A Taste of Senegal

By Elisa Bronstein

Boston is a melting pot of students, young professionals, and tourists, with a growing number of residents representing exotic locations across the globe. Among some of the most talented, globally influenced music groups in the New England region, one band in particular strikes a chord: Lamine Toure and Group Saloum. Read on for a Taste of Senegal…

Lamine Toure has music in his veins; raised in Kaolack, among the Wolof people,  a caste of musicians and oral historians, he learned the art of music. Since age four, Lamine has known his way around the drum and was surrounded by the sabar rhythm. He comes from a long line of griot percussionists and sabar drum masters. In Senegal, music is reserved for the families that have passed the tradition down generation after generation, like Lamine’s. He learned to drum, sing, and dance and was a part of weddings, baptisms, and neighborhood gatherings.

After being trained with griots, Lamine settled in Boston, where he founded the sensational group known as Lamine Toure and Group Saloum. Lamine, who composes all the music, says, “I take Senegalese melodies and rework them in hip hop or reggae. Senegal is at the root of our music, but we like to mix things up a little bit.” And that they do: They fuse Senegalese mbalax with elements of jazz, funk, reggae, and Afrobeat to give rise to one lively show. Lamine Toure and Group Saloum perform original mbalax music, drawing upon the collective creativity of Lamine and some of Boston’s most talented musicians.

Though the band has a distinct sound and a traceable origin, they are anything but traditional. Lamine says the sabar rhythm is too difficult to understand unless you are raised with it, so all his songs have a modern twist. Band members include some of Boston’s most talented musicians; they have diverse backgrounds and play a range of instruments. The music is a blend of influences from a variety of ethnic origins, musical interests, and unique styles. “I like what everyone brings to the table,” says Lamine. He adds, “It’s difficult to keep the authenticity together, but I’m not trying to do it like traditional Senegalese music.” Some members are dressed in native garb, the kaftan, while others are dressed in what some would consider everyday American gear.
Songs by Lamine Toure and Group Saloum are longer than traditional American tunes, giving people ample time to feel the rhythm, lose inhibition, and dance. Each show draws people from a wide spectrum of cultures, all there in appreciation of truly remarkable music. Lamine and his band welcome and encourage dancing both in the audience and on stage with the musicians. Shows are loud, colorful, and exuberant and will make you want to move your hips for days.

So have you gotten the memo? You will MOVE! Lamine’s shows incorporate high-energy dancing. Afraid you don’t have what it takes? Check out his dance class on Thursdays in Central Square. Here you will learn to dance to the sabar rhythms, the most common form of Senegalese dance. Lamine says, “We have old and young; everyone comes out. In Senegal, sabar is for everybody. Dancing is meant to make people happy and bring people together. And that’s what we’re doing here.”

Still not ready to leave for Senegal? How about trying your hand at drumming?  Lamine has been serving as Artist-in-Residence at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he directs a Senegalese drumming ensemble, Rambax MIT. Classes are open to the public and are held on Saturdays at MIT from 12:00 to 1:30. Here you will learn basic sabar rhythms, the traditional elements of time, and the basics of drumming. Classes are at all levels and Lamine says, “I do have regular people but they still need to be reminded of the basics.”

With an influx of other cultures making their way to the already exciting city of Boston, it’s fun to try new cuisine, learn traditional art forms such as drumming, and dance and broaden the spectrum of your cultural awareness. Do some research and know that you will be warmly received when showing interest in other cultures. The Senegalese in particular are dedicated to keeping alive their long-lived traditions of dance, storytelling, and drumming. Cross-cultural traditions are appealing to Americans, because we lack a long line of them ourselves. Accordingly, delving headstrong into another culture, even if only for a night, is a great way to let loose and learn about it and about yourself in the process.

Key Terms:
Wolof: Dominant ethnic group of Senegal, making up 40 percent of the population. Their language is also referred to as Wolof.
Kaftan: Traditional Senegalese dress.
Mbalax: Percussion music from Senegal.
Afropop: A fusion of jazz and funk sounds.
Sabar: The sabar is a traditional drum from the West African nation of Senegal.

Popular venue locations:
Beehive- 541 Tremont Street
Boston MA  02116
(617) 423-0069
Lizard Lounge- 1667 Massachusetts Ave.
Cambridge MA  02138
(617) 547-0759

Dance Lessons
Where: Dance Complex
536 Mass. Ave.
Central Square, Cambridge (near red line T stop)
When: Thursdays at 7:00 PM

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