previous «     » next

Cultural Events in a Sahelian Town Series
This series follows naturally from my life in Keur Momar Sarr, a small sahelian town in Senegal, where I have lived, an visited, for several periods since 2007. These videos weren’t filmed with a particular intention. They were neither part of a project of documenting local cultural manifestations, nor were they completely random. They emerge as a series only here, as I collect them from my own archive. Some other video will be added to complete the series.
The footage from 2011 to 2013 is circumstancial and unprepared, an extension of my social relations during this time where I lived for two and a half years here. The remainder of the footage is from 2008 documentary Waalo Waalo. 
These videos are part of an ethnographic approach. Unedited or with minor edition they document cultural events in this town, between 2008 and 2013. Each video is accompanied by a short explanation of context.
There were several instruments used and the technical aspects of footage haven’t had the opportunity to be prioritary. These were always subsumed by the ethnographic effort, concerned with other areas other than cultural performances. Despite that, these videos still form a set of manifestations engaged with by local populations on a regular basis, somewhere where main events are mostly religious (and/or political). 


"Sëy" is the wolof word for marriage. But comprised in «sëy» is much more than the simple
idea of a man and a woman marrying. Senegalese people use this word specifically when the woman gets out of the of her family house to rejoin her husbands house. Accompanying the «sëy» there are other women and they are the ones carrying the kitchen ware and other presents given by the husband as a part of a dowry. The dowry is an ever changing institution of senegalese marriages, and the traditional expectations now include all sort of items as televisions and cellphones, apart from the most important part of it, the symbolic money given to the parents of the bride.

A cortege is done from the bride's family house to the husband's house. One can say that the heart of the party that follows are the women, and ideally it is the "biggest to be remembered" (a consequence, someone say, of the marriage and baptism parties of immigrants, for the most part faust and ostentatory). They are the ones dancing, cooking serving. Everyone that wants to pay respect to the grooms is welcome to the party. Some others are obliged not to miss, otherwise risking «fowl tongues». But, if on the one side the marriage party is about amusement and happiness, theres is also a side of social power included on all levels. All women prepare themselves carefully to the cerimony and want to be seen in their best outfits, preferably new and expensive ones. This is also an occasion to show off their gold, earings, rings, collars and bracelets. A woman going to a cerimony wants to be envied, that we talk about her and what she wore, how nice her outfit was nit and how her whole ensemble madew her unforgetable. Most of the times she is not there simply to "party" ...

Another part of the cerimony is the "gueweul", meaning the "griot", or bard. Gueweuls are known to be storytellers and to be the safeguard of oral traditions in most of West Africa. This type of gueweul, once the right arm of kings and important men, are nowadays going by with playing in cerimonies like this. Despite that, there are still traditional family bards that keep intact many genealogies. Not everyone can be a gueweul, and in the ancient caste system, nowadays effaced by islam in Senegal, gueweuls are not of noble status. It is a family trade to be a gueweul. In cerimonies they sing, dance and play local instruments (tama or talking drum; sabar) and make the elogy of whoever is important in the ceremony, hoping with that to get their share.

The cerimonial roles are well prescribed. Everything is always evolving anyway.

This specific video is an occasional one and had no specific preparation, and as a result the many technical problems that it shows, alongside with technical limitations. Anyway it serves as an illustration of an everyday reality in Senegal. It was filmed in the village of Keur Momar Sarr in 2011.

Ngueweul Yi (Griots) / Performers:
Abdou Boy (Abdou Samba of Mérina Ghene)
Malick Coumba Niang (of Mérina Ghene)

Ricardo Falcão
Tamakat yi

These are all traditional players of Tama. The Tama is the senegalese talking drum, specially built with the skin of a lizzard called Mbeut (a monitor lizzard) because of its elasticity and reverberation. The Tama has been used for long and had very specific coded language for specific special occasions. The Tama players in this video are griots and live in one of the oldest villages by the Lac de Guiers, Mérina Ghene (also known as Mérina Ngueweul). They are semi-professional players, playing in cerimonies wherever they're called to. When they are not playing most are tending to their fields.The main figure is Abdou Samb, also known as Abdou "Boye", who has learnt the trade from his father and has played with the likes of Assane Thiam and others.

The main figure is Abdou Samb, also known as Abdou "Boye", who has learnt the trade from his father and has played with the likes of Assane Thiam and others.

The video was filmed in 2012, in the village of Keur Aya, while these men were waiting to start their performances to celebrate the victory of the local football team in the Navetanes, ASC Walidan.

