Senegal~Afropop Worldwide interview with Timothy Mangin, PhD candidate in ethnomusicology at Columbia University

This is ONE AMAZING article on Senegal and the birth of Mbalax. While it’s main focus is music there is alot more to learn here.

Here is just an excerpt:

S.R.: And Congolese music comes from where?

T.M.: It comes from the Belgian Congo. Central Africa and modern Congolese music had a lot of Afro-Cuban rhythms in it because the Congolese were listening to a lot Cuban and other Latin music that they transformed into their own style. You have these bands in Dakar and they’re playing all of these musics from the Congo, but they’re also playing Nigerian and Ghanaian highlife. And they’re playing national musics from other African countries. And people in the dance clubs are saying, “We want our own kind of music.”

At that time, Senegalese urban dance bands used mostly congas and the timbales. Then drummers stared playing the sabar rhythms on the congas and the timbales and people started wearing more traditional clothing.

Then musicians brought in the sabar drums and used them for the mbalax rhythms. Evenings became a series of sets focused on musical styles such as a jazz set, then an Afro-Cuban set, and ending with a traditional set. The traditional set included a lot of sabar and traditional singing collectively called folklore. Then they started mixing folklore and modern musics together. Most famously, this happened at the Miami Night Club in the medina but it was also happening in other places such as in Gambia where it drew the attention of musicians, including a young Youssou N’Dour, who went down south to Banjul with friends to sing and play. When N’Dour came back to Dakar he, joins the house band at the Miami Club. He later takes the use of traditional rhythms a step further. He used the rhythms of the sabar drums and he puts them in the keyboards and in the guitars and he mixes those rhythms with Afro-Cuban and the jazz that they’re doing and he starts calling the music mbalax music.”


“Then, all of a sudden, the tempo picks up and people start bending their knees and start getting down. Then, someone moves into the middle of the circle and they start doing, like, a – at first, I said, “That kind of looks like a modern-day Funky Chicken kind of thing.” I’m standing there, and I’m trying to get my hips and my knees to move the same way that everybody else’s is, but it’s not happening the same way everybody else’s is, and I’m hearing the music the wrong way. I’m thinking about how I hear it here in the States, which is like emphasizing the two and the four, and it’s really more about the one and three. As soon as I stop thinking about that and stop thinking about “there has to be one” – like one, two, three, four; like you just always think about “there’s got to be a one in music” – and just move my body along with the cycles and the rhythms and the patterns, I start dancing.

I start doing my own thing — well, I mixed it a little bit with what was going on there – but when I started doing my own thing and fitting in, then I started to get inside the pocket, what they call “yaangy ci biir.” I was inside the music at that moment. I was still dancing very much like an American, but I was inside the pocket. ”
Timothy Mangin
*note :: listen close to Mbaye Dieye Faye and you will hear him call yaangy ci biir ALL THE TIME! 🙂
“its traditional style and rhythm yet free in its “freestyle”  …. the age old rhythm’s eternal begging for a new bakk, a new layer upon layer…. the begging for a dancers movement, to hit it, to slip inside of it, hold it there and then end it; to write a piece in those moments. To make people smile, to laugh, to stand up and scream or maybe just to enter the groove for ones own sake until you are healed.” Lynette Wich

2 thoughts on “Senegal~Afropop Worldwide interview with Timothy Mangin, PhD candidate in ethnomusicology at Columbia University

  1. Carmen says:

    Thank you, now I know where “Congolese rumba” comes from. I heard such sounds in the older Youssou Ndour (song “Mbaye Gueye” for example) and found it quite beautiful and exotic.


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