The capital of Senegal, Dakar, is the westernmost point in Africa. The
country surrounds Gambia on three sides and is bordered on the north by
Mauritania, on the east by Mali, and on the south by Guinea and Guinea-Bissau.
Senegal is mainly a low-lying country, with a semi-desert area in the
north and northeast and forests in the southwest. The largest rivers include the
Senegal in the north and the Casamance in the southern tropical climate region.
The Toucouleur people, among the early inhabitants of Senegal, converted
to Islam in the 11th century, although their religious beliefs retained strong
elements of animism. The Portuguese had some stations on the banks of the
Senegal River in the 15th century, and the first French settlement was made at
St.-Louis in 1659. Gore Island became a major centre for the Atlantic slave
trade through the 1700s, and millions of Africans were shipped from there to the
New World. The British took parts of Senegal at various times, but the French
gained possession in 1840 and made it part of French West Africa in 1895. In
1946, together with other parts of French West Africa, Senegal became an
overseas territory of France. On June 20, 1960, it formed an independent
republic federated with Mali, but the federation collapsed within four months.
Although Senegal is neither a large nor a strategically located country,
it has nonetheless played a prominent role in African politics since its
independence. As a black nation that is more than 90% Muslim, Senegal has been a
diplomatic and cultural bridge between the Islamic and black African worlds.
Senegal has also maintained closer economic, political, and cultural ties to
France than probably any other former French African colony.
Senegal's first president, Lopold Sdar Senghor, towered over the
country's political life until his voluntary retirement in 1981. He replaced
multiparty democracy with an authoritarian regime. An acclaimed poet, Senghor
sought to become a black-skinned Frenchman, a quest he ultimately
discovered to be impossible. An advocate of African socialism, Senghor
increased government involvement in the economy through a series of four-year
In 1973 Senegal and six other nations created the West African Economic
Community. When rising oil prices and fluctuations in the price of peanuts, a
major export crop, ruined the economy in the 1970s, Senghor reversed course. He
emphasized new industries such as tourism and fishing. Politically, the
so-called passive revolution allowed limited opposition.
Youll hear music wherever you are in Senegal it belts out of market stalls and passing cars, drifts on the breeze from a solitary Griot Kora player, washes over you in restaurants, or you might simply feel the vibrations in the ground and the buzz of disturbed air from the many drumming troupes that seem to be everywhere. For a relatively small country they have produced a startling amount of fabulous music, and much that has crossed over the world music divide into the consciousness of Western musical audiences. : Youssou NDour, Baaba Maal, Orchestra Baobab, these are just the artists that have made that crossover; youll find that music is such a presence in Senegal, and such a crucial part of the very fabric of life that it will form a soundtrack for your memories.
One form of traditional Senegalese music is based around a system of polyrhythmic drumming, usually on the tama (or talking drum), a single-faced drum with strips of leather fixed to the skin and base. The drum is usually played under one arm and by squeezing the drum casing the player affects the pitch and tone. This style has been adapted by Youssou NDor to include a funkier, Latin-based sound known as the mbalax, and is truly irresistible.
There is also the gentler traditional folk music, which is played on string instruments such as the impossibly complicated Kora. This is generally played by Griots. The role the Griots fill is a vital one to the community as they are at once repositories of cultural and historical knowledge, genealogists, and frequent social commentators; and they are called upon to remember ancient songs and narratives and even invent songs around recent social events. There is also a strand of folk music which is based around polyphony (many voices) a style influenced by the Islamic Marabouts that came to this area in the early part of the last millennium.
Alif (Liberate Attack of the Feminist Infantry)