of Étoile de Dakar was Youssou N’Dour, now a giant in the African and world music scene.


This song is one of my favorites from this group and all of Senegal for that matter. The guitar tones alone are reason to live.

One more treasure from Étoile de Dakar. Early signs of Youssou N’Dour’s stardom all over this song.

Coumba Gawlo

I will be setting aside some space for Youssou N’Dour, but I wanted to make sure I got at least one female vocalist in this post. Senegal doesn’t have as many prominent female singers as Mali, but there are some big stand outs. Coumba Gawlo is one of them. This song, Bine Bine, is full on Mbalax music and it’s wonderful.


I will be featuring more music from Senegal in the coming posts, but in between I’m going to post about my upcoming trip (I leave April 6th!) and what I have in the works right now.

Also, Clyde the Camel is hosting a contest over on howtodrawcamels.com that you may want to check out.

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