Cuban Music In Senegal

We take a look at the long history of the relationship of Cuban Music in Senegal.


*The Orchestra Baobab band. 

Life in Senegal has a soundtrack. Walking the streets of Dakar, one can almost hear brassy sounds emanating from men swaggering past in long tunics, and drum beats from women dressed head to toe in brightly colored fashions. The Senegalese sound unmistakably has a Latin vibe. By tracing the bloodlines of slavery, arching from Gorée Island off the coast of Senegal, to North America, South America and the Caribbean, it is possible to begin to understand the long history in the relationship between Senegalese and Cuban music. Where people go, culture follows and where there is culture, there is the song that carries the story of its people. Learn about Cuban music in Senegal.

*Photo taken by Tasha Goldberg in Dakar, Senegal.

By 1840, half of the population in Cuba were slaves of African descent. The cabildos, or social clubs among slaves, cherished, celebrated and preserved the precious gems of culture and music. This music fed the fusion with traditional Cuban music and American salsa. Cuba led the way in Central America in recording studios and distributing records worldwide. As the capital of French West Africa, Dakar, Senegal became a hub of cultural exchange housing the first radio stations in the region, favoring Cuban music and American salsa and jazz. As if with ancestral memory, the music fell back to its home with comfort and ease.

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One of the first bands to fuse Cuban music with Senegalese sounds was the Star Band formed in 1958 (above). The growing popularity of salsa inspired a Senegalese millionaire in 1972 to handpick a Cuban cover band for his new nightclub, Sahel. The Sahel Orchestra released an album called Bamba that was so popular, the club became a ‘school’ attracting young musicians from all over Dakar eager to witness the chemistry and mad science of the band. Recently, a new record label in Dakar called Teranga Beat, released Idrissa Diop & Cheikh Tidiane Tall Diamonoye Tiopite featuring 12 tracks of old recordings, many of them unreleased.

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As the Sahel Orchestra began to infuse salsa with traditional sounds, using the Nder (lead drum), the Sabar (rhythm drum), and the Tama (talking drum) percussion, a new genre emerged called mbalax, a Wolof word meaning rhythm. Mbalax is now the national dance music of Senegal and the Gambia. The Royal Band de Thiès with singers and composers James Gadiaga & Secka brought mbalax to a new level, blending European, Latin American and African musical tradition.

The Baobab Club opened in the 1970’s with the Orchestra Baobab. The band has had several musicians since 1970, split for fifteen years and reunited to continue to tour and perform. The band began as the others, covering Latin salsa hits and added the accents from Senegal of new harmonies, guitar leads and jazzy saxophone riffs. Check out their song "Mouhamadou Bamba" below.

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On March 22, 2013, we caught Orchestra Baobab live at Nirvana club in Dakar (photo below), where we got to catch up and talk story with some of the current members: Thierno Koite on alto saxophone; Balla Sidibe on vocals and timbales; Issa Cissokho on tenor saxophone; Moundaga Koite on Congas; Rudy Gomis on vocals; Diouga Dieng on vocals; Assane Mboup on vocals; Barthelemy Attisso on lead guitar; Yahya Fall on rhythm guitar; and Charlie Ndiaye on bass.

*Photo taken by Tasha Goldberg at the Nirvana Club in Dakar, Senegal. 

Thierno Koite, as one of the original members of the Sahel Orchestra, has seen the world, including living in Germany from 1978-81 and playing with Super Etoile de Dakar with Youssou N'Dour in the mid eighties. Joining the Orchestra Baobab in 2000 was an easy transition for him since he grew up with the Chief of the band, his cousin Issa Cissohko and brother Moundaga Koite - all raised on Cuban salsa and jazz from NYC. (It was actually his other brother, Diego Koite, a professor of saxophone in Marseille, who taught him to play the saxophone when he was fifteen years old.) On one of his trips to NYC, he remembers the street performers, whose passion and beautiful music inspired him greatly. And for his favorite meetings, Koite stills carries a picture of himself with Branford Marsalis who he met at the ABC studios in LA. Although he has love for all music, he is a jazz enthusiast at heart, favoring the greats Charlie Parker, Sonny Rollins, and John Coltrane.

Balla Sidibe, singer and one of the founding members of Orchestra Baobab since its birth in the early 1970’s, was raised listening to only salsa music that came through the radio and from the returning soldiers. Although the band has traveled to many countries, they have never played in Cuba although many Cuban bands have performed in Senegal, including Orquesta Aragón. In 2002, Orquesta Aragón opened for Orchestra Baobab. Reflecting on memories from travels around the world, Sidibe's smile shines when he reflects back on shows in Central Park, looking out to crowds of people who could actually sing along to songs in Wolof. His favorite is "Sutukun", a song of praise for man who helped the poor and disadvantaged (below).

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Issa Cissohko has played with Orchestra Baobab since the beginning. His father loved music and one day, touched his head and gave him a blessing to be able to play the saxophone. When he went to school to learn to play the saxophone, the teacher was amazed at his natural talent when he passed him the horn and he played as if he had known how to play for years. From there, as a young man he would play in bars in exchange for beers and soon came to be known for his playing. To this day, he embodies joy when he takes the stage.

Music in Senegal, with its strong structure of Latin flavor, continues to evolve with new musicians joining the international circuit every year. If you find yourself in Dakar, get yourself to the record shops on the streets like Dread Amala (below), meet the people, and enjoy the Senegalese sounds.

*Photo taken by Tasha Goldberg in Dakar, Senegal. 



