Root of the Sound

Mathew Davis - Senegal


December 19, 2009

I recently went to a naming ceremony for my next door neighbor’s newborn. The ceremony in Wolof is called Ngente. There was an extreme amount of rice an even more people. I had never seen so many plastic chairs in my life. All the men were huddled to one side talking about something. But like most things in Wolof it seemed intense. I have been here for a while now so people know. Once everybody heard I was there I quickly became the center  of attention. I was bombarded by questions about life in the US. I kept up in French pretty well but kind of fumbled in Wolof but it was ok.

While we were talking and laughing the women were gathering around some turn tables under a tent made from an old promotional banner for Cadillac. When I was about to leave the States I would spend countless hours watching Sabar drumming and dancing online and be blown away by the artistry. But I knew sabar online couldn’t do sabar justice. Soon the music started and the women one by one started dancing. Sabar has a rich tradition in Senegal with women in particular. It is a means by which they express their sexuality. And I was told that men who can dance sabar, dance sabar but those who can’t don’t.

Different types of music spawn from Senegal: one is sabar, which is only drumming and another is mbalax, which has the same drums but is accompanied by other instruments. Mbalax is similar to Afro Beat from Nigeria. Youssou N’dour is the most famous mbalax artist in Senegal and probably the most famous artist in West Africa. I have been to two of his concerts and had the time of my life, but it was different then the music here.

I say that because the village is the root of the sound so the music and even the dances have a different swagger to them. As apart of my internship I will study with a Griot to learn the oral tradition and drumming of Senegal so I’m excited to start.

Mathew Davis