FESPOP, Ensemble Nár

Keur Momar Sarr  is a village with three main ethnic groups. In terms of numbers the Peul majority is closely followed by Wolof. The Nár (or moors) also have a visible ethnic presence and often celebrate ceremonies and mark important dates with a mix of local musicians and others coming from Mauritania. The latter, despite being named this way by senegalese at large, giving the impression of social cohesion, actually belong to many different social groups. Their presence in the northern Senegal region is historical and is ongoing for centuries. Local history is full of historical references to them (not the most peaceful anywway), but today they are one of the senegalese ethnic minorities.  In this video a couple of musicians coming from Mauritania get together with local musicians to repeat their set for the FESPOP festival, in 2012. Their prefered instruments are the Tabala, the big drum at the center, the electric guitar, women’s vocals in the background, a lead singer, and another form of percussion performed with a steel plate and two batteries.


Borom Xalam 

Gueweul (the wolof word for griot) are what one can call "traditional" musicians. They sing praises of people and they have deep knowledge of genealogies. The really traditional "gueweul" get their knowledge from generations of other gueweuls. In Senegal, but elsewhere too, these men follow noble families, and each family will have some singers who have a deeper knowledge of the genealogy of the family, who marries who, from where, etc.The xalam is a 4-string percurssive guitar that can be found widely in the Sahel. It is made with a very light wood and the reverb box is in goat skin. It is alongside the «tama», the «sabar», and the «riiti» (a one string violin), a traditional instrument in the Walo, where this recording was done.
Gaïnde Ndiaye

The «Simb» or the «Faux-Lion» has at its origin a possession ritual. It's symbolics and performative dimensions are very telling about senegalese cultural identity. The regeneration process of the «Simb» throughout the times is also important to understand this cultural marker.According to a brochure from an exhibition of photographs of Laurent Gudin, entitled "Suñu Cosaan" (Our Tradition), in Dak'Art 2012, the «Simb» is more developed in the Walo than in the other regions. Because "it's the Walo-Walo" that continue to be the masters of litanies (jat, in wolof) permitting to master the lion". In fact I have come across with people that affirm to be capable of mastering a lion solely through words. To avoid the lion or to take something from him, the mastering of the lion is a symbol of man taming the animal forces present in the bush, evoking a time where the bush was indeed a place of wilderness.In Senegambia and in the Mandé, and not exclusively in Senegal, to hunt has always meant to tame the wild. But to balance the forces and make retributions, the hunter has also mastered mystical knowledge, never forgetting that to take without giving something back is stealing. And stealing from the wild is calling strong powers to be onto you. So, the hunter goes hunting with many mystical protections, the fetish.
FESPOP, Modi Sow

This is the Peul singer (a griot, gawlo in Halpulaar) who is repeating what is going to present in FESPOP 2012, in the village of Keur Momar Sarr. His name is Modi Sow.FESPOP is a recent arts&crafts festival in Louga, which is the capital of the region of the same name in Senegal. Since this sahelian area is essentially rural, the organization has decided to de-centralize the festival and bring it to other villages, where the local artists can try to show their work. The framework of a festival, with its communication apparatus, allows the musicians to aspire to be visible and in consequence being professionalized, even though that process of visibility might be complicated.Hence, since 2011, FESPOP has come to the village of Keur Momar Sarr, which is situated in an agro-pastoral scenario beside the Lac de Guiers. Halpulaaren and Wolof are majoritary in the region but there are also many Nár (Moors) due to historical and geographical reasons. In the day to day one hardly notes who belongs to what ethnic group due to its great mixture, but when it comes to cultural expressions differences become a little more visible. One could probably speculate that «cultural expression» is the «creation of difference»!?In this simple sequence video you see a basic Halpulaar ensemble of voice, claps, and the one-chorded violin called Riiti. The instrument missing is a 4-chord guitar called Xalam. Both are the basis of Halpulaar traditional music. They are both typically sahelian and not a specificity of Senegal.The percussion here provided by an improvised bassin is substituted by a tama (talking-drum), that is also played by wolof but in very different rythmns.The preparation of the musicians, and its housing and hosting was provided by Abdoul Aziz Thiane, a notable man in the village.I decided to film and put this online solely because I found the voice of Modi quite engaging. People interested in contacts are welcome to ask ...The sequence was filmed with a Canon 550D and a Tamron Lens 17-50mm f 2.8 at 1080p and simply converted.