You may already be a fan of Senegalese music, or you may well already be a fan of Senegalese music without realising it. For a relatively small country they have produced a startling amount of fabulous music, and much that has crossed over the ‘world music’ divide into the consciousness of Western musical audiences.
A few names for you: Youssou N’Dour, Baaba Maal, Orchestra Baobab – and these are just the artists that have made that crossover; you’ll find that music is such a presence in Senegal, and such a crucial part of the very fabric of life that it will form a soundtrack to your holiday, a soundtrack for your memories.
One form of traditional Senegalese music is based around a system of polyrhythmic drumming, usually on the tama (or talking drum), a single-faced drum with strips of leather fixed to the skin and base. The drum is usually played under one arm and by squeezing the drum casing the player affects the pitch and tone. This style has been adapted by Youssou N’Dor to include a funkier, Latin-based sound (known as the mbalax), and is truly irresistible.
There is also the gentler traditional folk music, which is played on string instruments such as the impossibly complicated kora. This is generally played by griots. The role the griots fill is a vital one to the community as they are at once repositories of cultural and historical knowledge, genealogists, and frequent social commentators; and they are called upon to remember ancient songs and narratives and even invent songs around recent social events. There is also a strand of folk music which is based around polyphony (‘many voices’) – a style influenced by the Islamic Marabouts that came to this area in the early part of the last millennium.