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Music and percussions instruments in Senegal: “Senegal is peace, colours and music”

Senegalese music has long made a name for itself at international level. Youssou Ndour, Baba Maal and Touré Kunda are just some of the names that are famous in the Western world but Senegal is also the home to many locally-renowned percussionists and artists, for example Doudou Ndiaye Rose (the modern master of Sabar), Thione Balago Seck, Omar Pene, Alioune Kassé, Viviane Ndour and Ismael Lô.

Percussion instruments occupy a special place in Senegalese culture and it is relatively easy to find a teacher or school to learn the basics… and more. The most common instruments in Senegal are:

  • Djembe drum: percussion instrument that is not originally from Senegal but which is the most popular with travellers and is often seen on return flights home…
  • Kora: Mandinka harp-like instrument made from calabash fruit and fishing line. It is often used by singer/storytellers in Senegal and especially in Mali. See also the Akonting, a smaller version from Casamance.
  • Sabar: the most widely-used percussion instrument in Senegal. It comes in different models with different sounds, such as the chol or tungone.
  • Xalam and Bolon: two string instruments made from calabash and covered in hide.
  • Kenkéni, Sangban and Dunumba: drum-type percussion instruments from the same family. They simply differ in size.
  • Tama, or Talking drum: beaten with a drum stick and particularly used at the beginning of mbalax (Senegalese rhythm) solos.
  • Bombolong slit drum: a musical instrument but also a means of communication particularly used by the Jola people. It is carved from a tree trunk and is played by hitting it hard with a stick. It is sometimes considered a religious, or even sacred, object.

In Dakar and around there are many workshops and lessons where you can make and learn to play the djembe drum. All types and levels exist so make enquiries beforehand!

On Yoff hut beach, several groups offer good lessons, ask at the hotel on arrival. You can also contact
(Lately, Wolof language rap and reggae have become very popular in Senegal)

Notable Music Festivals:

There are hundreds of music, percussion and dance events each year…