Mbalax Fever: The Story of Popular Music in Senegal

Afropop Worldwide travels to Dakar to celebrate the country’s 50th anniversary of independence with a Hip Deep history of the nation’s signature music style: mbalax. On radio, on television, from boom boxes on the street to the city’s legendary nightclubs, this rhythmically explosive dance music is the defining sound of modern Senegal. MIT ethnomusicologist Patricia Tang takes us through the history, from the polyrhythms of Wolof hand-and-stick sabar drumming, through the pan-Africanist passions of Lèopold Senghor, Senegal’s first president, to African salsa and the rise of Youssou N’Dour, right up to the present when mbalax still holds its own in the hip hop era. We’ll hear how griot musicians Youssou N’Dour and Thione Seck spurred the evolution from salsa to mbalax, and how the new music helped unify the country after decades of French colonial rule. Baaba Maal, Yoro N’diaye, and Orchestra Baobab’s Ben Geloune discuss the music’s themes, including Islam, polygamy, and poverty. And of course, we hear lots of electrifying mbalax music!