Weekly Post

Asalaa Maalekum, everyone! This week I wanted to shine a spotlight on just a few kinds Senegalese music and dance. Feccal means ‘dance!’ in Wolof. Music and dance are intertwined in Senegalese culture, so much so that it’s hard to talk about one without the other. Something I experienced on a regular basis was that in situations where people in the Pacific North West (Seattle, Portland, etc) might feel shy about getting up and dancing, Senegalese folks never seemed to have that hesitation. If there was music, it was only natural that someone would be grooving along. This post will be mostly videos – feel free to watch just a minute or two of each, to get an idea of the sound or movement, but I highly recommend you watch all of the last video on this post!

First we have Sabar, the traditional drumming and dance of Senegal.  Sabar is a historically Serer music and dance (my host family is Serer!), originating hundred of years ago in the Senegambia region. Sabar dance is big and full of energy, using the dancer’s arms and legs to their fullest. I only saw Sabar being danced a few times while in Senegal – at a dance performance, and at my brother’s wedding. Though it’s not danced as often as other, more modern dances, even my 6 year old sisters knew the basics of Sabar and would try them out every time a song came on while watching TV.  (It was adorable).


In Wolof, Mbalax means ‘rhythm’, and it is used to describe the specific rhythms used in Sabar music. However, the rhythms of Sabar and the more modern genres of jazz and pop fused together to create it’s own genre, also called Mbalax. Youssou N’Dour is the most famous Mbalax singer in Senegal, and I’ve heard it said that his music has done more for the country than all of the NGOs (Non-Governmental Organizations – organizations that do aid projects in Senegal, usually) in Senegal combined. Any time Youssou N’Dour came on the TV or radio, each of my family members would stop what they were doing to sing and dance along. Some other famous Mbalax singers are Pape Diouf, Coumba Gawlo, and Cheikh Lô (though Cheikh Lô is more of mix of genres).


The Kora is an instrument native to West Africa, specifically in Senegal, Gambia, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, and Burkina Faso. It’s a 12 stringed double-bridged lute harp (wow!), and is traditional to the Mandinka peoples. It’s made with half a calabash shell, wrapped in cow hide to create the drum base. How is the Kora different or similar to other ‘classical’ music and instruments you have heard? 


Senegalese music and dancing isn’t all Sabar and Mbalax! People listen to all sorts of pop, rap, jazz, and hip hop from all over the world (every time I introduced myself I received a “Oh, Rheanna? Like the singer? I love her!). However West African pop, mostly from Nigeria, was by far the most popular. This song was blasting everywhere during my time in Senegal, accompanied by the dance Maître Gims does in the video. Most pop songs come along with a specific dance, much like the Whip Nae Nae, that everyone knew how to do. The few times I went out to the clubs, people would be dancing their hearts out to Nigerian pop until 6 in the morning. Do you like this song? Do you think it would be popular in the U.S.? Why, or why not?


There are many, many more kinds of music and dance styles from Senegal that I would love to explore with you, and hopefully I can play some for you when I come visit! This video above was made by a dance studio right next to my house in Mermoz, making an A-Z alphabet of different styles of African dance. How many did you know about before this video? Which ones would you like to try out?



Me, caught in the middle of a Sabar dance circle at my brother’s wedding. 

Ba ci kanam, insh’allah!




Kii, jangkat la!

Weekly Post

Asalaa Maalekum, everyone! I left Senegal this week after the end of my program, and will be in Europe the next few weeks. However, I have some posts lined up about different things in Senegal for the remaining few weeks of this blog! The other week, I finally had a chance to interview our resident jangkat, or student: my little sister Ayou.

Ayou is 9 years old, in the year CE2 at her elementary school. Senegal has the same school system as in France, which is very different than the U.S. Instead of grades 1-5, the French use a different system:

After the first few weeks I was in Senegal, Ayou had the misfortune of getting hit by a car on the way home from school. She was okay, but ended up on the couch for a month away from school with a broken leg. Now, I’m pleased to say that Ayou is up and running with the rest of the neighborhood kids, working twice as hard at her studies to catch up! Ayou is funny, sweet, and has a sharp sense of humor that will snap at you if you’re not careful. Here’s our interview with your questions!

Emma: What do you like to do for fun? I like to play with my friends. That’s all!

Grace:  What types of food do you eat when you go home for lunch? Ceebu jën (cheb-oo-jen), chou kandia (shoo con-juh).

Rayne:  What is your favorite? Soupe kandia (soopa con-juh) is my favorite!

Connor:  Do you have middle school and high school? Yes.

Grace:  Do you have colleges and do you get homework? Yes! Yes, we have homework. Mostly exercises. And lessons to read. Mostly the math. But I don’t like math. You calculate, and calculate, and calculate, and that’s it!

What is your math like?  Do you have to learn fractions and negative numbers? Addition, subtraction, division, multiplication! Yeah, I know about fractions and negative numbers.

Do you have recess?  Yes. There are two recesses (called ‘creation’ in French) that are 30 minutes each.

Givonne:  Do you have to go to school in the summer? Yeah! In Senegal, school is closed for vacation between October and January.

Eric:  Do you have teacher planning days? Yes.

Do you have report cards? No, I get my grades back in my notebook at school and at the end of the year I get all my grade on a piece of paper.

Ayan:  What do your play grounds look like? Yes. There are rocks, and sand, and a field for the boys to play in, a place for the girls – it’s a little square box that we sit in and write on the ceiling who gets to be the next president of our friend group. I always vote for Kolibala, she’s my best friend!

Eric:  Do you have field trips? Yes. We go to Hann Park, the fair, and the swimming pool.

Do you have outdoor school? Non, not really. I don’t really know. I don’t think so.

Grace:  Do you have any class pets, as in animals? No.

Ayan:  Do you have a mascot? No, there isn’t one.

Eric:  Do you have iPads or other electronics? The teacher has an iPod!

Do you have cell phones? Non, but sometimes a kid will have one yeah.

What do kids get in trouble for the most? Fighting each other. Today one kid but rocks and sand in the president’s eyes!

How long do you go to school each day? What time does school get out?8am to 1pm and then from 3pm to 5pm.

Rheanna! Give me 50 minutes to do something. Fifty minutes? That’s a lot. Yeah, I need 50 minutes to do something really important. Like what? Drink water. You need 50 minutes to drink water? Yes. Wait for me there.

Eric:  Do you do class photos?  Do you have picture day?  Do you have yearbooks? Yes, yes, no!

Genevieve:  Is there a library there? Yes.

Grace:  Do you have teacher appreciation week?  What specials do you have, like PE or Art? Yes! The ‘gentillesse’ (in French: the kindness). We have sports, not art.

Eric:  Do you have chalk or white boards? Blackboards.

How many questions are left? Only five, don’t worry. Uuuuuuuugh.

What do you wish your school had? I don’t know. More races!

Eric:  Do you have Legos? No, what’s that?

Genevieve:  Do you read comics? No, not yet.

Are we done yet? Soon! Hold on, just two more! 

Grace:  What do your classrooms look like? There are tables, white walls, and a blackboard.

Genevieve:  Do you have a dog or a cat? No, no dogs or cats.



Ayou and Laura at Laura and Cheikh’s wedding.

Thanks for the questions, everyone!

Ba ci kanam, insh’allah.