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  • Senegal People and Culture

Senegal People and Culture

The population was estimated in 2013 at about 14 million, of which a quarter live in the agglomeration of Dakar.

The Wolofs are the most represented (35%), they make up the majority in all the regions, especially in the centre, the north and the coast of Dakar and Saint Louis. The farmers and the merchants, of Muslim faith for the majority, there importance is certain in the nations economy. The Lebous, established in fishing communities in the peninsula of Cap-Vert and in Saint Louis are related.

The Pulaar (20%) are composed of the Foulbes, Peuls and Toucouleurs, in the northern Senegal, the Fouta Toro, historical source for the propagation of Islam in Senegal, make up the cultural birthplace, they are very active in the commercial domain, as well as breeding and irrigated farming. they populate the Senegalese river valley and the Ferlo region.

The Sereres (17%) are less scattered than the other ethnic groups. They can be found in the Sine-Saloum, along the Small Coast, in the centre of countries and north-west of the Gambia. The majority are Muslim, except for those along the Small Coast. The Diolas (10%) can be found in the Casamance, but also in Gambia and the Guinea-Bissau. Oriented rather to the culture of rice, they are for the majority animist and/or Christians in the basse Casamance region (Ziguinchor, Oussouye, Cap Skiring), and musulmans in the north and east.

Other than the main ethnic groups, we find the Mandingues of Eastern Senegal, the Soninkes very present in the east of the country and in the zones adjacent to the Mali and the Mauritania, the Bassari which live mainly by the culture of the millet and corn, of the picking and hunting, between the Guinea border and the limit of the Niokolo-Koba national park.

French (official), Wolof, Pulaar, Diola, Mandingo

English French Wolof
Good night.
How are you?
I'm good.
What is your name?
My name is...
I come from...
Excuse me/pardon.
How much does this cost?
That's too expensive.
It's beautiful.
You are beautiful
Thank you.
I'm lost.
I don't understand Wolof. 
Comment vas-tu?
Je vais bien.
Comment tu t'appelles?
Je m'appelle...
Je suis de...
Combien ça coûte?
C'est trop cher.
C'est beau.
Tu est beau (belle).
Je suis perdu(e).
Je ne comprend pas le wolof.  
Diama ngma.
Fanane diam.
Naga def?
Mangi fi rek.
Nanga toud? tudah.
Mangi deka fi...
Balal ma.
Bi niata?
Cher na trop.
Rafet na.
Rafet nga.
Dama rèere.
Degouma ouolof.  

Muslim 92%, indigenous beliefs 6%, Christian 2% (mostly Roman Catholic)

Almost 90% of the Senegalese population are of musulman confession . The islamization of the country dates back to the XIth century (see history of Senegal), the period when the north of the Senegal, was conquered by the Almoradives (monks warriors barbers). The appearance of Christianity is much more recent. Often frayed between the two religion, the animism, with their rituals and their beliefs, is still very present.

Senegal is a country rich in musical values and the number of occasions that are used to gather around the "griots" or clapping your hands and sway your hips in rhythm delights a public often very numerous. Each ethical group has his music and his instruments that are their own.

Modern day and world famous artists include:

Youssou N'Dour is one of Africa's most important performers. His music has reached a world wide audience through collaborations with artists like Peter Gabriel, Neneh Cherry, and Branford Marsalis.

Baaba Maal is a uniquely talented singer from Senegal. He's equally at home with an acoustic guitar playing traditional folk music or playing the hottest international dance music. He's finally emerging into the international spotlight as one of the world's hottest performers.

Musical Instruments

by far the most common instrument in Senegal. Most all sabar drumming is accompanied by dancing and usually takes place for special occasions and festivals including births, baby naming ceremonies, weddings, holidays and other special celebrations. The sabar has become the backbone of almost every Senegalese music group. Contemporary Senegalese popular and semi-traditional music is generally designated as "mballax," named for a family of traditional sabar dance rhythms ubiquitous in Senegalese music. A group of sabars is an essential ingredient in all such music.

The Tama
nearly as common as the sabar and is played by a larger number of ethnic groups than the Sabar, including the Wolof, Sereer, Fulbe, Tukuloor, Malinke, and Mandinko. Similar instruments are found throughout West Africa. The tama is a "talking drum," or a drum whose pitch can be regulated. The player puts the tama under one shoulder and beats the tama with a curved stick held in the other hand. To regulate the pitch, the player squeezes the strings that surround the tama with his arm, tightening the drum head and thereby raising the pitch.

A set of three to five tuned wooden kettle drums used for worship by the Qadiriya of Senegal, a branch of the world's oldest Sufi order. Each drum is carved from a log and covered with a cow hide, which is laced to an iron ring and tightened with wedges. The drums are played by a troupe of drummers. Each drummer plays with one hand and one stick, except for the lead drummer, who plays a massive bass drum, using two sticks about as thick as broom handles...

The Kora is a 21-stringed harp lute that originated in the Gambia River valley with the Mandinko but is one of the most popular instruments in Senegal. Griots from most Mande groups in Senegal, Gambia, Mali, Guinea, and Guinea Bissau play the kora, and even though only a small percentage (around 10%) of Senegalese are Mande, most Senegalese hold the kora in high esteem as one of their great traditional instruments, and everyone recognizes the famous kora tunes. It has become popular in the West and has made its way onto popular recordings by Peter Gabriel and many other Western artists. Its clear, bell-like tone is appealing to Western and African audiences alike.

The Xalam
the most common stringed instrument in Senegal. Griots of many ethnic groups play it, including the Wolof, Sereer, Mandinko, Malinke, Fulbe, and Tukuloor. It probably came from the Bamana of Mali through several different paths. The Bamana passed it on to the Malinke in the south and the Tukuloor and Fulbe in the north, and these groups passed it on in two separate waves to the Wolof and Sereer. Because of the variety of paths the xalam has taken and the many different groups who have embraced it, the xalam shows great regional diversity in its construction, playing style, and repertoire. The xalam generally has a dryer, more nasal sound than the kora. ( more info )

A large goblet shaped drum, traditionally carved out of one log. Like an ashiko, yields a resonant bass tone when struck in the middle, and a high ringing tone when struck on the rim. The jembe is perhaps the most well-known West African instrument throughout the world. It originated with the Malinke in Mali, Guinea, and eastern Senegal, but has become the drum of choice for many groups throughout West Africa. It is still primarily a Mande (Malinke, Mandinko, Bamana, etc.) instrument and is therefore not as common in Senegal as the sabar, but even Wolof and Sereer griots are learning to play it.

Both percussive and melodic, the balafon is made of 17–21 rectangular wooden slats laid on a frame and arranged from low to high notes. Two rows of small gourds, secured beneath the wooden slats, act as natural amplifiers. The balafon—like the xylophone, marimba or glockenspiel—is struck with mallets to produce its rhythmic melodies.

There is a large variety of Senegalise Art and Craft products including jewellery, clothes, basket weaving and musical instruments.

’Underglass’’ Painting is one of the oldest Senegalese arts. It is very popular in the towns and even in rural areas the painting reproduces daily scenes of life Just as in ‘’Naif Art’’.
Sand painting is one of the most popular arts of Senegal. The technique is strictly based on the use of local raw material (sand of the dune, beach sand, volcano sands etc…). The designs are typically African.

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