Sunday, February 7, 2016

Information About Senegalese Gewels (Griots), Mbalax, & Senegalese Hip Hop)

Edited by Azizi Powell

This is Part II of a three part series about Senegalese baby naming ceremonies/parties (ngentes; also found as nguentes and nguenté.

Part II provides information about gewel (griots), Mbalax, and Senegalese Hip Hop. These topics are larger than the subject of "ngentes". However, the information that is found in this post helps provide background for those non-Senegalese watching the video entitled "Nguente" that is showcased in Part III of this pancocojams series.

Click for Part I of this series. Part I presents excerpts from one book and two blog posts about Senegalese baby naming ceremonies/parties.

Click for Part III of this series. Part III showcases a Senegalese video of "Nguenté" by Fata (also known as "El Presidente") featuring Mbaye Dieye & Waly Seck.

Selected comments from that YouTube video's discussion thread are also included in that post. Many of those comments are written in French or in Spanish. Google translate translations to English of those comments are also given in this post.

The content of this post is presented for cultural purposes.

All copyrights remain with their owners.

"Origin of the word "griot" = "1955-60; < French, earlier guiriot, perhaps ultimately < Portuguese criado domestic servant, altered in W African coastal creoles" ** From
..."Senegalese songs are usually unwritten, and certain instruments or musical styles are reserved for specific genders or age groups. In the past, only griots could perform music. Their traditional role was transmitting oral history, genealogies and social rankings, diplomacy, and storytelling. Today, griots continue to participate in naming ceremonies, weddings, and funerals."...

"History Of Griots
Prior to the wide spread of hip hop in Senegal, traditional music was transcended through pre-ordained griots. The term griot, also known as gewel, can be defined as, "… traditional praise-singer, musician, social go-between, counselors, or dancer and acrobat," [3] These individuals were born into, "endogamous, professionally specialized group often referred to as a 'caste'." [3] Their position in Senegal society was that of much importance for griots were are also known for their abilities as oral specialist who, "…had to guarantee not only the survival of their people as a culturally and historically defined group, but also the social status of the nobles they were attached to." [3] Griots were culturally responsible for knowing their genealogies in speaking and in song, to recite for the nobles.

Through they were not considered "upper-class", they were given food, clothing, jewels, land and slaves for their work. "While they could attain high individual status through their work and their social behaviors, their social status as a group was low. They depended economically on the nobles who paid them for their services, they could not attain positions of political power, and they were not allowed to bear arms…" [3] Understanding their role in society is understanding the importance of expression in Senegal. As historians, entertainers, and musicians, griots were influential in many ceremonies, such as weddings, funerals, births, religious parades, and politics, for they used song and speech to recite important information with the usage of praise songs."
This excerpt is reformmated for this post to enhance reading clarity.

Note that the Wolof word for "griots" is "gewel". Also note that both males and females can be gewel (griots).

"Mbalax (or Mbalakh) is the national popular dance music of Senegal and the Gambia. Mbalax is a fusion of popular Western music and dance such as jazz, soul, Latin, and rock blended with sabar, the traditional drumming and dance music of Senegal. The genre's name derived from the heavy use of accompanying rhythms used in sabar called mbalax.

History and influence
Mbalax (meaning rhythm in the Wolof language), is a type of music that traces some of its technique to the conservative and the religious Serer music tradition of Njuup (the progenitor of Mbalax), developed in Senegal in the early 1970s. Like many other francophone West African countries the Senegalese popular music scene was partially influenced by soul, blues, jazz, R&B, and rock from the United States, varieté from France, Congolese rumba, and Latin pop from the Caribbean and New York (e.g., pachanga, son, charanga, salsa, and Latin jazz) .[citation needed] In this mix of African diasporic sounds Senegalese fans and musicians wanted their own urban popular dance music so they began singing in Wolof (Senegal's lingua franca) instead of French, and incorporated rhythms of the indigenous sabar drum (see Mangin[1]). Dancers began using moves associated with the sabar, and tipping the singers as if they were traditional griots.

Among the bands that played this new style, Etoile de Dakar (starring Youssou N'Dour and El Hadji Faye), and Raam Daan (starring Thione Seck), Xalam II, and Super Diamono. Since becoming popular, both Mbalax and its associated dance have spread to other regions such as Mali, Mauritania, Ivory Coast and France. This dissemination has come about through radio, audio cassettes and televised video clips.

Mbalax instrumentation includes keyboards, synths and other electronic production methods. However, it is the Nder (lead drum), the Sabar (rhythm drum), and the Tama (talking drum) percussion, and widely influenced African and Arabic vocalistic stylings that continue to make Mbalax one of the most distinctive forms of dance music in west Africa and the diaspora"....
Read the excerpt about griots above.

Thione Seck is the father of Waly Seck who is featured in the video that is showcased in Part III of this series.

Click the "Mbalax" tag below for pancocojams posts on that music genre. Among those posts is and

"Senegalese hip hop began to emerge in the early 1980s. When hip hop first hit the scene in Africa, it went from merely being a fad, to a more social and political movement. Amongst the most influential leaders of this movement were artists from the country of Senegal. With the modernization of the country, and the rise in media, the youth of Senegal were able to embrace a new form of expression. One of the main reasons why hip hop has become preeminent in Senegal is due to its mixture of sound and culture. "Senegal's hip hop scene is distinctive and its artist extremely talented. The country has a history of strong musical traditions..." [1] Moreover, hip hop has not only become an aspect of life for the Senegalese people, but more importantly has translated to a way of life, gathering influence from the musical expression prior to its rise in Senegal, and understanding their past as it pertains heavily to its socially present state within music...

Modern Griots and Modern Music[edit]

After World War II, there was a rise in the night club scene where more diverse forms of music began to be played by foreigners. Coincidentally enough, Senegal became very much interested in the new form of fashion. However, this allowed non-griots the opportunity to capture persons which was once the job of the griots. While there was much competition between the two, modern day griots used their positions as a way to incorporate modern day music. While in modern-day Senegal, griots can be placed in three categories. "Those who have decided to refrain from practicing their hereditary profession and have taken up some other occupation; those who continue to perform, without innovation, and those who have managed to find or create a new kind of occupation that still seems to fit the traditional griots' ethos adapting the art of their ancestors to modern requirements and possibilities." [3] The griot's position in society, most relevant to modern day music, are those who use their song and dance as a new kind of occupation while still practicing the traditional legacies of past griots. These individuals are still highly respected for their responsibilities, and have also become incorporated in popular music culture. "Praise songs, far from being superseded, have instead become incorporated into popular music..." [3] Today, "griots have found new meaning for old customs, and new functions for old skills," [3] Although they originated from a caste which held no political power, modern griots still hold much power and status and are better off in life then modern families.
Read the excerpt about griots above.

I've included a tag for "African Hip Hop" and intend to feature other videos of African Hip Hop artists, in addition to the video that is showcased in Part III of this series.

This concludes Part II of this series.

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