Stop What You're Doing Right Now and Watch Falz's New Video 'This Is Nigeria'

The Nigerian rapper tackles his country's social ills in his very own answer to Childish Gambino's "This Is America."

Nigerian rapper, Falz has been known to use his sharp brand of humor to address social ills in his country. Today he's taken it a step further with the release of a new song and video entitled "This is Nigeria" and the outcome is an audacious, decidedly necessary critique of Nigerian society inspired by Childish Gambino's viral video "This is America."

Falz opens the song with a voice over of his father the lawyer and human rights activist, Femi Falana, discussing the consequences of rampant corruption and exploitation, before adding his own cutting criticism: "This is Nigeria, look how I'm living now, look how I'm living now. Everybody be criminal," he rhymes as chaos ensues all around him.

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Photo courtesy of Nike

The Secret Behind Nike's New Naija Football Kits are Nigerians Themselves

The story behind the bold new uniforms the Super Eagles will be wearing at this year's World Cup.

Partner content from Nike

The new Nigeria football kits are not even out yet, but they're already causing pandemonium with Nigerian press reporting that there have been already 3 million worldwide orders. And it's easy to see why—the designs are daring with a bold nod to Nigerian culture that is very in vogue right now. In addition, UK Grime MCs with Nigerian roots, Skepta and Tinie Tempah have already been photographed in the new jerseys causing a surge of social media chatter about the new look.

But while rock star endorsements and an edgy new design will certainly bring attention, there's no doubt that the real bulk of the demand is due to what is ramping up to be a significant moment in the history of Nigerian football—the 2018 World Cup.

If you don't already know, Nigeria is entering this year's World Cup in Russia with some of the most exciting young players we've seen in years. With youthful talent like Wilfred Ndidi, Alex Iwobi and Kelechi Iheanacho—all 21—and veteran Olympic captain Jon Obi Mikel ready to take the field in Moscow all eyes are on Nigeria to advance out of Group D and challenge the world for a chance at the cup.

The plan here is to outdo the teams previous international achievement, the 1996 Olympic Gold Medal in men's football which is commemorated on the home kit with a badge recolored in the colors of the '96 gold medal-winning "Dream Team."

The home kit also pays subtle homage to Nigeria's '94 shirt— the first Nigerian team to qualify for the tournament—with its eagle wing-inspired black-and-white sleeve and green torso. But if the allusion to the pasty is subtle, the new supercharged patterns are anything but.

The look of the kit feels particularly in touch with what's going on in youth fashion both in Nigeria and the world and that's no accident. Much of the collection comes in bold print, both floral and Ankara-inspired chevrons, ideas that we've seen entering street wear collections and on the runway in recent years. That's because African and Nigerian style has become a big deal internationally of late. And not just in style, the country's huge cultural industries from Nollywood to Afrobeats have announced themselves on the world stage. This cultural ascendance is reflected in the design.

Courtesy of Nike

"With Nigeria, we wanted to tap into the attitude of the nation," notes Dan Farron, Nike Football Design Director. "We built this kit and collection based on the players' full identities." Along with other members of the Nike Football design group, Farron dug into learning more about Nigeria's players, "We started to see trends in attitude and energy connecting the athletes to music, fashion and more. They are part of a resoundingly cool culture."

In fact OkayAfrica has covered the team's love for music before—even dedicating an edition of the African in Your Earbuds mixtape to John Obi Mikel, Alex Iwobi & Kelechi Iheanacho's favorite songs to get hyped up before a game. When we asked the charismatic trio, they gave us list that included many of the huge Nigerian artists that we love, like Tekno, Wizkid, Yemi Alade and Nigerian-American rapper Wale and also, perhaps surprisingly, perhaps not, Celine Dion.

Nigerian culture has gone global partly through its infectious energy but also because of its vibrant diaspora populations that bring it with them wherever they land. Lagos-born Alex Iwobi whose goal in the 73rd minute to qualified Nigeria for this summer's tournament spent most of his life in London but still reps Naija to the fullest.

"I grew up in England, but Nigeria is my homeland," he says. "When I scored that goal, the players were dancing, the fans were playing trumpets and bringing drums…there was just so much passion and energy. It is always an honor to wear the white and green. To compete this summer is not just our dream, it is also the dream of our fans. Together, we all represent Naija."

This similar energy can be felt in Nigerian communities from Brooklyn to Peckham and even in China. Naija culture is truly global and no doubt the fans will embody the Naija spirit wherever they will be watching the games this summer.

If you're wondering, Nike isn't simply hopping on the Nigeria bandwagon. The apparel company has been sponsoring the Nigerian football since 2015, supplying kits to all nine of the Nigeria Football Federation teams at every level, including the men's and women's senior teams, men's and women's under-20 teams, men's and women's under-17 teams, men's and women's Olympic teams, and the men's beach football team.

So while the kit is available for purchase worldwide June 1, just know that you'll be competing with millions to get your own official shirts for the World Cup. If you are in New York, find the kit for sale exclusively at Nike's 21 Mercer store.

And please join OkayAfrica and Nike on June 2nd for Naija Worldwide as we celebrate Team Nigeria's journey to Russia in style.


Listen to Adekunle Gold's New Album 'About 30'

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Adekunle Gold's much-anticipated sophomore album, About 30, has arrived.

The 14-track album boasts features from Seun Kuti, Flavor and British-Nigerian soul singer Jacob Banks, who appears on a remix to the popular lead single "Ire." The album sees the artist flexing immense versatility and range as he delivers emotional ballads, folk-Inspired cuts sung in Yoruba, and a few highlife-tinged summer jams.

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