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Music in West Africa: Senegal Part I

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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{ 13 comments… add one }

  • Linda March 16, 2011, 4:32 pm

    I have had something of an obsession with Senegalese music too. There is absolutely nothing else like it for spreading joy, and the dancing is breathtaking. I’ve been lucky enough to go to lots of parties here which have turned into spontaneous dance and music fests. It’s the norm I think!! I always tell western friends the best parties are Senegalese —– and not a drop of alchohol to be seen! You just get high on the music and the atmosphere! I’ve also seen Yousou N’Dour and Ismäel Lo in concert, together with African friends, and to say that the atmosphere is electric is a huge understatement. My only moan so far is that I haven’t gotten there to see it “in situ” yet!

    Have a wonderful time. You don’t know how much I will be looking forward to reading about it!

    • phil March 18, 2011, 2:19 pm

      so awesome you got to see Youssou and Ismael!! Senegalese parties definitely prove that you don’t need alcohol to have a good time. Incredible dancing indeed. Sounds like you need to get yourself to Dakar 🙂

      • Linda March 18, 2011, 5:23 pm

        Oh I know I do! I’ve been trying to get there for about 3 years now, but things keep happening. This year all my spare cash is going to the dentist, the vet, the taxman and maybe doctors. It’s the place absolutely top of my list. I’ll probably get to the UK and to the other islands in this archipelago this year, but unlikely to be much further :=( It’s a case of so near and yet so far.

        • phil March 18, 2011, 11:14 pm

          I hear you. My financial future is very uncertain at the moment. Thankfully, I don’t have a lot of bills to take care of right now. Well, I hope you can get there some day soon!!

  • El Hadji Beye March 18, 2011, 5:51 pm

    Oh my goodness, Phil you had me rolling on that one…Baobab? You really went old school with that one. But anyhow, you are right Senegalese Music is pretty good and I’m not just saying that b/c I’m from there.

    I also like music from Mali, Zaire (Congo now), Ivory Coast and Guinea.
    Inquire about Ndongo Lo when you get to Senegal, he passed not long ago but he can sing really well.

    Enjoy your trip in Dakar and make sure to get in touch with me so I can have my relatives show you around the city once you get there.


    • phil March 18, 2011, 11:17 pm

      I love the old school stuff!!! A lot of my favorite music from Africa is post-independence period to 80’s or so. I like the contemporary stuff also of course, but for a guitar player like myself, there were some awesome things happening during those times. I also love the music from the places you mentioned. My previous posts in this series focused on Mali. Will be moving to Cote D’Ivoire next probably. 🙂 Thanks for the heads up about Ndongo Lo!!! I will definitely be getting in touch soon. Would love to meet your relatives!
      Be well,

  • Erica March 19, 2011, 5:43 am

    I really enjoy these music round ups you do! Not only can I hear new stuff but I have awesome music enjoy blogs with. <3

    • phil March 19, 2011, 1:44 pm

      Awesome. Glad you like them, Erica. There are a few more on the way 🙂

  • Matt March 19, 2011, 3:10 pm

    I really enjoyed this music and write-up Phil. I particularly enjoyed Orchestre Baobab. Looking forward to future music posts.

    • phil March 19, 2011, 4:21 pm

      Hey Matt, Orchestre Baobab is great stuff! Glad you are enjoying the series 🙂

  • Jennifer Barry March 21, 2011, 8:16 pm

    Hi Phil, I’m really enjoying this series. 🙂 These are very catchy. The first tune reminds me of La Bamba.

    Do you know what language(s) they are singing in?

    • phil March 22, 2011, 12:10 am

      Hey Jennifer, I’m happy to know you are digging the tunes! The songs are sung in Wolof 🙂
      B well,

  • Lian Caspi April 4, 2013, 9:03 pm

    I have a grant to study music therapy around the world. I stumbled upon your post and was wondering if you have any music contacts or ideas if I were to go to Senegal…
    Let me know! Thanks so much,
    ~Lian Caspi~

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