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Masters of the Sabar

Masters of the Sabar: Wolof Griot Percussionists of Senegal

Patricia Tang
Copyright Date: 2007
Published by: Temple University Press
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  • Book Info
    Masters of the Sabar
    Book Description:

    Masters of the Sabaris the first book to examine the music and culture of Wolof griot percussionists, masters of the vibrant sabar drumming tradition. Based on extensive field research in Senegal, this book is a biographical study of several generations of percussionists in a Wolof griot (géwël) family, exploring and documenting their learning processes, repertories, and performance contexts-from life-cycle ceremonies to sporting events and political meetings. Patricia Tang examines the rich history and changing repertories of sabar drumming, including dance rhythms andbàkks, musical phrases derived from spoken words. She notes the recent shift towards creating newbàkkswhich are rhythmically more complex and highlight the virtuosity and musical skill of the percussionist. She also considers the burgeoning popular music genre calledmbalax.The compact disc that accompanies the book includes examples of the standard sabar repertory, as well asbàkkscomposed and performed by Lamine Touré and his family drum troupe.

    eISBN: 978-1-59213-421-2
    Subjects: Music, Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Illustrations and Musical Transcriptions
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Contents of Accompanying Audio Compact Disc
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. Guide to Pronunciation and Orthography
    (pp. xi-xii)
  6. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  7. Introduction
    (pp. 1-12)

    GRIOTS ARE BEST KNOWN as artisans of the spoken word. Serving as oral historians, genealogists, storytellers, and praise-singers, griots have played a significant role in cultures throughout West Africa for over seven centuries. This study examines the role of Wolof griots in contemporary Senegalese culture. Unlike griots from other ethnic groups who are known for their verbal artistry, Wolof griots (géwël) are unique in that they are masters of the sabar drum. In Senegal, sabar drumming appears in everyday events ranging from life cycle ceremonies to sporting events, political meetings, and the popular music scene.

    A closely guarded tradition, sabar...

  8. 1 You Will Be Griot in Another Way: THE ETHNOMUSICOLOGIST’S STORY
    (pp. 13-24)

    RECENT ETHNOMUSICOLOGICAL SCHOLARSHIP has recognized the merits of critically discussing fieldwork issues as well as incorporating these issues into ethnographic writing itself. As ethnomusicologists are both informed and shaped by their fieldwork, an immediate exposition of this experience will give the reader a more honest understanding of the rest of the information presented in this book. In a study that deals extensively with the subject’s identity—Wolof identity, griot identity, and family identity—I believe that the researcher’s identity should be demystified upfront.

    My love of West African music began in 1991, when I joined the Ghanaian Drumming Ensemble at...

  9. 2 There Once Was a King Called Maysa Waaly Jon: SABAR HISTORY, INSTRUMENTS, ENSEMBLE, AND SOUND
    (pp. 25-46)

    DRUMMING HAS EXISTED among the Wolof of Senegal for many centuries. Oral accounts from present-daygéwëltrace the history of sabar drumming back to the rule of Maysa Waaly Jon during the fourteenth century. Written records from the seventeenth century describe ensembles of single-headed membranophones played with hand and stick in the contexts of war, traditional wrestling, and recreational dance. In this chapter, I will attempt to reconstruct the history of sabar drumming through an examination of both written and oral sources. After looking at possible histories of sabar, I will then turn to the modern sabar ensemble, with a...

  10. 3 The Griot Lineage—We Are One: WOLOF CASTE AND IDENTITY
    (pp. 47-56)

    A SYSTEM OF SOCIAL ORGANIZATION commonly known ascasteis found in societies throughout West Africa. These societies are generally divided into three main categories, from highest to lowest: nobles/freeborn,castedor endogamous ranked specialist groups, and slaves (or their descendants). This social hierarchy was prevalent among numerous societies throughout West Africa, including the Soninke, Bambara, Malinke, Khassonke, Wolof, Tukulor, Senufo, Minianka, Dogon, Songhay, Fulani, Moorish, and Tuareg people (Tamari 1991, 221). Some of the earliest evidence of castes appears among the Malinke, Soninke, and Wolof, with evidence of Wolof castes dating at least as early as 1500. Within the...

  11. 4 My Foreparents Used to Beat the Drums: WOLOF FAMILY, KINSHIP, AND MUSICAL GENEALOGY
    (pp. 57-95)

    IN THE PREVIOUS CHAPTER, I considered Wolofgéwëlnot as a strict part of an immutable caste system, but as a broader category, encompassing family, lineage, ethnicity, and community. In this chapter, I turn to the family as a main unit of study.

    The family is of central importance to Wolofgéwël, fostering the production and reproduction ofgéwëlknowledge. The family acts as learning environment, performance troupe, and creator of a unique sabar repertory. In this chapter, I will discuss the concept of family in general, then focus specifically on the Mbaye family, providing life histories from three generations....

  12. 5 If a Snake Bites You, You Will Think of Death: SABAR REPERTORIES
    (pp. 96-125)

    THE WOLOF SABAR REPERTORY is infinitely vast, changing over time, and varying from one griot family to another. Two recent recordings¹ provide fine examples of sabar, though to my knowledge, thus far there exists no detailed documentation or musical analysis of this repertory other than my own. In this chapter, I hope to fill the gap by transcribing and analyzing some key components of the sabar repertory as I learned them from the Mbaye family from 1997 to 2005.

    This chapter will begin by examining how Wolofgéwëltalk about their music, introducing some basic musical terminology used by sabar...

  13. 6 Dancing Fish and Rice: PERFORMANCE CONTEXTS
    (pp. 126-153)

    THE SABAR IS AN INTEGRAL PART of Wolof culture and can be found in a variety of performance contexts. From neighborhood dance events to life cycle rituals, the sabar plays a vital role in negotiating different spheres: upper and lower caste, male and female, private and public, traditional and modern. In this chapter, I will discuss the primary performance contexts in which the sabar is played, including neighborhood dances, women’s association meetings, weddings, baptisms, Muslim holidays, political meetings, wrestling matches, andfaux lionspectacles. An examination of the role of sabar in these contexts will shed light on its impact...

  14. 7 The Pax You Play Is So Sweet: THE ROLE OF SABAR IN MBALAX
    (pp. 154-164)

    THIS CHAPTER EXAMINES the role of sabar in the popular music genre, mbalax, and looks at the rise of mbalax from its birth in the 1970s to its current status in the global music scene at the turn of the century.² As the rhythmic backbone of mbalax music, sabar has both tied mbalax to its traditional Wolof roots and propelled it into the international pop music scene, with singers such as Youssou N’Dour at the forefront. In an effort to better describe how sabar rhythms function in mbalax music, I will look at the importation of traditional Mbaye familybàkks...

  15. Conclusion
    (pp. 165-166)

    HAVING GAINED some understanding of the sabar’s history, repertory, and performance contexts, we see that the sabar holds deep meaning not only to Wolofgéwëlbut to Senegalese culture as a whole. In sum, sabar can be seen as a metaphor for the processes of Wolof life. Just as the family is of great importance in the broader context of Wolof society, the family is the center for the production and reproduction of sabar knowledge. The knowledge of sabar is passed down from one generation to another and kept strictly within the family. As urban-based families expand, with the arrival...

  16. Notes
    (pp. 167-178)
  17. Glossary of Terms
    (pp. 179-182)
  18. References
    (pp. 183-198)
  19. Discography
    (pp. 199-200)
  20. Interviews
    (pp. 201-202)
  21. Index
    (pp. 203-209)
  22. About the Author
    (pp. 210-210)