Wednesday, April 9, 2008


The sabar dance is the dance that accompanies the
drumming of the sabar a common musical instrument in Senegal. The sabar dance is a high stepping and high energy dance that provided the entertainment at any social gathering such as weddings, naming ceremonies etc. The sabar drumming would also accompany the griots' songs and spoken narratives. Griots are West African artists, who belong to an endogamous caste of historians, musicians, praise-singers, and mediators.

The sabar drum is played with one bare hand and one small stick, which produces the instrument's distinctive crack. The bàkks, (rhythmic phrases) played by sabar drummers is said to originate from imitations of spoken words.

Photos by christophe alary

The Sabar drums are carved from baobab tree where as the drumming sticks, called galans are made using the sump tree. The wooden shell of all the traditional sabar drums is said to be harvested and carved by the wolof wood crafts men known as the Laube. The Griot (master drummer) assembles the drum and all its parts and creates the rhythms and music. If someone visits the home of the Griot while he is assembling a sabar drum, it is good luck for them. The Griot cuts off a piece of the goat skin and gives it to the guest. The guest in turn gives the Griot some money. Each drum has a specific function and each usually has a specific accompanying rhythm for the different songs. These rhythms and their baks (introductory compositions or breaks) often vary slightly among different Griot families or change over time. Sometimes these variations are a trademark of a specific family.Source:Mind Spring

The drums are tuned using pegs and are adjusted to create melodic rhythms when played together. The head of the drum is made from shaved goatskin. Depending on the type of drum and its function, the goatskin is attached by either a complex method of stringing or lashed directly to the wood with the pegs.

Mbung Mbung sabar drum is the main drum for playing the basic sabar rhythms and the drum that all students of sabar learn to play first.

Sabar N'der Tall, slender, base with an open bottom. The nder is the lead sabar and has a longer body and narrower head than the others, producing a higher and more piercing tone.

The lamba is a heavy, closed bottomed, large circumference, barrel-shaped,bass drum. It produces the lowest in pitch. The gorong talmbat is a bass sabar and (unlike the mbung mbung aka mbëng-mbëng and the nder) has a closed end and rests on the ground. The xiin is shorter and stouter in shape and is said to be a favorite drum of adherents of the Baay-Fall sect.

Tama is a small hourglass shaped Wolof talking drum

Sabars usually play in groups of at least three and sometimes even dozens. Sabar players are traditionally only male, although in some rare settings, females also play. Sabar rhythms have many different functions. The most well-known rhythms today are the dance rhythms, since the traditional context of many of the other rhythms has disappeared.

"There were specific sabar rhythms for every kind of event. For example, mballax and ceebujën rhythms accompanied the recreational dancing of women, the ndëp rhythm accompanied exorcism rituals, and the gajarde accompanied soldiers returning successfully from battle. The gajarde also extended to other victorious occasions, such as when a wrestler won a traditional match or when a bride was proved on her wedding night to have been a virgin." source Griot Thesis

Photos by Ganggerl

Photos by christophe alary

Sabar dancing in Senegal
Sabar Dance
Sabar Dakar Senegal Documentary
Sabar dance from Senegal
More Sabar

Masters of the Sabar:Wolof Griot Percussionists of Senegal Includes CD by Patricia Tang - A fascinating study of Senegalese masters of the sabar drum
Basic Sabar playing technique


Anonymous said...

habari sahara vibe.ngoma zinavutia sana.napatikana hapa

Rasta Hapa

Anonymous said...

Hello, I am currently doing a project at Umass Amherst and Amherst College, MA, on Sabar Drumming. I am taking lessons from a Wolof Griot master drum and dancer, and I want to help him get some teaching gigs in the Northampton/Amherst area. Any ideas? Thanks.
-- Joy


Hi Joy I have no ideas/contacts that may be of help in MA. I would recommend that you reach out to arts/cultural centers in Northampton/Amherst area and also the Africa or even Wolof Senegal/Gambia community in that area for leads and contacts. However there is a Djembe drummer by the name of Mamady Keita from Guinee and he offers a lot of classes on Djembe drumming. Thought you may want to visit his website to see what he does and maybe get some insight and tips from his class calender.

Hope this helps.

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