Writing from a New York City winter in the heart of hubbub and pavement, it’s hard to envision being in the middle of the Indian Ocean on a tropical volcanic island half the size of Long Island, dancing to a 6/8 groove laid down by frame drum and a triangle. Bring your mind there and you’re in the world of traditional séga, the music of Mauritius—a geographically isolated nation (actually several islands), yet, through twists and turns of power and trade, a junction of many cultures. The recently released compilation Soul Sok Séga (Strut Records) brings us the funky, emotive music of this tiny country as it was happening in the ‘70s, and we’re loving it. To accompany the album, Afropop is premiering a video about the fundamentals of séga, guided by Mauritian producer Percy Yip Tong and séga megastar Menwar.
Séga is sometimes referred to as “the blues of the Indian Ocean,” rising out of the pain and suffering of slaves brought to the previously uninhabited islands from West and East Africa to work the sugarcane plantations. Forced into this entirely new world, they brought with them many musics, which melded together into séga, also incorporating elements of European polka and music from Indian migrants. As with many musical traditions around the globe, the instrumentation of séga began with simple percussion, crafted out of recycled materials and tools, which accompanied vocals sung in Mauritian Creole. Over time as freedom, technology and foreign music came to the island, séga adapted, and in the ‘70s Mauritians found themselves rocking out to psychedelic electric guitars, synths and drumsets. That loping 6/8 dance beat and the raw vocals remained, but now surrounded by the electric fuzz and bell-bottoms that pervaded hip music worldwide during that decade.
Our guide, Menwar, who was a big part of that scene, gives a bit of the backstory, demonstrating the instruments used in séga and singing an acoustic version of his hit, “Séga Lenoir,” which is featured on Soul Sok Séga. Take a look, take a listen, and take yourself to Mauritius for the next eight minutes.