Mbalax is a popular music and dance from Senegal and Gambia. Mbalax means accompanying rhythm from the traditional sabar drum in the Wolof language. The name was coined by Youssou N'Dour. 


It is characterised by poly-rhythmic percussion from the sabar drum, repeating chord progression, fast, syncopated keyboards and guitar. A typical mbalax band might have 4 to 6 sabar drummers. The singing style is from the Wolof Géwël (griot) style. Songs can cover about any subject matter from religious to domestic social happenings. Mbalax is fundamentally made for dancing.


Before Mbalax, Senegalese musician played and listened to a lot of Cuban music. Salsa was very popular in Senegal and French speaking Africa. Blues and Soul/Funk was also listened(Winders 165). Early musicians, who were typically Géwël (
griots) began experimenting with the traditional sabar and Géwël (griot) musical styles and Cuban Rumba, combining them. The conga was replaced with a drum set. Mbalax was birthed in the 1970s. Bands like Star Bands and Orchestra Baobab popularize the form(Ham 64). Youssou N'Dour and his band Super Etoile de Dakar extended the reach of the music during the 1980's and 1990's to an international audience. 

Most early Mbalax artist came from griot lineages--Youssou N'Dour , Thione Seck, Alioune Mbaye Nder, Fatou Guewel, Kine Lam, and Coumba Gawlo. Other major artist include Assane Ndiaye, Baaba Maal, Omar Pen, Ishmael Lo, and Cheik Lo.

Works Cited

Tang, Patricia(2007). Masters of the Sabar: Wolof Griots Percussionist of Senegal. Temple University Press: pp.154-159. ISBN 1592134203, 9781592134205.

Winders, James A(2006). Paris Africain: Rhythms of the African Diaspora. Mcmillan: p. 165, ISBN 1403960046, 9781403960047.

Ham, Anthony. West Africa. Lonely Planet: p. 64, ISBN
1741048214, 9781741048216.

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